When Jonny’s wife Rachel died suddenly, aged just 39, the grace of God and the support of his local church community carried him and their three young boys through the darkest days of their life. Now he’s working to ensure that those with leprosy get the same support

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Source: The Leprosy Mission

My wife Rachel was incredibly fit and healthy. She never got ill. Then, one Wednesday in July 2019, everything changed.

I was working as a police offer and had just been away for a couple of weeks on business. We had a really nice evening together but she was tired – which was understandable as our youngest son was only four months old – so went to bed early, at about 9pm.

I remember her coming back downstairs some time later, saying she had a bad headache. It got worse and worse. Eventually, we called an ambulance. Rachel was taken to Peterborough hospital and it turned out that she had suffered a brain haemorrhage. Throughout the following day, she slipped in and out of consciousness. She could talk but she wasn’t fluent. Then, on Friday, she wasn’t conscious at all.

We met a lady with leprosy whose neighbours literally built a wall outside her house

About 5am on Saturday morning, my phone rang. When I got to the hospital, they ushered me into a side room and told me that Rachel had passed away an hour earlier. It didn’t seem real, but I couldn’t avoid it. It was like an invading horror that seeped into every part of me.

Returning home to tell our boys, Harry (5), Josh (2) and Jude (four months) was devastating. For months afterwards Josh would shout: “Mummy!” whenever the doorbell rang. It just destroyed me.

God with us

But even in those very early moments, I sensed that God was there. I had incredible support from family and friends. I could never express how much kindness the people at my local church showed us. I don’t think I cooked a meal for about three months.

Four years on, and I have remarried. Gemma is an amazing gift from God, and the boys have taken to her so well. I’ve also changed careers. After everything I went through, I wanted to give something back and move into the charity sector. I thought: I’m just going to push some doors, and God will reveal what’s right.

Creating community

When a role at The Leprosy Mission came up, it seemed a good fit. For me, it wasn’t just a job; it was a calling. Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to India to visit some of our projects. We met a lady with leprosy whose neighbours literally built a wall outside her house and cut off her power because they wanted her to leave their village.

Even in those very early moments, I sensed that God was there

The people we’re helping live in some of the poorest parts of the world. Added to that, leprosy stigmatises them. When my family needed help and support, our local community gathered around us, lifted us up and practically supported us. With leprosy, the opposite happens. People shun you and ostracise you.

But the suffering caused by leprosy doesn’t need to exist. There has been a cure available for almost 40 years now! If I can work to ensure that no one feels isolated in their time of greatest need, that will be the greatest tribute possible to Rachel’s life.

World Leprosy Day takes place on Sunday (28 January). To find out more, visit leprosymission.org.uk