I believe in hugs. They are a form of tangible love. This love is real. It’s a love that wraps all the way around you, warming you, inside and out. This love reaches out to the untouchable and shows them that they are touchable, that they are cared for and loved and that they are not alone in this world.
In Africa, specifically Sierra Leone, there are thousands, maybe millions, of untouchables: orphans, lepers, those infected by diseases such as HIV, and many others. A few years ago, I spent a couple of weeks of the summer there on a medical missions trip with my father, a physician, and his colleagues. My group worked for fifteen hours each day in a filthy mud hut, counting pills to fill out prescriptions. Thousands of the poorest men, women, and children poured through our doors, sitting for hours on end in a courtyard, enduring unimaginable heat. All this was for a short visit with the only two doctors for a thousand miles and a few pills. Then they would make the long trek home, having been blessed with rare physical and spiritual help.
One hot and drizzly afternoon, a young man in his early twenties walked in. He was dressed in elaborate garments and claimed to be the son of a tribal chief. He had a prideful air about him, but his eyes betrayed his emotions. He was plagued with a disease much like scabies, and it haunted him. No one would go near him, much less touch him. He sat in an isolated corner of the courtyard, on the fringes of the small crowd. After a while, he was brought in and looked over by my father. He came into the pharmacy and sat on one of the long rows of benches, clutching his prescription paper. Lenard, a medical student on the team, was intent on praying for each and every person who walked through our doors, and was very thorough about it (even if that meant praying twice for one person). The moment the man sat down, Lenard turned his head, smiled, and strode over to the young man. He stuck out his hand and introduced himself to the man, who shrank back. Lenard was undaunted and, plopping down next to him, began to talk.
When I called the young man up for his prescription, he jumped up. Lenard followed suit and followed him up to the table. I smiled, handed the man his bag of pills, and instructed him on when to take them. He nodded, but waited until I placed the pills on the table to pick them up, so as not to force me to touch his hand. He quickly grabbed them and turned toward the door. Lenard touched the young man’s shoulder and asked if he could pray for him before he left. The man turned around and nodded. When they were finished, the man was weeping. Lenard reached out grasped the man’s arms, and pulled him into a hug, as the young man’s shoulders shook.
When that young man left, his eyes were shining. We had let him know God’s love through something as simple, but powerful, as a hug. We could have prayed for him and preached to him, but he needed physical contact like he needed life. That hug was a small part of his visit, but I believe it was the most powerful and life-altering part.
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