Our volunteer speaker team enables us to reach many churches and groups in Northern Ireland to share with them the need of leprosy sufferers around the world. Here, three of them share their story of how they got involved with The Leprosy Mission and what inspired them to take on this vital role
I started to become aware of the work of The Leprosy Mission when I visited Hombolo hospital in Tanzania with a work and witness team lead by John Tuff. We met at Lagan House to plan the trips and during those evenings others shared their experiences. I went out three times in all, each time for two weeks. Having met people who have been cast out of their homes as a result of leprosy, I felt I needed to retell their stories. Having come from a nursing background, I realised that the emphasis really should be on early diagnosis and cure. Leprosy causes so much progressive disability over a long period of time that it would be a more effective use of funds if people were educated to seek help as soon as symptoms occur.
Going out with a team made me realise just how much we take for granted at home, for example running water, electricity that works, and eating what you want rather than what’s available. But the disadvantages were far outweighed by the fun and humour we all found in working with the team.
Those experiences made me realise that the work of The Leprosy Mission remains relevant and important today. In volunteering to speak about leprosy, I can describe the lives of the people I met and show just how help from people in Northern Ireland really changes people’s lives.
I have spoken to women’s groups, youth services and, on World Leprosy Day, I speak at church services. Afterwards, people always tell me that they didn’t realise that leprosy is still a problem and that hearing from someone who has actually met people who have been cured of leprosy but are still socially isolated as a result, brings the impact of this disease to life.
In Tanzania I often met people who described, with tears in their eyes, how they never saw their family again as a result of leprosy. How would we feel?
For me, the most rewarding experience has been meeting different people. I’ve met people who were missionaries in the past, as well as those who regularly pray and support the work here at home. It’s all about using our God-given gifts to assist people who need our help.
As a result, I would recommend anyone who is interested in speaking on behalf of The Leprosy Mission to volunteer. We can shine a light on the very real suffering occurring as a result of leprosy. In doing so, we are doing what Jesus asked us to do.
My first introduction to The Leprosy Mission was in my church when, as children, we were encouraged to collect 5ps (the old ones!).
I reconnected with The Leprosy Mission through Sam Smith, one of the staff members, at church when we happened to have a conversation about India and he asked if I would be interested in going on a Leprosy Mission team.
Following the trip to India, I joined the speaker team and initially accompanied Sam to some meetings to talk about the work in India and then he let me fly solo!
It seemed a great opportunity to spread the message of the work of TLM and to encourage people in their giving and persuade others to give. I have spoken at ladies’ meetings, prayer meetings, children’s meetings, Girls’ Brigade evenings and Sunday services - the children’s ones usually involve dressing up and having sweets. I’ve been involved in university roadshows and a missionary convention. It can be challenging finding some of the venues.
Balancing church and other commitments along with full-time work can, at times, be challenging. I have always received a warm welcome wherever I have been and it’s lovely to meet new people and talk about something I am passionate about. Having been to India and had first-hand experience of people with leprosy I want to share this with others and raise awareness of the work. It’s a great experience. Yes, it’s nerve-wracking at times but start small or go with someone else - just give it a go!
I got to know about The Leprosy Mission through contact as a Sunday School Superintendent. We had regular correspondence with TLM and occasionally had speakers coming to talk to the children and then take part in the Sunday morning service. Through a Sunday School sponsored walk, we raised money to support TLM’s Anandaban Hospital in Nepal.
Later, after I had given up my role in Sunday School, I was seeking guidance about what God wanted me to do. I happened to go on a business trip to Mumbai, India, a place which I found overwhelming because of the noise, the chaos, the crowds, the smells, the filth etc. On the way back to the airport late on a Friday evening – when our driver took a shortcut through a slum area – I happened to look out the side window of the car and saw a Leprosy Mission van in one of the worst areas. When I came home I wrote a letter to TLM offering my help; a letter which happened to cross in the post with an invite from TLM to an outreach event. I went to the event, had a chat and joined the volunteer speaker team.
I have spoken to Sunday Schools, Churches, PW groups, Mothers’ Union, mid-week groups and Church Mission Roadshows. I have also supported speaking engagements by the full-time staff, including house groups.
The most challenging thing has been having enough background material and anecdotes to enrich the main message that you are delivering. This is where I found supporting the full-time staff very valuable due to their real-life experiences from in-country visits and hearing their anecdotes. Reading books on the history of leprosy and its treatment has also built up this background material.
The most rewarding aspect is the knowledge that you are helping in a small way to bring God’s love to those who are desperately in need. Through the speaking events you are presenting the work to new audiences and, if it is God’s will, there are no bounds to what that might achieve. The resulting consequences are beyond our imagination. It is also very rewarding to get feedback during some of the engagements of experiences of leprosy that others have had during visits to countries like India, and the stories they have to tell from those experiences. They help build the stories and the anecdotes for subsequent talks.
If you feel that this is what God wants you to do – join. The staff are there to support you. There is much work to do and many opportunities that could be addressed with additional help.