Many years ago, I read two books by Dr Paul Brand, co-authored with Philip Yancey, In His Image,and Fearfully and Wonderfully Made. Both books draw upon lessons Brand learned in his pioneering work with leprosy patients.** Full of amazing insights about the human body and the Christian faith, they are well worth reading, or re-reading.
But this post isn’t about Paul Brand. It’s about his mother who had her own fascinating story. Granny Brand started out her life as Evelyn Harris, the daughter of a rich British merchant. In her late twenties [a hundred years ago], she gave up her comfortable life in London and went to work in the mountains of southern India. There she married Jesse Brand and settled into a remote area where people struggled with sickness, poverty and hopelessness. The Brands cared for the people, sharing the good news of the gospel and caring for those who were ill. They had two children, Paul and Connie, who were eventually sent back to England for schooling. Then Jesse died of blackwater fever. Evelyn went back to England on furlough, and spent time with her children. But at the age of 49 she returned to India. For the next 20 years she continued the work, sometimes living in rugged mountain villages and sometimes working on the plains, based in Madras.
Her biography** does not dwell on her faults but it’s clear that she was not always easy to work with. She could be critical , strong-minded, and stubborn. But she was also passionate to help people in any way she could and her life is proof that the God doesn’t seem to mind using imperfect, exasperating saints.
Just before she turned 70, following the policy of the mission, she retired. And then she joined Caleb’s Crew**. Instead of returning to England, she settled once again in the southern mountains to start a new work. For 25 more years, until her death at the age of 95, she continued bringing hope and wholeness to remote villages. She helped eradicate the painful guinea worm parasite, fought marijuana growers, led Bible studies, took in foster children. Granny Brand is a great example that there’s no age limit on having a vision and making a difference in the world. Given that our life expectancy has increased over the last century, that’s a valuable lesson for all of us, no matter what age we are.
But I think the most notable success of her second career was not how God worked through her, but how God was able to work in her. Miraculously, He softened her, healed old bitterness, replaced irritation with love. When Paul Brand visited his mother towards the end of her life, he noticed a spiritual strength she had not shown before. And he found her younger–not in her body, but in her spirit. She had a deeper joy and peace. “This is how to grow old,” her son wrote.” Allow everything else to fall away, until those around you see just love. They will also see your own life renewed and they will recognize the love to be the love of God.”
What an encouraging illustration that we are never too old to be changed. God never gives up working in us. Regardless of what decade we are in, the power of the Holy Spirit can do the impossible in us, smoothing away our rough edges and healing wounds we thought were permanent.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. II Corinthians 4:16
**Links and Notes
** “Before Brand, it was widely believed that those suffering from Hansen’s Disease lost their fingers and feet because of rotting flesh. Instead, Brand discovered, such deformities were due to the loss of ability to feel pain. With treatment and care, he showed, victims of the disease could go indefinitely without such deformities.” [obituary in Christianity Today]
**Granny Brand: Her Story by Dorothy Wilson Clarke
There is also a brief biography of her here