Nearly two years ago, Jared Nygren was introduced to an organization known as Rising Star Outreach. Jared became completely enthralled with their mission to alleviate those suffering with leprosy. He had assumed leprosy was a plague of the past and only associated it with ancient biblical stories. It was disturbing to learn that thousands suffer from its crippling effects today.
Jared Nygren is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints.
In 2016 the stars began to align for a volunteer opportunity at Rising Star. Jared's father received a Fulbright scholarship to teach entrepreneurship at Amity University in New Delhi, India; Jared wanted to join his father. After several lengthy conversations with Rising Star he was invited to teach entrepreneurship to teenage students from the leprosy colonies.
In February of 2017, he became dedicated as a full time volunteer. After spending only a few days in the colonies he came to understand leprosy as more than a physical aliment. By many it was called the living death - not only because the physical body was destroyed but the very humanity of the victim was degraded.
Traditionally society here reacts to leprosy much like what we find in biblical scripture - anyone suspected of the disease was required to visit the priest for examination. If found to be infected, “the leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out ‘Unclean, unclean.’” The leper was an utter outcast.
"A leper wasn’t allowed to come within six feet of any other human, including his own family. The disease was considered so revolting that the leper wasn’t permitted to come within 150 feet of anyone when the wind was blowing,” Nygren states.
The wretchedness of having this disease that disfigured and ate away at you could only be multiplied by having the entire world regard you as having deserved it for your sin. It would be heaping humiliation upon agony.
Others would think, “The rot of your body mirrors the rot of your soul.” What starts as perhaps a small speck on the body, gradually spreads to the soft tissues throughout the entire body, degrading and rotting the whole body, as sin defiles man and makes him impure and incapable of entering the presence of God. Perhaps this perspective lends some understanding to the effects of leprosy.
As volunteers worked with the Rising Star medical team to wash and clean the wounds of a woman affected by leprosy she began to tell us of her family. For the last 57 years she has lived in the colony - much of it alone after the death of her husband. She painfully stood from her seated position on the steps of her humble home. The effect of leprosy evident on her her fingerless hands and misshaped feet. She struggled to stand and steadied herself as she reached down to reveal a photo album. The pictures were faded and torn. She pointed at the photos exclaiming something in Tamil - it was her family. She began to weep.
Jared felt tears well in his own eyes and learned that although some of her family is still alive they never come to visit. I felt a tinge of pain as I saw a glimpse of her emotional burden. I was deeply touched as several times during our conversation she looked heavenward and whispered, "Jesus" - revealing a tender relationship.
Nygren expressed, "I could imagine his love encompassing her - lifting her through the lonely hours. And perhaps for a moment we were his hands as we washed her wounds and held her weeping body. I am very humbled to have been a part of this magnificent work.''
(RISING STAR OUTREACH is a USA based NGO that thrives to to help the Leprosy colonies become thriving, self-sufficient communities)