With Love Column
by ANNIE WESCHE
Walking through the small mountain village in southern China, my senses were alive with curiosity and awe as I found myself far beyond the reaches of all my previous life experiences. Vibrant cherry trees adorned the poor, humble setting and seemed to proclaim a special favor from Heaven by their presence — beauty and provision planted by the loving Creator in a place forgotten by the surrounding world. We had come to a leprosy village, cut off from the outside, and our mission team was there to bring medical care, supplies, and love. God’s love.
Our day-trip to the village was full of unknowns and uncertainties for me, but any fears about leprosy were quelled as we learned their condition was no longer contagious and only the effects of severe nerve damage remained. We’d been prepared that many of the villagers were significantly marred and deformed, and the medical team would be tending to new wounds or infections.
Whether it was superstition or shame from the culture, these precious souls had been sent away to this village, many disowned and forgotten by the loved ones who’d sent them there. In their shared affliction they had formed a new “family” and leaned upon the kindness of those who would mercifully bring supplies and care into their little world.
The villagers were delighted and curious by our arrival, and were eager to share with us what little they had. We were welcomed into their humbly built, dirt-floor homes and offered cherries from their trees. And at the end of our tour we were led to behold the pride of their village — a building of shattered grandeur, standing since the Ming Dynasty. It appeared by all accounts dilapidated and abandoned, and though we were encouraged to go in, none of the villagers followed us.
As we entered, our team went off to the right but I saw our translator quickly duck into a small space to our left. Something pressed me to follow him, but I stood frozen and fearful. As if prompted by the Lord, our translator looked up, called my name, and motioned for me to join him. I had to crouch low to shuffle in beside him and my eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness. As the scene quickly came into focus, what I saw pierced my soul with both horror and deep sadness, and (I am ashamed to say) I felt a natural revulsion. I could hardly process what I was seeing and every instinct shouted to look away, to keep a safe distance. There before me was a severely marred, filthy, and frail old woman set back into a space of about four by five feet. She sat upon wooden boards with a few meager possessions around her and was engulfed in the unrelenting stench of horrible neglect.
My eyes, fearful of where to look, set first upon her hands. They were reached out in timid but desperate longing. Scarred stubs were where her fingers should have been. My uncomfortable gaze then fell to her feet twisted beneath her and bound up in soiled rags. It was evident that her feet were also no longer whole, having been severely disfigured by the effects of her ravaging disease. My eyes slowly moved back upward. I was aware that our translator was speaking, but his words were muffled as I was lost in the scene before me. An inner stirring beckoned me not to look away, but rather to behold — not a scene, but a soul. A soul intimately known and cherished by God. I swallowed hard and beheld her face. The woman’s eyes, red and sunken in, were glazed over and blinded from the effects of nerve damage too long untreated. Her skin was dry and broken open with sores. Her grey hair was jaggedly cut short. I then noticed the lit pipe laying beside her which I was told was used to keep rats and bugs from crawling on her. I would have guessed her to be somewhere in her eighties, but to my shock, I later learned she was not yet sixty.
Deep ache, anger, dismay, and horror flooded my thoughts as my heart raced to desperately make sense of the unfathomable suffering before me. How can anyone be left to live this way? Why has she been left here alone, in such a state of filth and neglect? Hasn’t she suffered enough? Could not compassion touch the others’ hearts to better care for her?
“What can I do?” I said desperately, surprised my words had actually been audible.
“Reach your hands out to her,” our translator replied. “Let her know you are here. Allow her to touch you. Listen to her words and her heart.”
Ignoring the strong impulse to keep my distance, I timidly reached out one hand. The moment she felt me near she began to furiously rub her rough hands back and forth against mine, desperate to feel my presence beyond the nerve damage that made it almost impossible to feel any human touch. She began to pour out words I didn’t understand, but with an agony unmistakable in any language. She rocked back and forth and, as she spoke, our translator shared with me her words and a small glimpse into her story.
I learned that the villagers had moved her to this place and left her behind because of a rumor that a ghost haunted her.
“Where are my sons? Why do they leave me here? I am so alone,” she cried in anguish.
My eyes began to brim with tears and I bowed my head, silently crying out to God. I was overwhelmed by it all — my senses assaulted with the suffering and smells and sights beyond anything I had ever imagined. I wanted to love her, but I was painfully aware of my desperate need for a love beyond my own supply — love that didn’t shrink back from the filth and deformity and overwhelming suffering. God, You love her. Love her through me.
It had only been a brief moment of prayer, but as I lifted my head back up, I was in awe. Something powerful had happened to so fully transform my human senses, that it could only be credited to a supernatural touch of grace from the One to whom I had cried out. My eyes were as His eyes, for she was now beautiful to me — I saw her beauty in His sight. And with all repulsion or self-protection instantly gone, I reached my arms out and wrapped them around her in a full embrace.
I held her for a while as her trembling, weak frame melted into mine. When I finally pulled back to look at her face, I saw tears falling from her blinded eyes. She uttered a repeated phrase over and over, and I turned to our translator for understanding. With a confused expression he said, “She’s saying, ‘I’ve missed you, I’ve missed you!’” I’d obviously never been there before, but then he suddenly realized the significance of her words! He told me that the last time she had been visited — the last time she had felt human touch many months ago — those visitors had also embraced her and introduced her to Jesus. She was responding to Jesus.
Though that life-changing encounter was many years ago, every remembrance of it reminds me afresh of the humbling, glorious reality we have as children of God. And I am in awe all over again at God’s mercy and goodness. Christ indwells us. All that He is … is available to us! He enters the frail places of our lives and makes us strong in Him. He receives our humble offerings and brings forth His abundance. He surpasses our limited sight and gives us eyes to see as He sees. He delivers us from all our fears and replaces them with His boldness. He takes our surrendered feelings of frustration, impatience, or even repulsion and fills us up with His compassion, patience, understanding, and love. And, dear reader, it is ever so real and available to every one of us who has put our hope in Him. I experienced it on that mountain top village in a dark corner of immense suffering — a powerful, real exchange of what I lacked for what He so willingly and lovingly gave. And since that time, I’ve cried again and again to the One who inclines His ears in moments of needed power and enabling grace. (See Psalm 40:1.)
I see the world around us brazenly boasting in the glory of “self-power” and saturating platforms with their mantras of “own your own power.” And sadly, I’ve also seen many Christians take up this banner, deceived to think that it can live in harmony with the Christian’s calling. Oh that we would be quick, as children of God, to recognize this arrogance in the face of what God has done for us and reject such an empty, soul-destructive pursuit of our own power, without a second thought! Instead, may we cry, “Less of me and more of You, Lord!” (See John 3:30.) May we remember, with both sober reverence and great joy, that our own sinful life has died and we are now “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). The life we now live, we “live by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]” (Gal. 2:20). He gave Himself for us. There is no richer gift and no life more fulfilling than to live for such a One, in the grace and power He supplies! And such a matchless Love can be the love that flows through our lives to every darkened corner of this desperately needy world.