In honor of International Women's Day, our Country Director of Indonesia, Jo Ann de Belen reflects on those close to her heart and why she wants to be part of changing the world. I once knew a leper. He was close to me. Apart from his leprosy, he was just like any one of us. A creation made in the image of God. Without touching me, he taught me music, math, and how to laugh at myself. He contracted this dreaded illness when he was a child, at a time when there was no definite cure for it.
The stigma of the illness was so great, that his own family was ashamed to tell others. And so his parents kept this dark secret to themselves while they can. The teenage boy did not enjoy what others enjoyed. He was kept inside the house, not brought to big family gatherings or to be “displayed” publicly. He wore clothes that would conceal his open lesions.
Even when he was in a crowd, he felt alone. He suffered all this by himself, not understanding what it was. His parents, perhaps not knowing what to do, just pretended to the world that he did not exist. He grew up to be an adult and married and had children and tried to live a normal life. But the world wouldn’t let him. He died a lonely man, alone in a room, visited by only a handful.
As I remember this friend with leprosy and feel his isolation and pain, I remember the people we serve in the highlands of Papua. The ones infected with AIDS. What could they be feeling? Whatever it is, it couldn’t be much different from what the leper felt. Alone, isolated, shunned.
The stigma against AIDS is so strong, the oppression against people with AIDS so overpowering, that I ask…. What can we do? How can we change all this?
This should not happen to people, God’s own creatures made after His image and likeness.
This is why I feel so strongly about God’s children learning to love those that the world has shunned, ridiculed, thrown away, isolated.
I long to see the church in Papua embrace back those who are afflicted with AIDS, to care for the children orphaned and made vulnerable by AIDS, and to make sure that this disease is wiped out of Papua.
I pray that God makes this happen soon. So that no one will have to suffer, and suffer alone.