Visiting a Leper Colony in Tobago

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In a typical day, do you speak more words of complaint or of thankfulness? What does your response reflect about your heart?

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.—Psalm 30:4

True story. A church group from New Bern, North Carolina, had traveled to the Caribbean on a mission trip. As part of the week’s experience, their host took them to a leper colony on the island of Tobago—proof that cruise ships and exotic getaways see only a small part of what life is really like in these tropical “paradises.”

While there, they held a worship service in the campus chapel. As you can imagine, the sight of emaciated lepers filing into their seats on the bare pews bore deeply into the mind and heart of each visitor to this unfamiliar scene.

But no memory left its mark like this one: when the visiting pastor asked if anyone in the crowd had a favorite hymn they’d like to sing, a lone patient seated awkwardly on the back row, facing away from the front, turned her body slowly and with great effort in the pastor’s direction.

“Body” would perhaps be a generous description of what remained of hers. Her face had no nose, no lips. Just bare teeth, askew within a chalky skull. And yet raising her bony nub of an arm to see if she might be called on to make a request, she appealed with croaky voice, “Could we sing ‘Count Your Many Blessings’?”

Leave it to a grotesquely deformed leper to remind us that grateful people are characterized by thankful words, while ungrateful people are given to murmuring and complaining. Some grumble at why God puts thorns on roses. Others notice, with awe and wonder, that God has put roses among thorns. May we still sing our old familiar songs even when overwhelmed by ever-present difficulties. 

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