Fearless and On Fire

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O LORD my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me – Psalm 30:2

Just recently I read about the leper who went to Jesus for healing.  The man went to Him and said,  “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.”  Living with the disease would have been terrible for this man.  He would have been separated from family and friends and shunned by his community.  When He knew that Jesus was in the area, he had to go and see Him.   He went to Him and fell down at His feet.   He fell on his face.   He had faith that Jesus could heal Him but he wasn’t sure that it was something that He was willing to do.

Jesus looked at this man and was filled with compassion.  He assured him that healing him was something that He was willing to do.  Then, He put out His hand and touched him. Jesus could have easily spoken the words, “be cleansed” without touching him but He chose do both and immediately, the man was cleansed.   It was that personal touch which made the difference for this man who had not had human contact since he got the disease. It delighted Jesus to not only dispel the man’s uncertainty about His willingness to heal him with words but also with a touch.  He followed His declaration with action.  And that leper went away, cleansed, his life completely transformed.

Like this leper, Sanjushree knew, without a shred of doubt that Jesus could heal her. Sanjushree was just nine years old when she first noticed that her fingers started to curl inward.  She didn’t understand why this was happening nor did the her parents nor doctors nor witch doctors they visited in search of answers.  The years went by, Sanjushree’s fingers didn’t straighten out and she kept to herself in embarrassment, only interacting with others when she needed to.  She was afraid that others might catch whatever she had that was disfiguring her fingers.

At 22 Sanjushree got married and had two daughters, however, five years after the marriage, skin lesions appeared on her body.  That was when she realized that she had leprosy.   It was difficult for her to live a normal life.  Her husband and children continued to love her while some of the people in the community became afraid to be around her and cut off all contact with her.  Others, however, didn’t allow the stigma of leprosy to interfere with their friendship with the woman who was kind and helped them to deliver their children.

For more than 40 years Sanjushree lived with a disease which made her suffer emotionally even as she was determined to continue with her life.  She worked by making brooms and cane baskets, catching and selling fish, farming, not letting her gnarled fingers and the other symptoms of the disease prevent her from helping to provide for her family.

One day a friend told her about a nearby church and hospital where people with all sorts of health problems were treated.  This gave Sanjushree hope.  For the first time in her life, she began to believe that she could be healed.  It was there that she first heard about Jesus.  She was treated at the same hospital that was connected to the church.  She attended church and learned more about Jesus.  When she heard that He healed people with leprosy, deep faith sprung up in her heart and she believed that He could heal her, in fact she depended on it.

Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD – Psalm 27:14

Sanjushree waited 20 years for God to heal her.  Not once during that time did her faith and trust in Him waver.  She held on to her belief that Jesus could heal her.  Her trust in Him sustained her during those years of waiting.  Then, finally, at the age of 50, she experienced the healing she had prayed for.  Like the leper, she was filled with joy.  She decided that she wanted to dedicate the rest of her life helping the suffering sick.  She could relate to what they were going through and she spent years praying for them and she shared her own struggle with leprosy and God’s miraculous healing.  She spoke of His love and through her prayers, God freed people who were victims of spiritual oppression and various sicknesses.

I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee – Psalm 22:22

Before Sanjushree discovered the God who healed her, she tried to separate herself from the community.  After she was healed, she couldn’t keep silent.  She had to do something.  Like the leper couldn’t keep his healing to himself and went and told everyone what Jesus had done for him, Sanjushree was passionate about sharing His goodness with others.  Whenever she attended church, she took at least one person with her.  She travels to different places, praying for people, helping women to deliver their babies and telling people about the Lord who healed her.  God is using this fearless woman to show people His saving grace.

Sanjushree’s faith and passion for helping others and sharing the Goodness is inspiring.  She is fearless like a lion when it comes to bringing others to the Lord and on fire for Him. Her story is a testimony that God is still in the business of healing.

Join Sanjushree and Gospel for Asia in their mission to share the love of Jesus and bring hope to victims of this disfiguring disease by giving toward the Leprosy Ministry.  Here are ways you can help the ministry:

Pray for GFA’s Leprosy Ministry

Here are five ways you can pray for the work GFA is doing to help leprosy patients.

Donate so Missionaries Can Continue to Help

Your gift to the leprosy ministry enables missionaries to reach these leprosy patients with basic necessities and open the door for them to receive Jesus’ love.

Give a gift to bless leprosy patients.

Raise Funds for the Leprosy Ministry

Start a personal campaign through Gospel for Asia’s myGFA so you can inspire your friends and family to join you in helping leprosy patients in South Asia.

Start a fundraising campaign at myGFA.

Help raise awareness for World Leprosy Day by sharing Sanjushee’s story.

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Source:  Gospel for Asia

Hair Us

I remember a long time ago that I wore my hair in an Afro, or at least tried to, but it was too wispy and my sister had to keep patting it down in place.  Shortly after that, I abandoned the idea and went back to braiding my hair.  Had I gone to school wearing an Afro, I wonder what would have happened. I don’t recall seeing other girls wearing their hair in Afro at school so I have no way of knowing if it would have posed a problem for them.  However, if I were a young black South African student at the prestigious Pretoria girls’ school, formerly attended by whites only, I would be banned from wearing my hair in an Afro or in a natural hairstyle.

In South Africa, girls as young as 13 years took part in a protest to against a clause in the school’s code of conduct which banned wide cornrows, braids and dreadlocks. One girl wearing an Afro stood up to a man. Her defiant look told him that she was not going to allow him or anyone to tell her how she should look.

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Not everyone shared this girl’s courage.  Many were fearful because they knew that they would be policed when they go to school. Others cried as they shared their experiences. One girl said, “I have a natural Afro, but a teacher told me I need to comb my hair because it looks like a bird’s nest.” Another girl said that her mother forced her to cut her hair because she “didn’t want to trouble” at the affluent school.  Students were forced to comb their hair before they were allowed to eat dinner.

Malaika Maoh Eyoh, 17, was  told that her Afro was distracting the other students from learning. Although she now braids her hair, she felt that the comment was aggressive and was among the 100+ young women protesting against the school for allegedly forcing black students to straighten their hair.  After the march of protest, images of it went viral in South Africa and an online petition garnered over 10,000 signatures.  And an independent audit of the school to investigate all claims of racism has been ordered. However, this has not abated Malaika’s anger.  Her experiences of discrimination over the years were still very fresh in her mind.  She recalled one incident when a student was pulled out of class and given Vaseline to flatten her hair.

The discrimination went beyond their hairstyles.  Students were discouraged from speaking African languages.  They were told to “stop making those funny noises” when they spoke in their mother tongue.  Others were compared to monkeys or told that they were too concerned with race and politics to achieve the school’s demand for academic excellence.   Still, others were told that they belonged in the poorly funded schools in the black townships on the outskirts of the city.

Schools are where children are shaped and groomed for life and success.  It is where their confidence is built up and nurtured.  Education is more than learning from books, it is about being sensitive to the feelings of others.  Girls are very conscious when it comes to their looks and they need to know that no matter how they choose to wear their hair, it does not diminish their value.  Banned from wearing her hair natural took one young woman who went to a school in Cape Town years to undo the damage done to her sense of self-love and appreciation for who she was.  It affected another young woman’s confidence in her abilities.

What is a girl to do?  Should she change the way she looks to avoid causing trouble in school or should she stand up for what she believes is her right to wear her hair natural and face discrimination and humiliation?   Well, it looks like the protest struck a chord with many and under pressure from students and parents, provincial Education Minister, Panyaza Lesufi suspended Pretoria High’s hair clause last week. The next step is to end the discrimination at the school.  An online petition has already been signed.

Sources:  The GuardianQuartz Africa; Goats and Soda

The Miracle of Life

For me, the most amazing transformation were the stages of pregnancy.  It wasn’t planned but I was thrilled when I got the news that I was pregnant.   During those 41 weeks, I marveled at the changes of my body and was amazed at the relentless hunger pangs that plagued me.  I was told that I was eating for two when I was actually eating for myself.  The baby took whatever nourishment he needed.  I was curious to see the stages of development so I visited the Baby Centre site to find out, What does your baby look like now?  It was an eye-opening experience.  I couldn’t believe that in nine months, that little tadpole would transform into a baby with beautifully formed limbs, ten toes, ten fingers and a head of hair.  Open day, those tiny lungs would get their first gulp of air.  I couldn’t wait to welcome my baby into the world.

My pregnancy not only changed my life, but it deepened my love and appreciation for the God who had made this possible.   “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, The fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3).  God’s loving fingers had knitted the life growing inside me.  He clothed him with skin and flesh and knitted him together with bones and sinews (Job 10:11).

I will never forget the moment I first held my son in my arms.  My arms ached to hold him and when the nurse gently lowered him into them, I felt as if my heart would stop beating.  The love I felt as I gazed down into that sweet little face was almost too much to bear.  Tears come to my eyes even I write these words.  At long last I was holding the life that had been covered in my womb (Psalm 139:13).  The transformation was complete.  I was holding the miracle of life in my arms.  I never imagined that I would have a child in my forties.  Yet, there I was holding my first and only child and he was perfect.   He was “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).  I made a promise that I would be the best mother that he could ever hope for, with God’s help.

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Corrie ten Boom

I just finished watching this documentary on a remarkable woman of faith, Corrie ten Boom.  What a heartbreaking, inspirational and encouraging story.  We are taken on a journey of courage, the courage to do what is right, betrayal, loss, deliverance and forgiveness.

As you watch this film, try to imagine how you would feel if you were in Corrie’s shoes. Would you be able to forgive the man who betrayed you and your family or the Nazi guard who was extremely cruel to your sister?  We see how the power of God’s love can change hearts–including Corrie’s.

Notes to Women celebrate a woman whose faith has inspired so many and whose story continues to resonate.

Living With Illiteracy

…more than 250 million women in Asia who are illiterate. Young girls might be denied an education or are too poor to receive one, and they suffer their whole life because of it.   A woman who can’t read faces many difficulties. She isn’t able to keep her children safe because she can’t read warning labels. She’s vulnerable to being cheated in the marketplace for lack of basic math skills, and she can be taken advantage of through bad contracts she doesn’t understand – Gospel for Asia

My son likes when I read to him.  At bedtime, he curls up next to me, snuggled against the pillows, while I read a Bible story.

Reading is one of my favorite past-times.  Ever since I was a little girl, I was always reading.  Every time you saw me, my nose was buried in a book.  I read books, magazines, comics, plays.  My love for reading led to my love for writing.  If I wasn’t eagerly turning the pages of a romance novel, I was writing short stories.  Nowadays I read mostly religious books and of course, my Bible.

How different my world would have been if I had grown up illiterate.  I can’t imagine not being able to read to my son or study my Bible.  Yet, this is the reality that Jeni experienced.  Poverty prevented her from attending school.  Sadly, many children take education for granted.  As a child Jeni would have loved the opportunity to go to school and learn.  Education is such a blessing.  It opens so many doors.

Living with illiteracy was hard for Jeni.  It robbed her of the joy of reading for herself and to her children.  She couldn’t read newspapers to keep up with current events.  She couldn’t write grocery lists, reminder notes or read street signs.  Can you imagine trying to get around the city when you can’t read the names of the streets or buildings?  Try to imagine not being able to help your child with his or her homework or a school project or read a report card, not to mention birthday and Mother’s Day cards.

When Jeni became a grandmother, her illiteracy weighed more on her.  “Sometimes my grandson and granddaughter asked me to help with their school homework, but I did not know what to do” she said.  Shame and embarrassment filled her because she couldn’t read or sign her own name.  Help and hope were just around the corner…

When Jeni was suffering from pain in her shoulders which the doctor’s couldn’t treat, she met a Christian from a local church who invited her to attend a worship service.  Jeni accepted.  When she shared her pain with a congregation of believers led by Gospel for Asia-supported pastor Ajay, they  joined together to lift her up in prayer to the Great Physician.  God set Jeni free from the pain several doctor visits and treatments could not cure and she grew to love Him.  She worshipped Him, rejoicing in His love, mercy and compassion.  God was about to set her free from something she had lived with most of her life…

Jeni could not read the Bible and discover the wonderful promises of God and teachings of Jesus.  Upon learning about her illiteracy, three Gospel for Asia-supported women missionaries serving the congregation encouraged her to join the literacy classes they taught for women in the community.  Words of encouragement helped Jeni to overcome her shyness and her eagerness to learn took over.  God was giving her the desires of her heart.  She persevered in her lessons and other women in the community saw her progress.  At her encouragement, these women joined the classes.  Soon other women joined too.  Not only were these classes unlocking the door of literacy but they were discovering the love of Christ.

In six months Jeni could read and write.  She was no longer living with illiteracy.  The door was permanently closed and a new door of opportunities had opened for her.  Her daughter was thrilled for her.  “I am very happy that my mother is able to read and write now by the help of women missionaries. These days, she is able to negotiate with the shopkeepers and writes her signature,” she said.  And now Jeni can read to her grandchildren and help them with their homework–things she couldn’t do for her own children.

Jeni thanks God for ending the struggle with illiteracy which she had endured for most of her life.  “Today,” she declares, “I am proud to say I am not illiterate.”

What a happy end to Jeni’s story.  You can help another woman to have a happy ending too by donating toward Gospel for Asia-supported Women’s Literacy today.  Help those struggling with illiteracy to discover the God who wants to free them and the Saviour who loves them.

Bless the LORD, O my soul,  And forget not all His benefits – Psalm 103:2

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Source:  Gospel for Asia

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Peter’s Mother-in-Law Healed

14 Now when Jesus had come into Peter’s house, He saw his wife’s mother lying sick with a fever. 15 So He touched her hand, and the fever left her. And she arose and served them (Matthew 8:14, 15).

Imagine that your son-in law has guests over but you can’t join them because you are not feeling well.  You are feeling terrible because you have a fever.  Then, the doctor comes and gives you something that gets rid of the fever.  You’re feeling better.  Would you get up and serve dinner or remain in bed?  Most of us would choose the latter.  However, Peter’s mother-in-law got out of bed and served Jesus and everyone in Peter’s house.

Why did she get out of bed to serve them?  Perhaps, it was her way of thanking  Jesus for healing her .  She was feeling better now so she didn’t want to stay in bed.  She wanted to be up and about, serving up delicious food for the guests to enjoy.

How do we respond when we are feeling better after a bout with an illness?  Do we go about our daily lives as usual or do we find ways to serve the Lord because we are thankful to Him for healing us?

Everyday you wake up feeling well, give thanks and “serve the LORD with gladness” (Psalm 100:2).

Mental Health Crisis in India

More than 50 million people in India suffer from a mental illness.  In 2011, India recorded the highest rate of major depression in the world at 36 per cent.  According to doctors, roughly 10 per cent of India’s population suffers from depression – MGMH

 

Women with mental illness are treated as less than human.  They are dumped, abandoned and abused.  If there are any signs of mental illness, a woman is put in a mental hospital with no chance of getting out.  Men can go back home while women are there for life.  In the following video, we meet a woman whose husband had her institutionalized although she had no history of mental illness.  Here’s a story of a mentally ill woman whose husband built a case against her so that he could get custody of their children after divorcing her.

It is not surprising that women suffer from depression at higher rates than men.  They have to deal with gender inequality, violence, lack of paid employment, lack of education, excessive spousal alcohol use and poverty.  Mothers are blamed for the birth of a female child and many face pressure to have male children.  Women are diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life, oftentimes, following the birth of their children.  The children are often removed from the ill mother’s care and this results in further distress for her. Indian women have higher rates of suicide than women in most developed countries and a higher rate of suicide compared to men in India.  Depression is one of the most common reasons for suicide among Indian women.

Mental health in India carries with it a stigma, especially if the person suffering from mental illness is a woman.  According to MGMH (Movement for Global Mental Health), in rural India, it is common to see people taking their children to temples and faith-healers instead of hospitals and doctors, especially in cases of mental health.  Mental health was something that was talked about in hushed tones.  Thankfully, it is no longer being swept under the rug.  People are coming forward.  Deepika Padukone stunned her fans last year when she admitted that she suffered from anxiety and depression.

At the time the news broke, she was one of the most sought after actresses in Bollywood. It took tremendous courage for her to disclose her illness, especially since people diagnosed with mental illness face discrimination.  Deepika has since launched the Live Love Laugh Foundation to raise awareness about mental health issues and as a result many celebrities were inspired to come out in the open and address the need to talk about mental health.  Varun Dhawan admitted that he was depressed during the making of Badlapur and Honey Singh revealed that he has been undergoing therapy for bipolar disorder.

Sadly, those living with mental illness are victims of a cruel fate.  They are often locked away and stripped of their basic human rights in state-run institutions that are under-staffed. In an article, titled Mentally Ill Suffer a Horrible Fate in India posted on the site for Deutsche Welle (DW), most state run mental hospitals are in deplorable conditions. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported that out of the 43 government mental hospitals in India, less than half a dozen are in a “livable” condition”.

There are doctors in charge of these hospitals who have no business being there.  “These doctors don’t understand the intricacies of a psychiatric illnesses and the comprehensive care the patients require,” said a psychiatrist working in a state-run mental hospital in Uttar Pradesh.

And in the midst of the crisis of hospitals not providing the conditions and care the patients need, are quack healers who are profiting from this.  According to a study by Dr. Shiv Gautam, former superintendent of Jaipur Mental Hospital, 68 per cent of the mentally ill are taken to faith healers before a psychiatrist.  “The reason, besides superstition, is that most general medicine doctors fail to diagnose psychiatric illness,” Gautam said. “A mentally ill patient displays symptoms which superstitious people believe are paranormal,” he added. “Such patients are tortured, chained and used for extracting money from their families.”  Hema, who was suffering from Schizophrenia was believed to have an evil spirit.  Her family took her to Datar Sharif Dargah where she spent a year locked up.  It wasn’t until her condition deteriorated that she was brought to Dr. Gautam.  In 15 days, she began to improve and a month later she was normal.

In other cases, the mentally ill are subjected to one of these horrific ordeals:  whipping, caning, inhaling burnt chili smoke, having their eyes smeared with chili paste or having their eyes branded with red, hot coins.  There are laws banning this practice, however, many dargahs and temples keep the patients chained.  Some of them spend the rest of their lives like this.  In 2001, 26 patients perished in a fire at a dargah in a coastal village because they couldn’t escape the blaze since they were chained.  What a horrific and senseless tragedy.

Families of mentally ill people opt for dumping them.  This means that they are dumped into an asylum where the conditions are not fit for a human.  When an illegal asylum was raided, they found thirty-five men and six boys living in inhuman conditions.  The stench from their unwashed bodies and the excrement drove neighbors to alert the health department.  Naked and chained inmates were discovered, dumped there by their families after they paid the asylum owner.  Some of these poor souls were found crawling in their excrement, some even consuming it.  On their bodies were marks of torture.  Some had surgical scars on their backs, leading to allegations that the asylum had links to kidney theft.  78 patients had entered the asylum but only 41 were found during the raid.

Other patients are dumped in jungles or forests ranges.  Their families pay lorry drivers to drop them.  Women and children are among these victims and in some cases, the females are raped by the drivers before being dumped.  Social activist Murugan S. who has rescued countless mentally ill people from the streets, cautions us not to judge the families by calling them cruel.  Instead we are to examine what forced them to take such extreme measures.  He believes that system needs to change.

Part of the solution is raising awareness.  The suffering of the mentally ill has been brought to our attention. It is out in the open.  The next thing that needs to be done is to show the superstitious and fearful society that mental illness is nothing to run away from or to be ashamed of.  The person suffering from mental illness needs love, support and most importantly, proper care so that he or she can live a normal life.

The government needs to put something place to ensure that patients are placed in reputable, sanitary facilities that will provide the care that they need and to ban the operation of illegal asylums and the practice of dumping.  Quack healers should be banned from profiting from other people’s suffering.  Husbands should not be allowed to institutionalize their wives if there is no record that they have mental illness.

No one wants to be mentally ill but it is a reality for many people and what they need is to know that they have a platform where they can talk about what is happening with them. Here in Canada, we have Bell Let’s Talk, a wide-reaching, multi-year program designed to break the silence around mental illness and support mental health all across the country. It has done so much to fight the stigma of mental illness and encourage people to get involved in educating themselves and others.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that something will be put in place in India so that attitudes toward mental illness would change and those suffering from it will have a platform where they would not be judged, dumped, abandoned or discriminated but supported and be treated with dignity and open minds.  In the meantime, let’s keep talking and raising awareness.

Talking is the best way to start breaking down the barriers associated with mental illness – Bell, Let’s Talk

 

Sources:  Vice News; Movement of Global Mental Health; Wikipedia; Deutsche Welle