Working with those who are affected by leprosy increases gratitude

Published: Monday, Oct. 15 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Andre shared a picture of a man sleeping on the street, a man whose face and body is ravaged by leprosy. "We would call this a homeless person in America. If we did the same thing in India, there would be more homeless people than people in homes."

“We are all here on earth to heal, not to judge,” Andre said. “I want us to think that there are people who have leprosy in this room … It’s not the kind that’s eating away at our physical bodies. We have spiritual leprosy.

"Jesus is trying to tell us that we can do anything," he said. "Find me one limitation in the scriptures. He says if we have faith like a mustard seed, we can move mountains with that amount of faith."

Douglas is currently serving with her husband who is the president of the LDs Church's Dominican Republic Santiago Mission, but she never stops worrying and thinking about the people.

She's not sure how many people Rising Star has assisted over the past eight years, but she knows it's in the thousands.

"It's a pretty serious operation and we're thinking expansion," Douglas said. "Our clinic this year will do 10,000 treatments."

When a family has one member affected by leprosy, the whole family is run out of the general population, she said, so children and spouses are afflicted as much as one with the disease, becoming "untouchable."

Even though the cure for leprosy was discovered in 1988, the stigma lives on. A person who discovers a small white spot of disease will often hide it and put off getting treatment even though it can be treated efficiently.

It's still not clear how leprosy is spread, but it's suspected there is a genetic component involved. Those who contract leprosy generally already have a compromised immune system.

Douglas said no one in her organization of volunteers has come down with leprosy despite their close contact including cleaning wounds, helping build homes for those who've lost fingers and teaching English.

"We have people from all walks of life volunteering," Douglas said. "Families bring their small children. We had 21 members of the Marriott family here on their knees helping. Now they're one of our best financial contributors."

Volunteers pay their own way over to India. They serve selflessly without pay.

"Oh my goodness! The miracles!" said Douglas. "We see the parable of the loaves and the fishes every day. We stand back and watch God feed the five thousand with very little. Even the Hindu say, 'Oh, it's God' as we watch the miracles happen."

Douglas can be reached at bdouglas@risingstaroutreach.org

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com

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