Born in Ji'nan, Shandong, Sister Qiao has volunteered in leprosy rehabilitation villages across China since 2009. She explains that there are about 600 leprosy rehabilitation centers and 250,000 leprosy survivors in China. Some leprosy survivors stay in rehab villages, while a portion live on remote mountains alone. Many of them are elderly people who can look after themselves; however, they are living in pain and hopelessness. Although their diseases have been cured and lost the infection, they are kept at a respectful distance and forgotten by people.
"What about going to a leprosy village?"
Sister Qiao, who has been a follower of Jesus for twelve years, wanted to work for the Lord. Encountering bottlenecks in her faith journey, she desired to experience the life of the Lord and John the Baptist when he lived in a desert.
One of her friends suggested her to go to a leprosy community. There is a leprosy rehab village situated in Zaozhuang, her hometown. Hearing the friend's narration of the village, she thought that it was a haven of peace and happiness.
Arriving at the village, she felt disappointed. The dusty village was like a soil nest with spacious surroundings. Her first instinct was to leave; however, at that time, a sister working in the village went out to meet her. She decided to stay there for ten days according to her promise. "In the ten days, my eyes were on the gate every day, wondering when I could return home."
"It was God who caught me"
Now, Qiao wants to be with these cute elderly people even if she was eager to flee from this place in the past. She confessed that it was God who caught her to do this ministry, similar to how Simon from Cyrene was forced to carry the cross of Jesus. During that path, the life of Jesus entered into him. It was the same for her.
From 2007, she wanted to be a preacher and started to equip herself. But the life in the village was challenging. Sister Lu shares the stories of Jeremiah, Hosea and Simon from Cyrene with her, telling her that it was not the Roman soldiers but the Lord who caught Simon. Her heart almost collapsed, crying that why it should be her.
For ten days, she did nothing else; but, stayed in her room and studied the Bible. One day at noon, she opened the curtain and saw that Sister Lu was scrubbing the bathroom floor. "It's hot at noon and less likely to catch a cold. She chose to bathe the elderly survivors at this time. She didn't ask me to do it when she was doing these things." Moved by the sister, she came to know that Lu does things this way for a reason.
After leaving the leprosy center, she came to visit a friend, who is a preacher. Unconsciously, she shared Isaiah 58:6-7 with her friend: "...Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? ..."
Astonished by her words, her friend asked her whether she intended to serve in the leprosy center. Unresolved, she replied, "I can go there, but not now." It was then that a girl from the village called her to know when she would return. She blurt out, "Tomorrow." She was surprised with her answer.
"What if my heart suffers from leprosy?"
Having stayed in the village for a month, Qiao met the founder of the volunteer team -- Yuk Gwon Kim. As a Korean, he started to take care of leprosy survivors in remote places of China at 72. At the age of 84, he has been to leprosy colonies in Chinese provinces like Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou, caring them with Jesus' love and living in remote "islands." The group, nobody dares to come near, felt the complete love and acceptance of Jesus from him. His story touched her for the world was changed because of his own sacrifice.
Through the talk with the founder, she remembered James 4:17 "If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn't do it, it is sin for them" and that many people followed Jesus when he did something good. In 2 Corinthians 9:9, it says "As it is written: "They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever." Mr. Kim asked her, should they help the needy? She replies, yes. Then Kim told her to just do it.
She reflected on herself, wondering why she didn't see these verses in the past since she went to church and also read the Bible.
Due to impact of leprosy, survivors suffer from physical disabilities, blindness, lameness and amputations. Despite not being afraid of them, she didn't have compassion for them. Fear rose up in her heart which caused her to question if whether or not she suffered from leprosy. "People can take medicine when they are infected with leprosy. The disease can be cured through medication and not transmitted. But how should one heal leprosy of the heart?"
The medicine lies in Isaiah 58:10, "... and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday." Leprosy of the heart symbolizes sins, selfishness, jealousy, loving themselves and not loving enemies.
The reason why God put lowly and painful people among us is to heal leprosy in our hearts.
"Do you see that I am her?"
Qiao made up her mind to give up her plan and join in the service when she met a girl in the village.
Xiaoqi, a young leprosy survivor, and some children went to her room and played with her. To her surprise, she immediately opened all the doors and windows as if their diseases could spread via air. Seeing Xiaoqi standing there, she invited the girl to sit on her bed, being polite to the child. Xiaoqi sat down at once while she was stunned and urged her to study the Bible in another room. Xiaoqi agreed. When Xiaoqi left, she turned around at Qiao and said, "Elder Sister, I'm leaving." "Ok, you go first."Qiao replied.
After her departure, Qiao changed the sheets. But she was absent-minded the whole day and could not sleep at night. She prayed and heard a voice saying, "You often pray and confess that you would keep me in your heart as your savior and reign in your life as the Lord and the king. But you didn't receive me when I came." At the moment, she was wondering when the Lord came and she didn't receive him, the scene that Xiaoqi opened the door and looked at her flashed before her.
Was that Jesus?
The voice continues, "Yes, I'm one of the least of these brothers. Don't often read the word that I'm with you always while you're not with me and that Jesus knocks at the door of your heart while you don't welcome him?"
Qiao said that she didn't recognize Jesus since she had seen many similar biblical plays before. "Lord, you came to me in such a way but I didn't receive you. Instead, I drove you away. What if Jesus goes past my life like this?" She knelt down and repented, "Lord, please help me. Give me another chance and let me be with her. I'm really willing."
She claimed, "God did give me the opportunity. We lived and studied together. I'm very grateful (for this opportunity)."
She adds that the Lord always wants to see us as does He now. The point lies in whether we can see the Lord through people in difficulty. He loves people in trouble more than those smart ones.
"I was also treated as a leper."
When Qiao told her mother that she would like to volunteer in leprosy villages, her mother, a Christian, thought that she just made a joke. Her mother suggested her to pray for this because it might be not the will of God.
Afterwards, she returned home and sensed that she was discriminated. Her room and every thing she had were disinfected and she was not allowed to sit in a chair or on a sofa, feeling like she was being separated. This time she knew the discrimination lepers go through.
"Those lepers who want to go to rehab villages are not permitted to take a taxi or stay in a hotel. Many of them have to walk here step by step. Their hearts are cold. Actually, they have twofold leprosy in their bodies and hearts."
She shares that lepers are shunned by their villages and society to the extent that their friends, relatives, parents and children abandon them. Nobody cares and loves them. They are left at the mercy of fate, being despised without human rights.
"They awaken our numb hearts."
After having stayed with the leprosy survivors for 7.5 years, Qiao said that it is Christians who discard them, rather than society and their families. "Jesus, who is love, is with everyone, including lepers. He and his disciples drew near lepers. These lepers waited for death when they didn't know Jesus, who shed blood for those innocent people? For me, it's me, not others."
The Bible says that mercy triumphs over judgment. The Lord is among these lowly people who are suffering.
Quoting Matthew 25:40, she adds, "How can you claim that you love God if you don't love brothers and sisters whom you have seen? The reality is that we don't give anything to the lepers. Instead, we are given something through them. The leprosy villages are platforms God offers to us, where we can learn more about His will and plan. God, who loves them, will save them. He awakens our compassion, love and numb hearts and this is real."
She mentions that she and other volunteers visited an elderly woman with leprosy in Shandong a year ago. Without hands, the woman, who is lame and only had one leg, lives on a mountain alone, rejected by surrounding villages. She was glad to meet them and kept giving thanks to Jesus. "It's hard to imagine her life. Sometimes, her younger brother, who lives in the next village, brings dishes to her and she feeds on them for several days. As a man from a nearby village says, 'God looks after her and feeds her.'"
"The Bible says that in the last days, the love of most will grow cold because of the increase of wickedness. A great number of people know how to do good whether they are Christians or not; but, those who actually take action are too few. The volunteers serving in leprosy colonies are non-denominational and there is only one truth, Jesus. We should sacrifice and die for others."
She shows that the Lord heals our inner numbness by the kind of life. We need to have the object of love to grow. It will tell us if we can truly sacrifice and deny ourselves for others through those around us.
"When I arrived in the village, I saw many people who were disappointed and didn't smile." After their arrival, they live with those survivors and treated them like family: offering assistance, care and chatting with them. She concluded, "We have learned more from them, (like) mutual help and loving one another. God really blesses them. Hearing their experiences, I understand that they are loved by God and they are like angels when they smile."
Translated by Karen Luo