Posted February 1, 2018 by HNGR
Tags: Applied Health Science Palliative Care Worship
It is 7:42am, and a faithful congregation of elderly Thai folks are gathering for the morning devotional in the Ruam Jai village outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. “Ruam jai” is a Thai phrase that means “united hearts”, a fitting title for this tight-knit community of former leprosy patients that I have had the privilege of joining for my HNGR internship. For many of the folks, Ruam Jai has been their home for several decades. The members of this community have graciously received me with immense warmth and generosity. As I approach the ward where the devotional time is about to begin, I am met by the Ruam Jai folks with faces that crinkle into the smile lines that years and the sun have etched.
The morning devotion begins with a song, and though the singing is in Thai, I recognize the tune of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and hum along. It may seem that these people have little, but there is an incomparable richness to the friendship with Jesus and each other they share. I have experienced many times of joy during my time at Ruam Jai; one of my favorite moments was the morning I joined seven of the Ruam Jai residents as they danced and laughed along to a Thai aerobics video from their wheelchairs. I have also witnessed times of grief. The Ruam Jai community knows what is it to live at the intersection of redemptive hope and lamentation, where praises and tears coexist. In a conversation with one of the residents, he told me how thankful he is for the healthcare, home, and friends he has at Ruam Jai, but it is “a different type of happiness”, he explained, for he misses the family he had to leave. And I’ll never forget the morning I arrived at Ruam Jai to see that the activity hall had been temporarily transformed into a funeral chapel. A dear Ruam Jai woman shared her thoughts on life ending, as she peacefully told me “God hasn’t called me yet like my friends; I’m waiting for him to call me.” The death of a loved one entails loss and grief, but in accepting her own mortality, this woman has found freedom to trust God and live the days she has left with a hope greater than this world could ever offer.
After the hymn ends, we read from scripture about the Savior who is willing to reach out and touch us, wounds and all. As professed in John 1:14, the glory of God is made manifest by Christ dwelling with us. The folks at Ruam Jai are teaching me what it means to live life together through simply being present and sharing their stories. At the beginning of my internship, I was insecure in my ability to be helpful—I am not yet a trained nurse able to care for the physical needs of the residents or a qualified counselor with expertise in providing psychological support; yet, I am able to be a friend of these dear elderly folks. God has brought me to Ruam Jai not primarily to heal or to research, but to learn how to dwell together through the Holy Spirit. I am learning that sometimes dwelling looks like going on a wheelchair walk or playing Bingo.
The devotional time concludes in a prayer for the Kingdom and will of God to come, a glorious Kingdom where sickness and stigmatization are no more. The vision Christ has for lepers is not only for their physical healing but also that the lepers’ rights as members of human societies be reinstated.
Paying attention to the accounts of Jesus healing lepers in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it can be noted that after the miraculous healings of leprosy, Jesus instructs the healed person to go to the community leaders so that they may be declared clean and reintegrated into society. A Ghanaian proverb remarks that “It is neither leprosy nor poverty which kills the leper; it is loneliness” (Narayan 39). Leprosy and its debilitating symptoms cause not only physical suffering, but historically social isolation and shunning as well. However, “the Kingdom of God refuses to recognize any barriers that divide people” (Christian 188). The beauty of the gospel is that Christ came to touch those labeled as “untouchable”- the oppressed, the marginalized, and the lepers.
Here, in this sacred space, Jesus dwells.
--Josie Needs (HNGR 2017)
Christiain, Jayakumar. God of the Empty-Handed. Poverty, Power and the Kingdom of God. Monrovia: World Vision, 1999.
Narayan, Deepa. “Voices of the Poor.” in Faith in Development: Partnership between the World Bank and the Churches of Africa. Deryke Belshaw, Robery Calderisi, and Chris Sugden (eds). Oxford: Regnum Books International, 2001. Ch. 5.