Hansen's Disease (Leprosy)

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As with many other Christian missions, the Mennonite missions have directed much of their attention to people sick with Hansen's Disease (leprosy). No suffering of humankind has been greater than what leprosy patients have suffered. The stigma of the disease is related to the injustice in translation of the word zarath as found in Leviticus 13, unjust because it dealt with a moral question and not a disease caused by a bacillus. There are four peculiarities of leprosy which influence Christian mission to relate to it: it frequently affects the face; the bacillus that causes the disease was the first one seen under the microscope and is the only disease-causing bacillus that cannot be cultured after many, many trials; the incubation period is 3 to 15 years or more, much longer than for most diseases; no other bacillus selectively invades peripheral nerves. A simple definition that describes most cases of leprosy is, "a disease caused by a bacillus that invades the nerves and manifests itself in the skin." Though chemotherapy since 1941 has been of great benefit for the person with the disease, curing some, it has done nothing to prevent spreading the disease. With improved living standards and hygiene, leprosy would disappear. Demonstration of this is found in many places of the world. In Paraguay, the Mennonite refugees who came from the Soviet Union were very poor, and six of them contracted leprosy during their first 15 years in Paraguay. In contrast, none of the Canadian Mennonites, who came equipped to meet essential needs, got the disease. In the last 40 years, after Mennonites in Paraguay again acquired their accustomed standard of living and hygiene, no Mennonites have contracted leprosy. This is true despite the movement of Mennonites to other areas of the country, whereas in the first 15 years they were isolated in their colonies.

The disease draws a curtain that separates the leprosy patients from all plans they had in life. In rehabilitation, the social aspect is more important than the medical. There has been some change in this aspect but the special characteristics of this disease continues to make Christian love and Christian missions necessary for helping patients.

The Leprosy Mission and Medical Treatment Program in Paraguay started in 1951 where it pioneered in ambulatory treatment. Its main center is known as Centro de Salud Menonita (Mennonite Health Center), but also as "Kilometer 81," according to its location on the highway. A team consisting of a doctor, nurse, and chaplain go out to clinics and to homes to see the patients. Mennonite Central Committee and the American Leprosy Mission gave funds to start the work, and Mennonites in Paraguay provided the personnel. Good medical treatment has been the aim of the mission at all times, but a special concern has always been to treat the whole person. It takes time to bring all of these elements into the program, but extensive activities, including surgery, physical therapy, education, and evangelism, have been developed in this mission. Many missionaries in Paraguay report a widespread influence of the Mennonite Leprosy Mission throughout the country.  

See also Champa, India; Esch, Christian David; Gemeindekomitee, Paraguay; Mennonite Church of Trinidad and Tobago; Tanzania; India


Pannabecker, Samuel Floyd. Open Doors: History of the General Conference Mennonite Church. Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1975: 311, 330, 331.

Juhnke, James C. A People of Mission: A History of General Conference Mennonite Overseas Missions. Newton, KS: Faith and Life, 1979: 30-32;

Lapp, John Allen. The Mennonite Church in India, 1897-1962. Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History, vol. 14. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1972: 107-11.

The Mennonite Central Committee Story, vol. 4: Biographies: Something Meaningful for God. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981: ch. 13.

Author(s) John R Schmidt
Date Published 1987

Cite This Article

MLA style

Schmidt, John R. "Hansen's Disease (Leprosy)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1987. Web. 20 Jul 2024. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hansen%27s_Disease_(Leprosy)&oldid=87970.

APA style

Schmidt, John R. (1987). Hansen's Disease (Leprosy). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 July 2024, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Hansen%27s_Disease_(Leprosy)&oldid=87970.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 361. All rights reserved.

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