Wellesley Bailey (1846–1937) founded the international charity, The Leprosy Mission, in 1874 in India.
This year marks the 175th anniversary of his birth.
Bailey was born on April 28, 1846, in Abbeyleix, Ireland. His father earned enough as an estate manager to send Wellesley and his three brothers to a boarding school at Kilkenny College.
One day Bailey remembered his childhood girlfriend’s request that he attend church.
While in Gravesend, Ireland, he went to the Gravesend Parish church, where he said he had a sense of God’s presence in a way he’d never known before. He there committed his life to Christ.
One of Bailey’s brothers, who served in the police force in Faizabad, India, suggested that he join him there. In 1869, Bailey arrived and found that his brother had been transferred to another area.
Bailey stayed in Faizabad and found lodging with a German Lutheran missionary who taught him the local language.
He felt God was calling him to be a missionary, and through the American Presbyterian Mission, Bailey traveled to the state of Punjab to be a teacher.
He was shocked when he saw there the devastating effects of leprosy — blindness, clawed hands and disfigured faces. He wrote later that if there was ever a Christlike work in the world, it was to go among the lepers and bring them the gospel.
In 1870, Bailey and his childhood girlfriend, Alice Grahame, were married in the Bombay Cathedral. They had three children; one son was killed in World War I.
The Baileys returned to Ireland in 1873 to raise awareness about leprosy. The next year they started The Mission to Lepers (later renamed The Leprosy Mission). Many in Ireland supported it financially and through prayer.
By the late 1870s, the group ministered to 100 people affected by leprosy.
Bailey toured the United States and Canada in 1892, addressing concerns about the disease, and preached at the World Congress of Missions in Chicago in 1893.
Legacy lives on
The couple toured India several times, visiting leprosy centers and preaching the gospel.
In 1913, they made their last voyage to observe leprosy work in China, New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Korea and Malaysia.
In 1917, Bailey retired after nearly 50 years working with The Mission to Lepers, which had 87 projects in 12 countries. He died in 1937.
Today his legacy lives on in Leprosy Mission International, which works in 18 countries. Their vision is, “Leprosy defeated, Lives transformed.”