Heart for Orphans: Leprosy

Today’s guest post comes courtesy SheLoves Magazine. Its author, Kelley Johnson Nikondeha, is co-director of Amahoro Africa and international staff member of Community of Faith with her husband Claude. She’s a thinker, connector, advocate, avid reader and mother of two beautiful children. Kelley lives between Arizona and Burundi. And as you’ll see, her heart lives in seeing God work among His people.

“Restoring people, physically and socially, is Kingdom work.”

Naaman is a Syrian commander. When he looks in the mirror one morning and sees a spot … a bad, life-changing spot. He notices the beginning of leprosy, which means the end of life as he knows it. All will be lost–his wife and family, his leadership role in the Syrian army, his close bond with the king.

To make a long story short, Naaman manages to find himself at Elisha’s house, the great healer in Israel. He is so desperate for healing–for keeping his life–that he resorts to seeing a healer in enemy territory and washing himself seven times in the backwaters of the Jordan River. But with the seventh wash, he finds skin as new and clean as a baby. Clean! He can keep his life; a leper no more.

I imagine he returned home to his wife and lovely home, throwing quite a celebration bash. He kept his leadership role and kept the company of the king.

No Name

Ntazina, which means “no name” in Kirundi, is found in the beginning of Mark’s gospel. This man with no name has long suffered with leprosy and lost everything. He lives alone outside the city away from everyone. He wears torn clothes and dons the disheveled hair as commanded by “the law of the leper” in Leviticus, he has been declared “unclean” a long time ago. So long ago that no one remembers his name, which is why I call him Ntazina.

When we encounter Ntazina he is calling out to Jesus, begging to be made clean.

Clean is more than just another world for “heal.” To be clean is to be ritually clean–to be allowed back into the community. To be clean means to be disease free, but also free to enter the temple. Free to take part in a family wedding, free to enter the marketplace and free to share a Sabbath meal with your family at sundown.

Ntazina wanted to be clean. And Jesus said He wanted him to be clean as well, and Jesus touched him and healed him on the spot. Then he instructed him to go show himself to the priest who could verify he was healed and pronounce him officially clean, making way for his re-entry to society.

Jesus also told him to tell no one else of his healing. But Ntazina was so filled with joy, he could not contain it–he told everyone he saw! He got his life back, a leper no more!

Naaman and Ntazina were both confronted with leprosy (to varying degrees), both sought healing and both were made clean. Both testified that it was God who healed them … and we see how God has healing juices on offer for lepers.

These are great stories, but what do they mean for us today? Know any lepers in your town? It would be easy to say that since leprosy is not prevalent in our communities any more, these nice stories have no imperative for us to act on. But not so fast …

Leprosy is both a physical and social disease. It cripples a body and cripples an entire community. Think of the personal pain in the body–skin, nerves, deformed limbs and loss of eyesight. But beyond that, think of being put out of your community. Imagine leaving your home, your workplace, your church and neighborhood, what would it be like to have to walk away from all of those people? And birthdays, Sunday dinners, church worship, evening walks with your spouse and school recitals … And can you imagine the hole left by your absence? Gaping. This is leprosy–personal and communal pain.

So, I ask again: Do you know a leper?

I know a leper…

Emmanuella Ninziza was born to a mother with full-blown AIDS in Burundi. Her mother died in labor and her father left her at the hospital to suffer the same fate. From birth, she was sick and struggled each day to live, testing positive for the virus with each and every blooddraw.

She was eventually discharged from the hospital and sent to a home for abandoned babies on hospice care. No one expected her to live. For months she struggled. The nannies at the home did not want to touch her, they were fearful. She was grotesque-looking and HIV positive. They touched her as little as possible. They would leave her in a corner of the home by herself for hours a day, afraid to touch her, engage her or get attached to her. She began to shut down, not just physically, but emotionally as well.

Emmanuella Ninziza had a physical and social disease and she suffered stigma. She was a leper.

Now Emma is a healthy eight-year-old girl. Her body was healed and she found a family. Emma has been restored physically and socially; she is a leper no more.

She is my daughter.

I see more people suffering the physical and social pain of leprosy. For some across Africa it is living with HIV/AIDS, the broken bodies and constant stigma. No one wants to touch them; they are disowned and forgotten by their community. Many suffer alone and die alone.

For many women worldwide leprosy looks like a fistula caused by unassisted childbirth or rape, leaving a hole between their bladder and vagina allows waste to drip incessantly, causing a great stench and shame. So these women are put out of the village, left to live in huts on the fringe, left to die. People say they must be cursed … and so they live with physical pain, social loss and the shame of stigma.


What does God do with lepers? He summons healing juices and makes them clean. He heals bodies and restores people to their community once again. And Jesus tells John’s disciples that cleansing lepers is a sign that He is the One. Jesus then instructs His own disciples to go spread the good news of the kingdom of heaven, which includes cleansing lepers. Restoring people, physically and socially, is Kingdom work.

If we are disciples of Jesus, then we must include cleansing lepers in our Kingdom repertoire. We must fight against stigma and touch with compassion those suffering physical and social diseases. We will know the Kingdom has come when the lepers are clean. As far as Jesus is concerned, we will be the ones engaged in the work of healing, restoring and cleansing!

Naaman and Ntazina are lepers the Biblical story knows.

Emma is a leper I know.

Those women suffering with fistulas are lepers we know.

Who is a leper that you know?