The staff at the center loved and encouraged each child equally, never pointing out the differences in family backgrounds. They made sure the children mingled with one another and learned to care for each other.
Vivash, the current project coordinator at the Bridge of Hope center, served as one of its social workers when the center opened in 2008.
“[Our leaders] thought to establish this project center so we can serve this kind of underprivileged children, so their lives will be better, and through them, their parents also will be developed,” Vivash says.
As a social worker, he’d visit the students’ homes, talk with parents and provide godly counsel. These visits became a source of joy for the families, especially for those who never before received visits because of their disease. It was a time to foster relationships and let them know that—no matter what they suffered from—Bridge of Hope was there for their children and for them.
When a child at the center seemed to have signs of leprosy, Vivash would inform the parents and encourage them to get their child treated at a nearby leprosy mission hospital. The child was never shut away or rejected at the center but was taken care of and watched over.
“We don’t want to make a partition among them,” Vivash says, “because if we [do that], they will feel very lonely … We don’t want them to feel like that, so that is the reason we don’t want to make them separate. We teach them together; we give them food together; we do programs together.”
More than 10 years have passed since Nalika started at the Bridge of Hope center. Having grown up with a parent and grandparents afflicted with leprosy, she was very familiar with the effects and stigma of the disease. When she was at the Bridge of Hope center, though, a new world opened up to her.
She learned how to sing, dance and draw. Her teachers taught her the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. They invested in her education and personal development and taught her how to excel. She also discovered an ambition to become a teacher.
“Having been going to Bridge of Hope for quite some time,” Nalika says, “I have learned so many good things that have impacted my life. It has helped me in my character.”
Throughout Nalika’s time with Bridge of Hope, she and her family have experienced a new life. She doesn’t live with the stigma of leprosy; suicide has never entered her mind; and Balan can rejoice knowing his future generations will live well and free of the stigma that dominated his.
As the bus drove away, Ojas saw his mother running behind, crying. He was leaving home. His new faith had brought them both enough abuse from his father. Ojas was not simply running away from problems; he was heading straight into a life of more searing pain—and greater joys—because of Christ’s love.
At the GFA headquarters in Wills Point, Texas, Shareen clicks open the file of photos sent from the field in Asia. Dozens of images of a national missionary populate her computer screen. She magnifies each picture and tags them “slum,” “prayer,” “national missionary.” Shareen prays for the national missionaries shown in the photos and places them in a file, ready to be used for a GFA publication.
I had the privilege to be part of the team at GFA that teaches School of Discipleship (SD) students how to share their faith. But it seems like it was just a little while ago that I was a student in the program going through those classes for the first time.