Philip Yancey

Darkness and Light in India

Paradoxes abound.

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Early view of CMC Vellore

Early view of CMC Vellore

Today CMC Vellore is ranked the number one private hospital in India and one of the most prestigious medical schools in Asia. It has 8500 employees and treats a million patients a year. Recognizing the limited resources of many villagers, the hospital offers three levels of care. The highest level compares to high-tech hospitals in the West. The second level offers quality care but houses patients in village-type accommodations, with relatives providing meals and bedside attention. (At this level a normal childbirth delivery costs only $60, increasing to $100 if a Caesarian section is required.) And community health workers travel to nearby villages in vans to provide free nursing and physician services.

CMC nurses on a village visit

CMC nurses on a village visit

In contrast to many hospitals in the U.S. that still bear words like Baptist, Presbyterian, or Good Shepherd in their names, CMC Vellore retains a strong Christian emphasis. Posters with Bible verses decorate the hallways, doctors and nurses offer to pray with patients, and the hospital funds a large chaplaincy corps. The medical college selects 100 students a year from a pool of 30,000 applicants, giving strong precedence to those who agree to a two-year service with their sponsoring churches and missions.

While working at this institution, the British surgeon Dr. Paul Brand began his pioneering work with leprosy patients. Much as Ida Scudder had learned about women patients, Dr. Brand found that the doors of traditional medicine were closed to those with leprosy. The disease was so feared that hospitals dared not admit them. Eventually he helped establish a leprosy hospital outside the town of Vellore, which became a world-renowned center for leprosy research and treatment.

No one has affected me more than Dr. Paul Brand. He was a brilliant scientist, an avid environmentalist, an astute theologian, and a compassionate physician. In short, Dr. Brand lived life to the full, and his deep faith permeated everything he did. I met him at a time when I was recovering from an unhealthy church and wrestling with doubts and questions. My first book, Where Is God When It Hurts, came directly out of our conversations on pain and suffering. For nearly a decade I worked to present his life and ideas in the books Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, In His Image, and The Gift of Pain. The first two books are based on chapel talks Dr. Brand delivered at CMC Vellore.

Speaking at Dr. Brand's funeral in 2003, I said that we had an unusual exchange. While I was giving words to his faith, he gave faith to my words. Yes, he helped me with some of the intellectual issues. More importantly, though, he lived out the principle articulated by Irenaeus in the second century: "The glory of God is a person fully alive."

As a scientist, humanitarian, adventurer, and explorer of the natural world, Paul Brand was fully alive. He spent his best working years among some of the most abused and neglected people on the planet, leprosy patients from the Untouchable caste, yet I have never met anyone with a deeper sense of gratitude for God's good world. I felt privileged to honor him in the Oration at Vellore, which was attended by three of his six children as well as two grandchildren. Dr. Brand's widow Margaret, a physician who specialized in treating the ophthalmic conditions of leprosy, was unable to make the trip.

The cherished memory of Paul Brand is evident at the hospital: photos on the wall, a hand surgery and rehabilitation center named for him, a building dedicated by him. Both Brands are revered in the best sense of the word: not as a form of hero-worship, but as models of whole-person medicine, with an emphasis on the spiritual core. CMC Vellore works hard to communicate their legacy to future generations.

The Suffering Place

Besides the visit to Vellore, Janet and I made two other stops. We first landed in Mumbai (Bombay), scene of haunting memories from 2008. On the final leg of a book tour that fall, I was scheduled to speak downtown when a murderous assault by Pakistani terrorists made that impossible. Using bombs and AK-47s, two dozen gunmen attacked ten different sites, most notably the Taj Mahal Hotel, killing 164 and wounding at least 308. We were staying at the home of Dr. Stephen Alfred, safely away from the scene of the tragedy—providentially, since in every other city we had stayed in the kind of tourist hotels targeted by the attackers.

Dr. Alfred has since built a modern, eight-story hospital equipped with state-of-the-art technology for procedures such as radiation oncology, dialysis, and MRI and CT scans. The staff takes seriously the motto, "Not to be served, but to serve," plowing back the profits from paying patients to provide treatment for the 50 percent of patients who could not otherwise afford care. Bethany Hospital turned over its former building to JSK, a partner ministry for those affected by HIV/AIDS (CLICK for more about that visit) . In addition to providing in-patient care, this program sends staff and volunteers into homes in order to monitor the antiretroviral medicines and help families cope with the devastating disease.

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