This interview testimony took place at the morning service of Ventnor Baptist Church on Sunday 2nd April 2017.
Pastor Charles: You were the Pastor here for how long?
Bryan: For ten years, – a total of forty years.
In how many countries were you a Pastor?
Four, this country, Madagascar, Congo (Kinshasa), and Lesotho.
When we discussed this you gave me a list of subjects for me to interview you about, and I want to ask you about your time caring for Eve as she slowly lost her mobility. Most people here who knew Eve can only remember her bundled up in a wheelchair at the back of the church. I feel that this is a very difficult subject to be interviewed about.
Why is that?
Because it is so very Personal, Intimate and Painful to me. Over a period of 9 years during which we had hoped to be able to enjoy retirement, Eve was gradually losing her abilities to plan, walk, move, speak and communicate at all.
How did that begin?
In August 2003, the year we returned from Africa, where we had been in Christian ministry since 1997, we went to Polzeath in Cornwall where we had supported the Beach Mission for many years, and she fell backwards and hit her head on the rocks. After that she continued to fall and hit her head many times, including on a tree trunk in our garden, and on concrete steps and paths.
For her last six years from April 2006 she was wheelchair bound all the time and I became her full time Carer. During her last three years she was unable to speak, which we had not expected, and finally she was in a “locked in” condition when she couldn’t communicate at all. For her last two years she was fed through a stomach tube. I’m no hero. I feel I might have done better.
What was wrong with her?
In 2004 she was diagnosed with probable Cortico Basel Degeneration (CBD), but a Post Mortem corrected this to Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), which is what the piano playing comedian Dudley Moore suffered from. It is a brain disease in which the cells are increasingly corrupted by an excess protein in a similar way to Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. No one knows what triggers it but fortunately it is very rare.
For how many years were you married?
Four months short of fifty years – 49 years 8 months.
When and how did you meet?
In 1961 at London Bible College, Marylebone Road, almost opposite Madame Tussauds, where we were two of 220 students. We were both 28; Eve was a Scottish Physiotherapist a month younger than me, while I had done three years accountancy, served in the army in Germany for my National Service, and spent two years at the Bible Training Institute un Glasgow before coming to LBC in 1959.
Was Eve your first girl-friend?
Who was your first girl-friend then?
When I was 16 I went with a party of school friends to a Christian Holiday Conference Centre near Carnforth, Lancashire, Capernwray Hall. There I heard and understood the Gospel for the first time, emphasis upon understood, and asked the Lord Jesus Christ into my heart and life as my Saviour and Lord. I realised that God had a plan for my life and that following His will would be a great adventure. Also, I gained a girl friend of my own age who had come with her sister from a Christian family in Carlisle.
My experience of girls was very limited, being, like most of my friends at that time, an only child, who had been to boy’s schools since the age of ten. Girls were an exciting mystery! Each evening after the meeting we walked around the grounds hand-in-hand.
Apart from becoming a born again committed Christian I also responded to the clear teaching that no-one should have a boy or girl friend, let alone a husband or wife, who is not also a born-again committed Christian. There must be no unequal yoke, we should both be committed to the same Lord. The Lord had the right person waiting for me, and all I needed to do was to recognise her as the help-meet prepared for me, and she would recognise me as the husband the Lord had prepared to love and care for her.
How did you get to know Eve at London Bible College?
At the beginning of my last year I noticed her amongst the intake of new students. She and her friend, Ann, who was with me here last week, had met in Canada, where they were both working as British Physiotherapists, Ann from England, and Eve from Scotland. They had returned to this country for family reasons, in Eve’s case, for her brother’s wedding. Both of them were Christians and they had decided to enrol for a year’s course of Bible study at London Bible College before returning to Canada.
At Half-term they planned to throw a party in their rented Wimpole Street flat. I was recommended to them to organise it for them, because I was well known and had arranged and compered the previous year’s College Christmas Concert. My friend Mervyn, who ultimately married Ann, and who had been my pianist, was also invited, and we both stayed to help with the washing up after everyone else had left.
The following day I put a note on the door of Eve’s locker, inviting her to share “the communion of the saints” with me in a nearby café. Coming from the Church of Scotland she had never heard of the term, “communion of the saints”, which is in the C of E Prayer Book. She was intrigued and readily accepted my invitation.
How did you know that Eve was the “right one”, the future wife and help-meet that the Lord had waiting for you?
I had a list of expectations by which I would recognise her, and she ticked all the boxes! They included being a pianist, which I was not, but the first one was being a committed Christian totally prepared to serve the Lord wherever He might lead. She had a few bonus qualities too, such as being highly efficient in every way, as well as being an excellent cook. She was vivacious and very attractive as well. Unexpectedly, for some considerable time she had also wanted to be baptised as a Believer.
How did you propose?
My oldest granddaughter wanted to know whether I had gone down on bended knee, but in fact we were sitting together on a sofa in her shared flat one afternoon when I quite simply asked her if she would marry me.
What did she say?
She instantly said, “Yes”, and then – to my surprise, asked me if I would look after her when she was in a wheelchair. She had had knee operations and feared that she might deteriorate and not be able to walk. I rather shakily said I would, although I didn’t have to do this until 44 years later. We were officially engaged in the proper conventional way with a ring in a Glasgow Park at Easter, which Eve had organised!
So how did your Christian marriage go?
We were a team. She was my ‘help-meet’ and I was hers. I could depend upon her and she on me. Every day we shared a Bible reading, often from Daily Light, and prayed together at breakfast, as well as every night before we went to sleep. We discussed the Lord’s will for us every time we faced a major decision. We proved the truth of the old slogan, “The family that prays together, stays together.” We did this until Eve could no longer speak.
What was the secret of your caring for Eve during her nine years of gradual decline?
On a practical level, it was regular routine as I manoeuvred her in a Mo-lift and a hoist and cared for all her needs. Overall, it was that when we had married we had been united in Christ and had vowed to love each other “for better, for worse”. We were truly each other’s “other half”, committed to each other ‘til death us did part’.
That is a commitment that is becoming increasingly rare in marriage today. I have to admit that I felt almost at the end of my tether, and physically exhausted during the final months of Eve’s life.
Statistics tell us that 50% of people born here today will have their parents split up by the time they are fifteen. Children whose parents are Christian Ministers or Missionaries are in danger of being neglected because their parents have so many other people to take care of, although I think we didn’t do too badly on this.
What about routine in Christian lives?
We should keep coming to Christian meetings and to church, and read the Bible and pray.
How should we know what to do?
We should read the Bible. That tells us what to do. Prayer doesn’t always have to be verbalised. It’s like an old couple sitting in front of the fire without saying anything. They don’t have to, it’s a relationship.
Why do you think God let Eve – and you – suffer in that way?
This is the problem of the suffering of the innocent – the Problem of Pain, as C S Lewis entitled his first book. Does God plan for bad things for us? He allows them, not causes or plans them.
I could have encouraged her more. We read through the Psalms at the breakfast table, but many Psalms are far from encouraging! With hindsight I should have read from Romans 8 and Ephesians and Colossians.
A friend of mine who is facing the prospect of having to become his wife’s full time Carer said, “I suppose the only way to see such ‘painful’ events is to say “Why should Christians have different experiences from the rest of humanity? The difference, I suppose, is how we face such experiences and know that a loving God will not allow us to be tempted (tested) beyond what we are able to bear, and that – even if we can’t see the ‘value’ of such experiences, He knows.”
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Did you ever lose your faith in God or His love and grace?
No, but I feared that Eve might. I constantly told her that our faith was being tested as she grew increasingly depressed. Our doctor prescribed anti-depressants for her. This is where I should have done more to bolster her faith, but I was finding it difficult to think positively myself.
It is we who are unstable. God and His love, grace and presence are unchanging. We need to stand on the rock, as Psalm 40 says.
Have you any advice to give us?
Yes, when I brought Eve to church in her wheelchair we sat at the back, and she used to ask me why people didn’t come to talk to her. A few did, especially Steve Stubbings, but most seemed to be too embarrassed to approach us and say anything. The last faculty to go with brain damaged people is their hearing, so we should try to talk to them without expecting a reply.
Our friend Ann says, “Please also remember that the Carer needs encouragement too, and would welcome practical support such as offers to sit with the disabled person so that the Carer can get a break.”
I used to tell people, “There are three parties in a Christian marriage, the wife, the husband and the Lord.” We used to have a notice hanging in our hallway, saying, “Jesus is Lord of this home.”
The secret is to make Jesus the Lord of your life and to put Him first in everything.
As the old chorus says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.” There is a New Testament text: “Looking to Jesus” (Heb 12:2)
So, wherever you are, and whatever the circumstances, say, “Jesus is welcome here.”
At the beginning of the service three photographs of Eve, with me also in the third one, wre shown on the screens around the church. A number of holiday visitors were present, including one whose parents were missionaries in Malaysia, where she had grown up. She identified with what I had said about children of missionaries, as she clearly felt that she had been neglected in favour of the local people.
At the end of the interview a lady who doesn’t usually worship with us, who was sitting towards the back of the church, stood up and said that she was one of the young people at this church when Eve and I were here, and that she had become a Christian because of our influence. I recognised her as Pat. Afterwards she said that she and her husband had come to our church this morning on the spur of the moment, and had not known that I would be taking part in the service.