Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM
Grand Ballroom Salon B (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Throughout the course of their medical work in Uganda
, the Church Missionary Societyconsistently emphasized to their supporters in Britain that, rather than distracting from the primary goal of evangelization, medicine would be a powerful tool in their quest to civilize and Christianize Uganda. Leprosy held special significance in the CMS’ medical mission, largely because of its longstanding religious symbolism for Christians. The missionaries perceived a connection between leprosy patients and Christianity, believing these patients to be special objects of Christ’s love, whose suffering allowed them a faith in God that the missionaries could only aspire to. Although many missionaries believed otherwise, there was no effective biomedical treatment for leprosy
until the 1940s, which lent credence to the idea that faith was the only true salve for a leprosy patient’s wounds. While there was no cure for their bodies, Christianity could cure their souls, providing sufferers with salvation, hope, and happiness.
Yet, despite the missionaries’ emphasis on the importance of Christianity in healing leprosy, the patients' experience of and belief in the physical and spiritual treatment they received did not reflect the missionaries’ ideals. Actual conversion rates, church attendance, and attendance for routine biomedical treatments were often low, and while there is no evidence to contradict the missionaries' assertion that patients were much happier and healthier once they entered the settlements, it is difficult to distinguish the hope that Christianity could provide from the improvement in living and social conditions. Some patients continued to practice traditional medicine and traditional religion, albeit covertly, and there were many material, social, and educational incentives to remain in the settlement. While entering a leprosy settlement was a transformative experience for any leprosy patient, they did not necessarily remain because they shared the missionaries’ faith in the power of Christianity to heal them.