Tara Datt Pant enters the room of a leprosy patient and wraps his arms around the man. Then, he rubs the man’s hands. The man beams with a smile.
Leprosy. How can Pant love a man with such a disease? “Leprosy is not very dangerous and not very communicable. It is spread less than other diseases,” Pant said. But because of misinformation, people with leprosy suffer physically, mentally, and socially. One father simply left his son and daughter at the hospital after they received a leprosy diagnosis. Nobody loves them. Nobody touches them. But, Pant does both – he knows the truth about the disease.
“I am working 31 years with the leprosy, and I didn’t get the leprosy. If I got leprosy, I would be cured by the medicine,” Pant said. “That’s why I love the patient. I encourage them to be happy. I encourage them to openly say, ‘I have leprosy.’”
Pant began working at HDCS-TEAM Hospital in Dadeldhura, Nepal, in 1981 as a pill counter in the pharmacy. After working at the hospital for a year, Pant needed to return to his village to take care of his family upon the death of his father. When the TEAM hospital started a community health program, Pant worked with the program as a volunteer in his village for three years. After his marriage, he started working with the hospital as a community field worker. Pant travelled to villages and trained volunteer workers in health, nutrition, sanitation, and immunization for around ten years. He also taught tuberculosis and leprosy patients how to take their medication.
Pant told them that leprosy was a curable disease, but they still came to him crying and wanting to die because of the social stigma of leprosy. Even educated people believe it isn’t curable, that it’s punishment from God, and that it’s passed down from generation to generation, instead of what it really is – a disease caused by a micro-bacterium. Pant wanted to serve these suffering people. “God gave me that heart from inside,” he said. “There is a call from the inside, ‘You should go to the leprosy field.’”
After working and traveling around Nepal for many years, Pant was anxious to settle in Dadeldhura and work for the TEAM hospital full time. He received leprosy paramedical training at Green Pasture’s leprosy hospital and then helped open a leprosy ward at the TEAM hospital. The leprosy ward workers teach patients about self-care. They also counsel patients and family members about the disease, teaching them how to recognize the early signs. “We cannot cure with only treatment. They need care also,” Pant said.
So, Pant reaches out in love to his patients, as he did with four sisters who were suffering from leprosy. Their parents died when they were young. The four girls got leprosy but they didn’t know what was wrong with them. Some were more deformed than others. The people of the village knew what it was but they rejected the sisters. No one went near them. When there was a wedding in the village, everyone was invited but them. The girls didn’t understand why people were angry with them or why no one loved them. This hurt them so badly that they decided they wanted to die, so the sisters went to the river to drown themselves. When the river wasn’t deep enough to drown them, the sisters began traveling on a search for a deeper river. People saw them on the road and directed the girls to the TEAM hospital.
The sisters finally arrived at the hospital after a 14-day journey. That’s where Pant met them. The health condition of the girls was so severe that they had to stay at the hospital for a long time. When the budget finally ran out to care for the girls, Pant opened his home to them, giving them one of the rooms in his three-room home. They lived with him and his family for three years. All four sisters became Christians thanks to the Christian witness of Pant and his family. Two of the sisters got married, one is still in school, and one passed away from an unrelated issue.
Thanking God, Pant is grateful for the opportunity to serve leprosy patients such as these sisters, and to teach them and their family members about the disease. “I’m not an educated person, but it is God’s grace that I get that position in the hospital,” he said. As he serves his patients, Pant shares the Gospel with them. “I have good opportunity to give the Gospel to the leprosy patients. Thanks to God, many patients become Christian,” he said.
Pant himself came to Christ as a young man because of his early work with the Christians at the hospital. He was born into a Brahmin Hindu family as the son of a priest. But he didn’t find peace in his religion. When he worked with TEAM, he saw that the Christians were different, and he wanted to be like them. He thought that if he just went through the motions of doing the right thing, such as reading the Bible, praying, and having Christian friends, then God would be happy with him. But deep down, he still didn’t believe he was worthy to be saved. Pant went back to his Hindu religion but felt unhappy. Then, he had a meaningful dream one night. He was in the jungle, lying down on a path. He saw a man riding a horse, and the man said to Pant: “Come to me. Come to me.”
The dream stayed with him throughout the next day. That night, Pant couldn’t fall asleep, so he tried to read. Finally, he picked up his Bible, and it opened to John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth.” Pant prayed, asking Jesus to forgive him. “After that, I have a strange kind of peace,” Pant said. “I felt like I am not on the ground. I’m very happy and I laugh and I dance.”
Pant now places his faith in Jesus wholeheartedly. “I want to thank all the people who pray for me and my family,” he said. “We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Christ’s blood gives us that connection. We are bound together by the blood of Jesus. He wants to put us together.” Pant now shares that connection with his leprosy patients, offering the hope, love, and care of Jesus to those who need it the most.
-Written by Deborah Christensen
-Photography by Robert Johnson
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, October 2012]