Serving On The Frontline
As we grieve colleagues who have died from Coronavirus we also celebrate lives dedicated to God and his calling
In the heart of rural India there is a place of refuge for people affected by the disease of leprosy. Not only does Purulia Hospital provide expert medical care, but it also gives acceptance, compassion and love. For those who have often been rejected by their families, communities and even other medical staff, the relief must be overwhelming. Of course a place or a building does not provide any of this. It is the people working at the hospital that offer their patients this life-changing kindness and care.
Purulia Hospital in West Bengal was the very first hospital founded by the Leprosy Mission. Since 1888 it has been a place soaked in prayer. Across the generations, faithful men and women have served as doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, surgeons, cleaners, cooks, drivers, and maintenance staff. They have lived out their Christian faith following in the footsteps of Jesus who tells us to take up our cross daily and follow him (Luke 9:23).
Since March 2020 Coronavirus, or Covid-19, has swept across India, just as it has across much of the world. As I write, reported figures from India show that over 9 million people have contracted the virus and over 132,000 people have died. Coronavirus has had a devastating effect on poor communities living in overcrowded conditions, including people affected by leprosy.
Tragically, in recent weeks coronavirus has taken the lives of two of our colleagues at Purulia Hospital.
In our hospitals, including Purulia, our staff have continued to serve on the frontline despite the risks to themselves. Although every possible precaution has been taken, taking temperatures of people arriving for treatment, using PPE, social distancing wherever possible, there is still a significant risk to both staff and patients. Staff also risk catching the virus at home in their communities. Over 50 members of our staff in India have had, or currently have, coronavirus. The risk is not of course confined to India. In Nepal we currently have 25 members of staff sick with Covid-19.
Tragically, in recent weeks coronavirus has taken the lives of two of our colleagues at Purulia Hospital. Mr Nitya Mardy was the driver at the hospital. He was a dedicated member of staff who ensured that patients and staff were safely transported in an area with poor, dangerous roads. He provided a vital link between the hospital and a local leprosy community that would have been very isolated indeed without Nitya. With his help, doctors visited the community to provide vital medical care to the people. If members of the community needed in-patient care for ulcers or other complications, he transported them safely to hospital.
“There is something very special about Purulia and I believe it comes from our team’s heart and commitment to God.”
Dr Ujjwal Hembrom was Superintendent of the hospital. In a previous interview with colleagues from the Leprosy Mission England and Wales Dr Hembrom shared his story and his motivation for serving at Purulia. He grew up in a Christian home and his grandfather was a pastor. He said that the focal point of his life was his faith in God. Although Dr Hembrom never wanted to be a doctor, preferring a career in engineering, God called him into service through medicine and he obeyed. This obedience has resulted in God working powerfully through him and his daughter, who is also now a doctor at Purulia.
Dr Hembrom told us that sharing fellowship in the morning devotionals at the hospital was very important to him. He said, “There is something very special about Purulia and I believe it comes from our team’s heart and commitment to God. Most of our staff here are from leprosy-affected families so their love for our patients is real. They are full of understanding and compassion.”
“Our team’s heart is not to earn more money but to serve. This is what I believe has taken Purulia Hospital from strength to strength over the years. I have seen God move and bless us as our team put Him at the centre of everything we do.”
The Bible tells us that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Although we grieve the loss of Dr Hembrom and our hearts go out to his family at this time, we are also incredibly thankful for him and his legacy. He told us, “My heart is that Purulia will continue to be home to people who have been outcast and abused. Anyone can come and they will be cared for, loved and respected.
“Our team will continue to do everything we can for leprosy-affected people, and we will continue to put God first.”
In these very difficult days for the Leprosy Mission, when our income is depleted and yet the need is so great, this sets our priorities: to continue to serve leprosy-affected people, putting God first in all we do.
Dr Hembrom and Nitya followed the call of Jesus to heal people with leprosy (Matt 10:7-8) – in body, mind and spirit. They demonstrated the awesome power of God’s love in how they served people who had been shunned and feared by others. The Bible tells us that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13). This is the kind of love that our dear colleagues had for the men, women and children they supported daily in their work. May God help us to do the same.
Please join us to pray for the work of Purulia Hospital, and throughout the world, to eradicate leprosy, one person at a time. We are setting aside St Andrew’s Day this year as a day of prayer. Sign up here to receive specific prayer requests for St Andrew’s Day and for details of how to join us online to pray together in the morning, afternoon or evening.