The Sins of a Leprosarium

'There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.'  (Romans 3:22-24 NIV)

He was just a teenager, now a couple of hundred miles from home, referred to the Chikankata Hospital in Zambia for confirmation of the diagnosis and then schooling.

'But I don't know how I got it,' he told me. 'You get leprosy either from your parents - but mine are fine - or you get it because you've stolen someone's maize protected by a special powder - I promise you I've never stolen anything.'

Like many others, he thought leprosy was the result of some wrongdoing. I went on to explain the transmission of the disease. He seemed relieved.

He would stay in 'the boys’ compound', part of the leprosarium for a few hundred people. He would become part of the community which reflected village life in rural Zambia. Generally they got on well with each other, though there were the inevitable disagreements and misdemeanours common to us all.

The wisdom of my predecessors had resulted in the establishment of a community committee, elected by the patients to promote the well-being of the residents and to maintain the peace. One of their tasks was to judge cases brought before them by the 'kapasos', the equivalent of community police support officers of the traditional courts. Assault, theft, drunkenness, sexual misconduct were the main complaints. Though a small room was set aside for detention, reprimand and warning were the usual sentences. Inevitably there would be a referral to the chaplain for pastoral guidance and rehabilitation.

We asked for assistance from the national law and order authorities, but their answer was usually the same. 'You sort it out; we don't want to have anything to do with them.'  Was this not another of the sins of the leprosarium, I thought.

Occasionally the committee failed to reach a decision so the doctor was called, as though he could add the wisdom of Solomon. He came reluctantly, knowing that the sins of the leprosarium were probably no greater than his own, or those with which he had to deal among staff of the mission across the stream, and up the hill.

But if all had sinned, so also could all be justified by grace, through the redemption made possible by Christ. That was the message we'd come to deliver. It applies to us too.