He caught me by surprise when he asked me to take his photo. I’d been warned not to take photos because these men hated being treated like sideshow exhibits; their leprosy tended to do that. I hesitated and he asked again. What ensued was one of the most memorable and beautiful experiences of my time in Africa.
This man had never seen a photo of himself and the excitement and wonder on his face as I showed him the image on my camera, I will never forget. It stunned me that something so small could bring so much joy. His excitement bubbled over into the bed either side of him and they wanted their photo taken too. By the time I left that Leprosy ward they had all seen their own image, mostly for the first time. I walked away humbled to have been able to give that gift but knowing I had been given a far greater gift.
I wish I could share those photos with you, their character-filled faces and their deeply penetrating eyes; they looked at me as few people do, hungry for connection.
Ten men, exiled to a refugee camp outside the city wall, strange bedfellows, Jew and Samaritan, thrown together by adversity. It’s strange how tragedy unites us against a common foe; suddenly what divides us becomes of little consequence compared to what unites us.
They stood at a distance, shame and despair hung heavy on their shoulders, but in their eyes a glimmer of hope. Somehow they’d heard that this man, Jesus, was a healer and he was passing by on his way to Jerusalem.
“Master, Jesus, Have mercy upon us”, they cried out over the buzz of the crowd. And it seems Jesus didn’t hesitate, although not quite as they’d expected. “Go and show yourselves to the priests”.
It may have been faith, hope, or just plain what-have-we-got-to-lose that sent them off, but along the way they were healed.
We all want the answer now, the instant healing, but that's rarely God's way. The 'healing' usually comes along the way, as we navigate the problem or the difficulty or just continue on the road of life in faith or hope. Transformation takes time and ultimately that's God's plan, his bigger picture for us.
In that moment, one man allowed the reality of what had just happened to turn him around and send back the way he’d come, to find Jesus. He was overwhelmed and threw himself at Jesus feet in praise and gratitude. I can only imagine Jesus' joy as he looked into the eyes of the Samaritan man, gently lifted him to his feet and said, “Your faith has healed and saved you, go on your way”.
I wonder what Jesus was feeling as he asked, "Didn't I heal ten men?" Most likely they were caught up in the excitement of being restored and anxious to be cleared by the priests to return to their former life, without a passing thought for the man who healed them.
I wonder what proportion of God’s answers to my prayers go unnoticed and unacknowledged? There’s no doubt I’m quicker to ask that to wait with anticipation for the answers and receive them with gratitude. I wonder if somehow as followers of Jesus we can become complacent and lose the wonder of waiting on the answers … the excitement of seeing God at work through our prayer?
Maybe as we see prayer, not as something we do, but as a relationship, the giving and receiving will take on new meaning. I want to have the same hunger for connection that I see in the eyes of my 'friend' with leprosy … and I want what Ken Gire calls, "a splash-of-cold-water-in-the-face" awareness of God's answers and the overwhelming gratitude of the Samaritan.
Note: To share the photos of the patients in the Leprosarium would betray their privacy and trust so the photos included in this blog post come from the hospital of which the Leprosarium is a part. Its a place where some of the world's poorest and neediest come face to face with the love and compassion of Jesus, mirrored in the hands and hearts of the staff who care for them. It's a place of refuge and healing for the rejected. It includes a Fistula hospital where hundreds of young women are restored and walk out into a new life. It is a place of hope and tangible love.