Since Valentine's Day 2020 the world, as we know about it, has changed beyond recognition.
A global pandemic has forced us into our homes; unable to see many of our loved ones. Our love of adventure has been thwarted with planes grounded and borders closed. The exhilaration of new landscapes and cultures now firmly out of reach.
But while our physical movements have been sorely limited, love doesn't stop. In fact, if we look carefully, the green shoots of love nurtured during lockdown are all around.
Friendships sparked between neighbours who, for years, have dashed past one another, too busy to pass the time of day. The purposeful check that an elderly or clinically-vulnerable person has all they need to stay at home and avoid infection. Or a simple call made to someone living alone; their once-desired peaceful haven having morphed into four walls of loneliness.
Love knows no distance, barriers or borders. We still love at a social distance and from afar. As Christians we are called to love and that love changes lives. It sounds trite to say that love can change the world. But it truly can! Valentine's Day is not a day to dwell on hardened hearts, more an opportunity to be awestruck by what love can do...
Love is an emotion far greater than self, a couple or a nuclear family. Love is where we experience our common humanity. Love can be a force for change globally in our politics and economics, if only we allow it to be. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow. Love can germinate to transform an individual, grow to transcend a community and eventually go on to cross borders and continents.
The Bible tells us that perfect love drives out fear. And who are we to disagree? The truth is love changes a person irrevocably. An unconditional love can change even the heart most hardened to survive its journey through life. The love a person receives inspires them and, in turn, draws them to change the lives of others. It keeps giving.
The Leprosy Mission is harnessing this love in an ambitious and innovative drive to rid a country of the world's oldest disease. A disease that has disabled and blinded, separated loved ones and torn families apart since Jesus walked the earth.
The Unconditional Appeal works to rid Mozambique of leprosy. It works by shining a light on the disease and creating a sea change in attitudes. As a result, someone with leprosy will have the confidence to seek treatment before they become disabled and, all too often, ostracised from society. It is unconditional love that powers this change from within a community.
Take Zaina, who was shown God's unconditional love through the kindness of a stranger.
Zaina was a young mum when she first noticed discoloured patches on her skin. She didn't know what they were, but when they became visible to other people in her village, they recognised the signs of leprosy. Because of age-old myths surrounding disease, some of the villagers banished her to the forest, chanting "go to the bush" over and over.
Together with her young son, Zaina was forced to live in the forest. If that wasn't hard enough, a group of villagers came to take her little boy away. Zaina was heartbroken. Hungry and without medicine, her body became increasingly weak.
By the grace of God a stranger found Zaina in the forest. He built her a hut to shelter from the rain and took her to a health post where her leprosy was cured. He even taught the people of Zaina's village about leprosy and how it is easily cured. She was welcomed home and is now thriving.
She says, "I wish I could take my heart out and show you how happy it is."
Forever grateful to the stranger who showed her unconditional love, Zaina's love for others walking the same path as her knows no bounds. She goes the extra mile to find those who are hidden away and fearful so that they too have the freedom of a new life.
The power of unconditional love is transforming lives and communities. To be part of it, visit unconditionalappeal.org.uk. The Unconditional Appeal has been awarded UK Aid Match funding meaning that every pound donated before 24 April will be matched by the UK government.
Charlotte Walker works for the Leprosy Mission, a global Christian organisation leading the fight against leprosy.