Our Leprosy Work

That our women may become better acquainted with the leprosy program of the Christian Reformed Church in Nigeria, we are imparting information given in an interview with Miss Bena Kok (recently retired from missionary nursing in Nigeria) and Miss Anita Vissia, home on furlough. who devoted much of her nursing experience and Christian witness to leprosy patients in Nigeria.

It is well to mention at once that the word “leper” is taboo among the Nigerians. One must say “leprosy patient,” “leprosy village,” etc.

The answers of Miss Vissia and Miss Kok to the following questions will, we hope, greatly interest you:

1. Among which of the people do you chiefly do your nursing?
Among patients with leprosy and maternity.

2. When did we start leprosy work in Africa?
We had already started out-patient treatment in Miss Johanna Veenstra’s day. Leprosy patients then came in once a week from the villages for hydnocarpus oil injections. In 1950 we started the Lupwe Leprosy Village called Gidan Termeer, meaning “home of Termeer” in honor of the donors—the Termeer family. The number of patients grew to 600 within a year, all of whom built their huts to live in, or, if unable, relatives did it for them.

3. When was the currently used treatment started?
In 1951 we started with the D.D.S. tablets (Diamino Dipheny Sulfone).

4. Do scientists know what causes leprosy?
Yes, Hansen’s bacillus causes it.

5. How extensive is the disease of leprosy among your people?
It used to be 5%, but it is less now.

6. About how many leprosy settlements are in the area for which the C. R. C. is responsible?
There is really only one leprosy settlement, the Benue Leprosy Settlement, although besides, we had treatment villages where patients could come, build homes and farm, and receive this treatment. Previously they were segregated; now their families may visit them. Absolute segregation was never possible because of their culture. We had three treatment villages until two were taken over by the government in April 1972. We have one left at Baissa.

7. When was the one still left for us opened?
In 1953 the Baissa Leprosy Village was opened with a maximum of 75 patients. A recent count numbered 30. The reason for the decline is that patients are now receiving out-patient treatment.

8. How does leprosy affect family life?
Among our tribes leprosy members are, on the whole, accepted by the family; they are not being sent away from home nor disowned because of it.

9. Do many children have leprosy?
Children are the most susceptible. It runs in families. Children of a parent or of a grandparent who has it, are most susceptible to getting it.

10. Is there an educational program for such children?
They have school for their children and separate reading and writing classes for the adults in a school building. A patient teaches them.

11. Will you describe a few of your worst cases?
Larata (meaning “born on Wednesday”) has been in the village for at least twenty years. When she came she was already mutilated, that is, her fingers and toes were already just stubs. Such a patient needs attention to be kept free from ulcers and injuries, and to teach her how to take care of her own needs by making pottery and by making embroidered head ties (head kerchiefs). Larata holds her needle in the crease of her stump between the thumb and finger. Pastor Ezekiel from Ibi was only nine or ten years old when he came to the village as a patient, He came to Sunday School and memorized Bible verses until he earned his Bible. He learned to read his Bible in a village school. Before he was discharged he was a baptized Christian of about sixteen years of age. Ezekiel then attended the Wukari Bible School and, from there on, the pastor’s training course. Now he is the pastor at the Ibi church. This is an example of what one patient turned out to be. His father is not yet a Christian.

12. What kind of outlook on life do leprosy patients have?
They take their condition for granted.

13. How is the leprosy patient again received by society upon being healed?
He goes back to his own home, although after having been in the village so long, he finds it hard to pull up stakes. A business man, not yet healed, is back in his business at Takum and received like anybody else.

14. Is the Holy Spirit working redemptively among these sorely tried people?
Very much so. About 30% in the village became Christians while there. One is now a pastor in a growing church. These people built their own church in the village. When they started their church, they worshipped under a tree. Then they built a grass shelter because the rainy season came. A few years later, they built a regular church of their own in their village.

15. How does the faith of these Christians affect their attitude toward their disease?
They manifest remarkable patience. I’Iaving a church there with a nucleus of believers binds them together and helps them to help one another.

16. What kind of interest do they show in the study of God’s Word?
They have regular church services, catechism classes, Wednesday morning prayer services, Sunday School for all ages, and a women’s Bible class during the week.

17. Show how the sovereign grace of God is clearly operating among them.
Sasse came when he was about ten years old, having neither fingers nor toes. At first he was very ill. When stronger he was given a cast on which children pulled him to school and back. He learned to read and write and also learned to walk on crutches. He is now a baptized Christian. Sasse helps others learn to read the Bible, being a very outgoing Christian, expressing great emotion and joy, thus showing the sovereign grace of God in his life. (Bena and Anita won’t mind that I insert here a prayer request that came from Nigeria after we had this interview. It is another evidence of the sovereign grace of God in one’s life and what she has to face for Christ’s sake. It reads: Pray for Amina Donga, a discharged baptized Christian from the Lupwe Leprosy village who has gone home to a Muslim family. She needs our prayers.)

18. Do the Nigerian Christians have a real insight into God’s covenant with His people?
If so, how do they manifest it? Pastor Stefanus has always been strong on emphasizing the covenant. The Nigerians manifest this by having their children baptized. We have as many as fifty infant baptisms at one time. If only one parent is a Christian, the parent’s child is not allowed to be baptized.

19. Do the Nigerian Christians have a real appreciation of the sovereignty of God in salvation?
Very much. In their prayers they give thanks to God for bringing them salvation. Especially in the leprosy village they realize that if they hadn’t come to the village, they couldn’t have heard.

20. Do you and the Nigerian Christians too, get real comfort from the fact that God has His own among every tribe and tongue and people and nation?
When you bring a Gospel message to patients and some mock, you know the Lord will apply it to those for whom it is intended. I’m sure the native Christians get real comfort from this too.

21. What can we in America do for the leprosy patients of Nigeria?
You can pray for them. You can help supply extra food, medicine, and clothes. However, instead of sending food, medicine, or clothes from America, send money so that we can buy the materials in Nigeria, because customs are very high.

We hope this article will prove helpful in whetting our interest in the leprosy program of our own denomination, so that we shall pray more for it and give more to it.

May God bless Anita as she returns to serve these afflicted ones, and may God give Bena much joy in her retirement.

P.S. Do our dear women in the Holland area realize that none of the money they so faithfully put into “the pig” nor any of the fees given to the organization that sponsors “the pig” goes to our Christian Reformed Leprosy program in Africa?