Divine Reach

As the USA Central Territory’s community relations and development secretary from 2004 to 2008, then–Major Ralph Bukiewicz was assigned to travel to India to anchor a World Services video project featuring the Salvation Army’s relief work after the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

One stop Ralph made with the film crew was in Bapatla, where the Army’s Evangeline Booth Hospital specializes in the treatment of leprosy and AIDS/HIV patients. Because the Indian government no longer acknowledged leprosy as being a problem, the hospital received no financial assistance for its 75 patients. The small staff of one officer administrator, one part–time physician, and a full–time registered nurse depended largely on faith to maintain daily operations.

Many patients were considered dreaded ‘untouchables,’ outcasts from their own families and villages. Some, when they came to the hospital, had not experienced human touch for a very long time.

There were two women on the AIDS/HIV unit. One was fortunate enough to still have family support. The other, in her 30s, was gaunt, gasping for air, and all alone. When the film crew moved on to another building in the compound, something inside Ralph would not allow him to leave. He felt constrained to reach out. While the woman’s leathery fingers tightened around Ralph’s hand, their eyes connected. She seemed to be staring into his soul.

Just then the administrator came in and quietly whispered, ‘You must understand, Major, when someone touches the untouchable, the untouchable believes that it’s the very hand of God.’ But Ralph, who as a boy used his blind father’s arm and hand to lead him and only years later grasped the spiritual significance of that act, knew better.

No, he thought, her hand is God’s hand reaching down to me.

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