Last week, we had a beautiful experience in a tiny leprosy colony out in the middle of nowhere. Camry, Liberty, Cohen, and I accompanied the medical team to Mogalvadi Leprosy Colony. It was a long, hot ride that got progressively more bumpy as we traveled farther and farther from any civilization.
We unloaded the medical van and started setting up the stations. I heard David (our medical coordinator) ask, "Where is Jayaraj?". The residents gestured to the road and there was Jayaraj riding into the colony on an old rickety bike. The only way to describe this man is JOYFUL. He was so excited to see us. He greeted each of us and was especially delighted when he came to Cohen.
There were only 5 patients at the colony. We start by taking their blood pressure and recording it in their chart. This was Libby's job...
This woman in the picture with Liberty was absolutely heartbreaking to watch. You can see how very tiny she is. Her left hand (you can see it in the picture) only has the thumb and one digit on it. Her right hand was just as damaged. She cannot walk...cannot even stand up. Both of her feet are stumps and her body is permanently curled nearly into a fetal position. When we arrived, she was curled up on the floor waiting to be seen. She will refuse any help (we were told) and manages somehow to carry her chart cradled in her lap as she scoots from station to station. She even pulled herself up onto the chair for her blood pressure.
At this colony, we just set up outdoors. The first station is bandage removal, then washing. We then oil their legs and clip their toenails (if they have any) and then the nurse (Navamani) at the end does the actual care of the ulcers and cutting away any dead tissue before putting on fresh bandages.
It is a very powerful experience to serve these people in this small way.
But, everyday when we have gone out, I feel we gain so much more than we give.
This day, Jayaraj taught us what it means to be joyful, to take the life you have been given and LOVE IT. He and his wife live in this colony. They have been here for years together. They are beautiful and happy, both wearing huge smiles with warm, welcoming eyes.
Jayaraj LOVES to sing and dance. Once the work with the patients was done, he motioned for people to gather around him and he got us all clapping. He made sure he had Cohen right next to him and then he started singing and dancing and clapping his hands. One time (I have video and will share it as soon as I can) he succeeded in getting Cohen to raise his arms and wave his hands a bit and Jayaraj nearly burst with joy. He called Cohen "SOO-PUH! SOO-PUH BOY!!" ("Super boy"...just wait until you see the video! ; )
I could tell that every volunteer there that day was touched by this man. To see someone who loves life this much, who is deeply and truly happy and yet has nothing -NOTHING- that we usually believe brings happiness. It was beautiful and humbling to the core. It was pure grace.
Often after going out on medical, the volunteers are taken to see a local shrine or temple. Our driver seemed to be lost and we really weren't sure we were going to find it, but eventually he was directed to a small conclave of buildings and we unloaded from the van. There were about 12 of us and we headed up a long, wide staircase cutting into the side of the mountain. There were loudspeakers playing devotional music and beautiful crosses and statues of Christ along the path. This was a Christian shrine to St. Thomas and the main attraction, it seemed, was at the top of the hill. After many steps and numerous switchbacks...353 steps to be exact (the kids counted on the way down)...we came to the top and were treated to a beautiful view out over the countryside and this statue.
Without a person in the picture, it is hard to judge the scale, but It was quite large. The feet of Christ were well above my head. It was a hot day and the sun was beating down on us. We congregated in the shade below the cross and the figure of Christ and I was struck with the symbolism in our action.
The sweet protection of His shade, a place of rest, a respite from the day's harsh sun...I looked up and all I could see were the outstretched arms of Jesus.
Beckoning, welcoming...and always open. It was one of those quiet peaceful moments...a moment of stillness when something in the universe reaches down, narrows, and gently touches a single soul.
All the way down the hill --with the kids counting (124, 125...267,268...), with the volunteers talking, and the music floating from the loudspeakers--that stillness stayed with me as I pondered that moment, that feeling, that small nugget of insight.
And I was left wondering one simple thing, pondering one simple question...
How can my arms become more like the arms of Jesus?