On the way out to the farm at Bodenge, Jacques pointed out houses in several of the villages we passed. They all were marked with wooden plaques indicating that they had been provided by the American Leprosy Mission (ALM), sometimes by a particular group such as “staff” or “The Holland/Zealand Women”.
Jacques has worked with his own people under the ALM for over ten years. He has reached out to help a sector of his own society that usually finds itself at the bottom of the heap – those suffering from leprosy and tuberculosis.
Now although leprosy is treatable, many cases have advanced too far before treatment starts, either from neglect on their part in seeking early treatment or ignorance. These patients may already have nerve damage with the resulting deformities and sometimes are stigmatized.
In one village, a woman with leprosy was abandoned by her husband. (Women are often the providers, planting and harvesting, providing food for the family. If a woman loses this ability what is her value in a relationship not based on love?) He remarried and she was left ill and destitute. Jacques was able to help her with a home and some animals (usually a goat or some ducks or chickens) so she could continue to raise some livestock and have a source of income. When her husband saw her good fortune, he decided to return – second wife came too. There were problems. This time she thew the husband out. A short while later, back comes the repentant husband – without the second wife! True love?
That day we went to the farm, we also stopped at a village to check on a woman with a suspected new case of leprosy. A few days later, I went back with Jacques to see her.
Some things about watching Jacques work really impressed themselves on me. One was his ability to communicate with this woman he was examining. He conversed with her in their native language and he took time to talk to her.
Secondly, he showed respect for her as a woman worthy of some privacy in her examination. The village people were pulling up chairs for the show. Jacques asked them to take seats under a tree in the yard. Then he invited one son to come with us to a private area at the back of the house where she could be examined without a crowd of onlookers. My role was to record the location of her skin lesions and the areas of insensitivity. I felt the enlarged nerves and saw the wasted hand muscles. Jacques started her on treatment that day. He will check on her progress when he passes by on his way to his farm.
Another thing that impressed me was the way that Jacques knows his patients. He knows where they live, their social and economic circumstances, their families. And he cares. I suppose that is why he knows them so well. I watched him touching his patient’s skin, checking for enlarged nerves and insensitive areas; listened to him explain the disease and the treatment that was needed. I was watching a healer not just a medical doctor. Knowing that God is there at the foundations of Jacques’ life, this time of watching was a time of blessing to me. He examined this woman with hands that were so caring that he could be touching the skin of God, with love and reverence, rather than the ulcerated insensitive foot of a poorly clothed woman.