From “In His Image”, pp. 43-46, By Paul Brand
One last figure towers above all others who have influenced my life: my mother, known as Granny Brand. I say it kindly and in love, but in old age my mother had little of physical beauty left in her. She had been a classic beauty as a young woman – I have photographs to prove it-but not in old age. The rugged conditions in India, combined with crippling falls and her battles with typhoid, dysentery, and malaria had made her a thin, hunched-over old woman. Years of exposure to wind and sun had toughened her facial skin into leather and furrowed it with wrinkles as deep and extensive as any I have seen on a human face. She knew better than anyone that her physical appearance had long since failed her-for this reason she adamantly refused to keep a mirror in her house.
At the age of seventy-five, while working in the mountains of South India, my mother fell and broke her hip. She lay all night on the floor in pain until a workman found her the next morning. Four men carried her on a string-and-wood cot down the mountain path to the plains and put her in a jeep for an agonizing 150-mile ride over rutted roads. (She had made this trip before, after a headfirst fall off a horse on a rocky mountain path, and already had experienced some paralysis below her knees.)
I soon scheduled a visit to my mother’s mud-walled home in the mountains in order to persuade her to retire. By then she could walk only with the aid of two bamboo canes taller than she was, planting the canes and lifting her legs high with each painful step to keep her paralyzed feet from dragging on the ground. Yet she continued to travel on horseback and camp in the outlying villages in order to preach the gospel and treat sicknesses and pull the decayed teeth of the villagers.
I came with compelling arguments for her retirement. It was not safe for her to go on living alone in such a remote place with good help a day’s journey away. With her faulty sense of balance and paralyzed legs, she presented a constant medical hazard. Already she bad endured fractures of vertebrae and ribs, pressure on her spinal nerve roots, a brain concussion, a fractured femur, and a severe infection of her hand. “Even the best of people do sometimes retire when they reach their seventies,” I said with a smile. “Why not come to Vellore and live near us?”
Granny threw off my arguments like so much nonsense and shot back a reprimand. Who would continue the work? There was no one else in the entire mountain range to preach, to bind up wounds; and to pull teeth. “In any case,” she concluded, “what is the use of preserving my old body if it is not going to be used where God needs me?”
And so she stayed. Eighteen years later, at the age of ninety-three, she reluctantly gave up sitting on her pony because she was falling all too frequently. Devoted Indian villagers began bearing her on a hammock from town to town. After two more years of mission work, she finally died at age ninety-five. She was buried, at her request, in a simple, well-used sheet laid in the ground – no coffin. She abhorred the notion of wasting precious wood on coffins. Also, she liked the symbolism of returning her physical body to its original humus even as her spirit was set free.
One of my last and strongest visual memories of my mother is set in a village in the mountains she loved, perhaps the last time I saw her in her own environment. She is sitting on a low stone wall that circles the village, with people pressing in from all sides. They are listening to all she has to say about Jesus. Heads are nodding in encouragement, and deep, searching questions come from the crowd. Granny’s own rheumy eyes are shining, and standing beside her I can see what she must be seeing through failing eyes: intent faces gazing with absolute trust and affection on one they have grown to love.
I know that even with my relative youth and strength and all my specialized knowledge about health and agricultural techniques, I could never command that kind of devotion and love from these people. They are looking at a wrinkled old face, but somehow her shrunken tissues have become transparent and she is all lambent spirit. To them, she is beautiful.
Granny Brand had no need for a mirror made of glass and polished chromium; she had the incandescent faces of thousands of Indian villagers. Her worn-out physical image did nothing but enhance the image of God beaming through her like a beacon.
From “Fearfully and Wonderfully Made” , p. 146
Years later, when my mother, Granny Brand, was eighty-five, long after
my father had died, she helped forge a medical breakthrough. She had often
treated gross abscesses on the legs of mountain people by draining the pus
and excising a long, thin guinea worm. Distressed by the frequency of those
abcesses, she studied the problem and learned that the worm’s life cycle
included a larval stage spent in water. If she could help break that cycle,
she would eradicate the worm. Knowing the people’s habits well, she quickly
deduced that wading in water was probably the means of transmission.
Cashing in on the trust and love she had built up through decades of
personal ministry, she rode her horse from village to village, urging the
people to build stone walls around their shallow wells and to prevent foot
contact with the water. In a few years this old lady had singlehandedly
caused the eradication of all such worms, and their resulting abscesses, in
two mountain ranges.
—– Original Message —–