3 : 8 August 2004

A Leaf from the Notes of Herb and Ruth Billman


It started about 50 miles interior from Bissau with two mud huts next to each other, both with straw roofs. One was living quarters for the young doctor, Herb. (Herb and I were not yet married at this time.) The other was the clinic building where the patients would be treated.

Dr. Herb had lived there for only a month or so, when he had an unusual night visitor. He heard someone at the door, calling him. When Herb looked out he saw a badly disfigured man. The sight of him would have frightened most people, but Herb had studied the disease of leprosy and knew what it could do to a person's appearance.

"Are you the doctor who treats leprosy?"
"Yes, you've come to the right place. In the morning, I am treating patients at the clinic next door. Come then."
"I've been traveling in the back of a truck all day and I know no one in this town. I have no place to sleep."

Herb thought for a minute. He hadn't bargained for supplying living quarters.

"You are welcome to sleep on the verandah of the clinic. Here is a mat for you."

Francisco, for that was his name, said, "Thank you, but I'm hungry - I've had nothing to eat all day."

Well, so this is the way it was going to be! Herb looked around his small room. A kettle full of rice was still on the table. It seemed impossible to teach the servant to cook only a small amount of rice for him. "You may have this rice."


That was the beginning of a life-long bonding between those two men. Francisco, a Muslim, soon became a Christian. He was a faithful, dependable and loyal helper. He could speak several languages so he was invaluable as an interpreter at the clinic. He became a counselor for many and turned many to the Lord!

How good our God was! Herb could have easily turned him aside, but the law of kindness won out. God hold us in the hallow of His hands, and helps us to make the right decision. God didn't expect Herb to provide board and room for all of his patients, but just this one. Herb passed his first test and God gave him an excellent helper.

One of those Francisco counseled was Marculino who also had leprosy. Marculino was filled with hate and had plans for murder when he first encountered Francisco. Francisco drew this story from him.


Marculino was a chauffeur, and life was peasant and the future looked good. Besides all this, he had a wife whom he loved very much. They were Muslims.

One day Marculino and his wife talked about the whitish spots on his arms. Could it be leprosy? They very much feared this disease, and until now there had been no treatment for it in the country. "Wear you long-sleeved shirt." His wife advised. Yes, this hid the problem for some time, but then his fingers gradually became stiff and useless. Before long his boss realized the problem and Marculino lost his job.

The wife again came to his rescue. "We'll make charcoal and I'll take it to town and sell it. We'll manage." That might have worked, but word gets around. Her brothers heard the bad news."

One day two angry men arrived at Marculino's village. They were his brothers-in-law. "No sister of ours is going to live with a man who has leprosy."

Each man grabbed an arm and marched her away into the forest, indifferent to her cries. A baby was tied to her back. There was a stigma against leprosy amongst certain people in Guinea and her two brothers evidently fit into this group.

Marculino finished his account with, "I'm going to kill those men."

Then it was time for Francisco to take over. "Yes, that's a problem. But Marculino, if you succeed in killing them, you'd be in trouble with the police. Maybe if you wait a bit, your wife and child will escape and come back to you."

"Not very likely." Marculino said.

Francisco was determined to bring this matter to a good conclusion. "Marculino, you and I grew up Muslims, but I have another religion now. It is more powerful."

"Better than Islam? What religion is that?"

"It is the same as the doctor has, it is the Christian religion," Francisco explained.

"Ugh! That's the religion for the white people!" Marculino was disgusted.

Francisco continued. "Lot's of people say that, but it's not true. They have a book. This is the same book written in many languages and I've been reading it. The book is plain that is for everybody, not just for whites. The God that made the stars, and the animals, and everything, that same God loves us, every one of us. He gave names to the stars and He remembers their every name. He has so much love that He gave His Son for us. The doctor talks to me about God and it almost seems like we are brothers. Just wait a bit about that killing idea. We'll talk some more about it next time you come."

... One day, while Francisco tended the charcoal fire used for sterilizing (the stoves were old discarded buckets with grates inside), he and Marculino talked again (how many times I don't know), but Marculino also became a Christian. He never saw his wife and child again, nor her two brothers. Eventually, he married a Christian woman who was a leprosy patient at the clinic. He and Francisco were buddies and both of them faithful followers of Jesus….


Once the people with leprosy started taking treatment, they had to come twice a week for injections. Later, with more advanced medication and knowledge, they came only once a week for pills. The old ineffective treatment of chaulmoogra oil had just given way to new and effective sulpha drugs. So the time for Dr. Herb to start his countrywide leprosy program was exactly right. Wonderful results. I was necessary for the patients to return to the clinic regularly and that resulted in their hearing the Gospel message many times. It was ideal for God's passionate plan of drawing all men to Himself and saving then from the clutches of the devil.

The whole countryside was awakened to the good news that there was treatment for leprosy. The Gospel choruses that they learned at the clinic spread far and wide. Even naked children herding the cattle could be heard singing Gospel songS ...


Ruth Billman
E-mail: C/o. Christian Literature and Living