Monday, March 12, 2012

Can one day really change a person?

     I write this post with complete reverence and humility.  It has taken me awhile to be able to write the feelings of my heart because I fear that what I felt last week will not be able to be portrayed in the right way. I want so badly for this experience to be as tangible and life changing for you as it was for our family.  It was a day in time that will forever be set apart from the rest.  It was a day where we were stripped of pride.  It was a day of complete, Christlike love for our fellow men.  It was a day that renewed our desire to bless others until the day we die.  It was a day of true heartache.  It was a day where anything materialistic dissolved into oblivion.  It was a day to remember.  It was a day at the Moot Leprosy Colony.
     When we loaded up in the bus for a 90 minute drive to the leper colony I had a little prayer in my heart that my children would be respectful and to able to feel calm.  We stepped out of the car after passing so many humble living circumstances with tender hearts...

So, with these scenes in our minds we walked off of the bus.  We unloaded the van and set up our medical stations.  Blood pressure, cutting off bandages, washing with antiseptic, cutting off dead tissue, wrapping wounds in bandages.

It is with no disrespect that I show these pictures, in fact it is with complete respect and reverence that I share these with you.  I am quite sure that even though it is a picture, you can feel what this colony felt like.  There was a sacredness and reverence there that I have only felt inside temple walls.  The Lord is close to these souls.  He spent His time with them while He was on earth, and I know it is no different now.  My children were...I don't even know the right word for it.  They were sweet, humbled, loving, sympathetic, and came away absolutely wondering why they have been so blessed in their life. Sweet little Charlotte kept saying, "How are you feeling?"  There was no turning away, there was no look of horror, there were no innocently hurtful words, there was no shying away.  They felt it.  They felt the light that was there.  I did not have to say a word.
      There was a man there named Jayraj.  Jayraj is our new family HERO.  He is a man with leprosy, shunned from society, living in a hut who exudes joy from every particle of his being.  He had my kids dancing, laughing, and experiencing a little bit of heaven.

Then there was this sweet lady-I was instantly drawn to her.
She walked with her two hands that had no fingers left and used her one remaining leg to move

She wanted no pity.  In her own way she was perfectly capable to get to where she needed to be.  Even with the pain, it was all just matter of fact to her.  Every time I sat with her, or one of my kids sat with her, she would rub our face with her hands.  You could feel the love behind her tender touch.  She would then kiss her hands and raise them up toward heaven thanking God.
I imagine you are wondering what it feels like to be the recipient of gratitude like that.  It melts your heart and makes you feel about 2 inches high all at the same time.  It makes you want to be better, to strive every day to be as pure and meek as she is.

I get tears in my eyes just remembering the feelings I had there as I write this.  I found out later how old this lady is.  I thought maybe in her 60's-70's.  How old do you think she is?
        She is 37 years old.  The leprosy progressed rapidly with her before they found her.  I think that is why I had such a pull towards her.  She is exactly my age.  Now I can see it. Now I can see passed the leprosy and see her youthful glow underneath her disease.  That is why she could move as she did.  I'm not sure when she contracted leprosy.  I'm not sure if she was ever married or had children of her own.  I'm not sure if her parents had leprosy.  But what I do know is that she was so grateful for someone to love and look after her.  I'll never know what it feels like to be an outcast, shunned from society and purposely forgotten.  I'll never know what it feels like to be pushed out of the elevator at the hospital because people don't want you near them (true story)-- and then be forced to climb 4 flights of stairs with the remaining limbs that you have to meet with a doctor that doesn't want to treat you either.  I won't ever know what it feels like to live in a community that is as big as my garage and never be able to leave.  What I do believe is that these are the children of God who have already earned their reward.  When you suffer like these people do, and you still raise your hands towards heaven in gratitude to God, you have made it.  If all of us with our cushioned lives could only be so good.  We would feel so much happier in our lives as well.  The little, and I do mean little, annoyances or difficulties in life that we have would never even be thought of.  We now refer to certain complaints or problems as "first world problems"in our family.  We are joking, but not really.
        At some point in your life if you find a way to get out of America, take advantage of it.  You just can not imagine the poverty in most of the world unless you witness it with your own eyes.  It is absolutely life changing. 
     A perfect example of this is my 15 year old son Samuel.  Samuel is a typical boy in many ways, but also well beyond his years in other ways.  He felt a strong connection to this man.
He had little velcro shoes on his hands that he used to help push him around as he sat on a piece of wood with wheels on the bottom.  It was very hard for Sam to see this.  It really bothered him that this man was suffering so much.  We all gathered together to take a picture when we were finished with the medical procedures. 
 Sam noticed this man was not there and he went to find him.   He saw him sitting alone in his room.
 Sam went in to sit with him for awhile.  He was making some sort of porridge for lunch.  

 He motioned to see if Sam wanted to eat with him.  Sam said yes.  He took a bite and said "Yummy!" really loud and the man grinned from ear to ear.  He was so happy that Sam was eating with him and liked his food.  Matt told Sam afterward that he did something that day that he did not know if he could have done himself.  It was such a tender moment when we heard Sam did this not knowing how old the food was, if there were bugs in it, (we have had rice with maggots in it), or what it even was.  He didn't even think about it, he just did it.  Those are the kind of innate reactions that I have so hoped  to instill in my children-- caring for others with no thought of themselves. 

Sam loved this man.  He was showing a natural charity that I think even surprised him.  It was a solemn, but happy day for all of us as we were taught the most important lessons in life in the middle of a leper colony in India.
We said our goodbyes and got in the van and started the 90 minute drive home.  It was a lot of time to be still and think about what we had just been a part of.  I looked over at Brandon to see tears streaming down his face.  He would wipe them away as he stared out the window, but more would just follow.  Samuel had his head down most of the trip home.  He was feeling the same things that Brandon was and tears started to flow.
I think this day had the biggest impact on Samuel.  He told us that night as we gathered together before bed that he felt so badly when they kept thanking him.  He said he thought to himself, "Thanking me for what? For helping you because you have no legs and can't walk?"  He said that when they thanked him he felt so guilty.  He thought of how he would complain to himself about things in his own life that did not matter.  Things like not having a pair the newest headphones or not getting another sandwich because they were all eaten, or having to work so much, or whatever.  He said that his whole perspective on life has changed, and that he has changed as a person. Things that he thought were a big deal before, now have no appeal.  He said that on the car ride home he promised God that if he ever made money in his life he would use it to help all these people who are suffering.  It has been so interesting because ever since this experience Matt and I have not had to tell him once to study or do his homework.  He said he feels very motivated to get good grades so he can help others.  Melt. My. Heart.
        Needless to say, we will treasure that experience always.  I hope these feelings last and that we will not forget our experience there as time goes on.  We go back to a different colony for the next two days.  One of them has over 100 people to take care of.
        The Cleggs (the family we are traveling with) went to a different colony on Monday.  One of the men there had ulcers so bad that maggots actually fell out when they took the bandages off.  Sandra said she just sat there and cried with him as she cleaned it out.  He was raising his hands toward God for strength to endure the pain.  Leprosy affects the nerves.  For some it deadens the nerves and for others it makes them hypersensitive.  This poor man was in great pain.

My heart just aches for him.  Can you see the maggots coming out of his ulcer? 

Can you imagine walking home on a foot that was infected like that?  But, there he goes, carrying his burdens with such grace.  So much to learn from people who have so little...


  1. Incredibly touching, you and your family are beautiful people.....

  2. Wow, That is AMAZING... So true.. we do focus on ourselves way too much. What a great experience for you and your family. It really touched my heart reading this. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this wonderful experience. I am going to use this for a family home evening lesson for the kids this Monday, on serving others and charity. Last night our lesson was on the 10 leppars, and the one who came back to thank Jesus for healing him... This is a perfect follow up. Thank you so much!!

  3. You described the Moot Colony so well...I loved reading about it! Makes me miss India! I am so glad your children are enjoying it too. I had my kids read your blog entry and they all said lets figure out a way to move back! I thought they all had enough of India:)

  4. Wow Allison... I'm sitting here reading this and am so touched. I know very little about Leperosy. Is there no cure? Do you have to worry about your own health when working with these sweet souls? Thank you so much for sharing... priceless.

  5. no words...except perhaps thank you...for serving and sharing.

  6. What a remarkable experience. Just reading this leaves me feeling humbled and wanting to do more. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I came across your blog through a link that Dave Nelson place on his facebook account. What a beautiful, inspiring, humble and sincere expereince that you and your family family had. Reading your expereince has touched my heart in a way that I haven't felt in a long time. Your expereince through this post has allowed me have a desire to strive even harder to become a better woman. Thank you for sharing such a personal expereince that has allowed others to reflect on the abunance amount of blessing that we have here in America.

  8. wow- heartbreaking. love you guys~ erin

  9. Thank you for this. You are blessed and you also have blessed many others, not just the people you served in the colony. Susan Rozier

  10. Hi Olivia,
    Your so nice. I miss you so much!!! I like seeing what your doing, and how your helping other people.
    Luv ya,
    Emily Lundberg

  11. I'm sorry if this is a stupid question, but are you worried at all about anyone in your family contracting leprosy as a result of this contact? I don't know much about the disease and I think, for me, that would be a concern.

  12. Dear Smith Family,
    What a beautiful experience for you and because you shared a beautiful experience for me. I was just forwarded this today and when your picture pulled up I thought WOW there is my friend Matt from Jerusalem and his awesome family. Small wonderful world. Thanks again for sharing.

    Jennifer Leaver Allen

  13. Thank you so much for writing about your experiences. We are sharing your blog with our children during FHE. We are so touched, and grateful for your service and example. Ken and Kim Thibault