In the mid-1900s, just as India was gaining its independence from Great Britain, two young people were growing up in families that were to share an ill-fated bond: leprosy. Love eventually blossomed between them, and as it grew, so did the advancing shadow of the disease. The young lovers married, but leprosy prevented their initial pregnancies from coming to term. Finally one baby survived, a boy they named Johnson.
In another leprosy community a girl named Prasanna was also born to infected parents. Like Johnson, this little one didn’t contract leprosy, but both were still forced to carry the stigma of their parents’ disease throughout their childhoods. Other children mocked and taunted them. They learned early the only “business” for those cursed with leprosy: begging. For Johnson and Prasanna, the future looked dark and empty.
As a child, Prasanna’s life took a fateful turn when an accident caused a severe head injury. She called out in her heart to the God she did not yet know. A man in white, appearing in a vision, touched her head and she was healed. Prasanna realized that this man was Jesus, whom she’d heard about from others, and she chose to put her faith in Him.
Years later Prasanna moved to the outskirts of the city of Hyderabad. She felt deep compassion for her parents and others who suffered the disfiguring effects of leprosy. She had tried her best to care for them, but she needed more medical knowledge. That’s when she decided to enroll in a training program where she learned how to treat the symptoms of leprosy.
Johnson, who also lived in Hyderabad, was orphaned by the age of 14 when leprosy dragged his parents to an early grave. He and Prasanna met, but her parents, who belonged to one of India’s higher castes, didn’t want her to have anything to do with Johnson, who was a member of the untouchable (Dalit) caste. As irony would have it, Prasanna’s parents became, in effect, “untouchable” due to their leprosy. So after winning Prasanna’s heart, Johnson proceeded to win the hearts of her parents, too. The couple soon married. Formerly a Hindu, Johnson’s heart was then won to the Lord by Prasanna’s witness.
Children Sarah, Bhaskar, Srikanth and Boaz entered their lives one by one, and Prasanna continued to use her skills—and her compassion—to help leprosy patients. But times were lean. Johnson pulled a rickshaw for a living, while Prasanna earned a little income as a school helper. Some days the family ate just one meal.
Over time, however, Prasanna’s persistence in performing the difficult, dangerous and, by all accounts, repulsive tasks of treating the wounds caused by leprosy earned her a saint-like reputation both within the leprosy community and without. As her daughter Sarah grew, Prasanna taught her the same skills. Her compassion rubbed off naturally.
I first met Prasanna in 2011. After that the Leprosy Ministry began helping to equip her small clinic with medical supplies and other basic necessities. Sarah worked by her side, and eventually took up her mother’s mantle by teaching others the nursing skills her mother passed on to her. And soon afterwards, in partnership with Heaven’s Family and other organizations, Sarah set up sewing classes (followed later by training programs for computer skills, taxi driving and beautician courses) to teach the younger generation in the leprosy community skills with which to support their families—a life-affirming alternative to begging. And this is just the beginning! The Leprosy Ministry is exploring many other ways to help patients through the pioneering efforts of Prasanna and Sarah.
Without the Christian leadership of Prasanna and her family, it is doubtful so much blessing would have been accomplished for the leprosy victims in Hyderabad and throughout the surrounding countryside. These courageous individuals have laid their lives down for the Lord in service to His “least of these,” and I am forever grateful to those Heaven’s Family partners who’ve given to make this incredible ministry possible.