A providential ministry
by Ted Horwood, Captain –
“His name is Zummon, and he is twelve years old. Look at this patch on his cheek; it is the first sign of leprosy.” That was my introduction to the Army’s Leprosy and TB clinic in the slums of Bangladesh. “The treatment is simple,” I was reassured by the doctor in-charge, “he should be cured in six months.” Zummon joined several others also seated in the clinic. Unlike the bright-eyed, smiling twelve-year-old, there were older men and women waiting at the clinic whose bodies had been ravaged by the air-born viral disease, still relatively common in the slums of Dhaka.
Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries of the world, where the average annual per capita income of the population is less than one dollar a day. It is officially Muslim, with a population of around 130 million, making it the most densely populated country in the world (with the exception of city-states like Singapore and Hong Kong). Yet amidst the desperation of poverty, perennial flooding and a tumultuous government, emerges some of the most important work that the Army conducts.
I visited the shop of a man severely disfigured from misdiagnosed leprosy. For years, as the community pushed him away, his body literally withered away. But an outreach worker from the Army’s clinic recognized the symptoms, brought him to a hospital for reconstructive surgery and assisted in his recovery. Then, they gave him a small loan (called micro-credit), and today he is a high functioning, productive part of the community.
He reminded me of the scene described in John chapter five, when Jesus was walking around a pool, near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. He met a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus asked him if he wanted to get well, the man answered, “Yes, but I have no one . . .”
I’ve been so proud of the Army’s humanitarian relief, development and social ministries throughout the world. They are not merely acts of doing good. They are ministries that seek to find the marginalized and show them that they are not alone. Our work is about restoring dignity and self-worth, values that are desperately needed today. In an international meeting of social workers, one scholar noted that in many countries, people have moved from monotheism to “money-theism.” But what is needed today is not more skills development, but character development. This is the unique, providential ministry of the Army that I have recently seen in a new way.
I had the opportunity to sit among Muslim women who were attending a support group for those trying to escape the sex trade in Dhaka. The women were part of the Army’s Sally Ann production process, so they received a small wage for their work. As I listened to their life-stories, the girls related the common theme of abduction from their village as young as 10-years-old, and forcibly made to submit to their captors and the clients they serviced. They described torture—by beatings and electrocution—and many showed me their scars.
As we continued to talk, it became increasingly evident that this was not an income generation program; it was a dignity development program. As one girl poignantly put it, “I no longer feel like an animal.” This program, and hundreds like it around the Army world, make it possible for those who formerly had no one, to learn that they are someone prized and valued by a Heavenly Father who longs to offer grace and restoration. Ours is a ministry about hearing and heeding the quietest among the cacophony of the loudest—and inviting the furthest into the presence of his holiness.