Outside of a bustling city in the country of Liberia, Africa sits a small hospital that has become home to hundreds of patients suffering from leprosy. While many have only heard of leprosy as a medical condition found in scripture, it is a hard pill to swallow in knowing that it is a curable disease that still exists today. However, in poverty stricken countries such as Liberia, medical resources aren’t as accessible. While visiting the hospital to capture stories of patients, the first person I encountered was John. John is an elderly man that is suffering from extreme wounds caused by the disease and yet, there is something different about his story.
As a humanitarian photographer, I constantly seek to represent my subjects with dignity and joy despite their current circumstances but at times it is hard. It is hard to witness suffering and brokenness and yet find joy and hope in the midst of such despair. However, with determination I approached John as I would any individual - eager to hear his story and share it with the world. I walked up to John, shook his hand where fingers once resided and asked him his name. Following a unique warm welcome and a few grins, I asked if I could take his photo and that is when his story becomes different. To my surprise, John agreed, lifted his hands with confidence, and smiled.
It was in this moment that an overwhelming realization hit me -there is so much to be learned from the least of these. While society has chosen to ostracize and condemn those who are poor, ill, and different, John challenged me to ask the question, “What does it look like to have joy in the midst of our suffering?” As an 24 year old American who grew up in a broken home, I had become convinced that I had a proper understanding of both suffering and joy - until I met John.
I have come to believe that there is a deep level of understanding and reliance on God that can only be obtained through leaning in and learning from the least of these around us. Whether that is shaking the hand of a leper across the world, inviting in a homeless individual for a warm meal, or befriending a vulnerable child who feels alone - there is always an opportunity available to restore dignity and learn from others if we are willing.
As our motivating scripture from Matthew 25 states, “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
Who is around you today that you could lean in and learn from? And are you willing to step out in bravery to hear what they have to teach you?