“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8).
Originally from Belgium, Father Damien de Veuster traveled to Hawaii as a Roman Catholic missionary in 1864. It is there he found his calling.
In 1873, he volunteered to minister to a colony of more than 700 lepers on the island of Molokai. Fearing the spread of the incurable disease, the Hawaiian king banished lepers to a settlement called Kalaupapa, where they were supposed to receive food, housing and medical care. In reality, they received very little assistance and the island existed in a state of anarchy.
When Damien arrived, he set about turning a band of lawless lepers into a community. He helped establish laws and leadership and created infrastructure such as churches, homes, farms, roads and schools.
He loved everyone he met, never shunning them for having a contagious, incurable disease.
He preached and prayed, bandaged wounds and administered last rites. He built coffins and dug graves. He never showed revulsion at unsightly sores and disfigured faces.
In a letter to his brother in Europe he wrote, “I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ.”
Though his mission to Kalaupapa was to be a temporary assignment, he volunteered to stay indefinitely.
In a letter to his superior he wrote, ““You know my disposition. I want to sacrifice myself for the poor lepers.”
After about 10 years on the island, Damien was diagnosed with leprosy after realizing he had lost all feeling in his feet. Knowing his time was short, he redoubled his efforts to help the people until his death in 1889. He was just 49 years old.
Writing to his brother shortly before he died, Damien said, “I am gently going to my grave. It is the will of God, and I thank Him very much for letting me die of the same disease and in the same way as my lepers. I am very satisfied and very happy.”
To his very last breath, Damien lived out Christ’s command to love your neighbor as yourself.
It can be daunting to dwell on the lives of heroes of the faith—people like Father Damien or Mother Teresa who loved others so completely. You might think, “How could I ever love people like that?”
Well, it just takes that first step, which will lead to other steps.
Mother Teresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Love people wherever you live, work or play. Let the great love inside of you shine to others.
“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
>Whose life inspires you to love others and why?
>Can you think of a small thing you can do to show God’s great love to someone?
>What is your favorite Bible verse about love and how can you apply it?