You’ve seen the Bourne Identity and the series of fantasy adventure movies that followed. Let me tell you about the real life story of the Brand family and the adventure of grace in their lives.
I’ve just completed a field trip with Anglican Aid, visiting partners and projects in various African countries in the east and south of the continent - Madagascar, Tanzania, South Africa and Rwanda.
As I transitted through Johannesburg several times, (where Anglican Aid has two projects) to connect with these other countries, I home-stay with a fascinating couple in the City of Gold - and the city of broken dreams.
Chippy and Cynthia Brand are an energetic Christian couple in their mid to late seventies, and because of their gracious hospitality on many occasions, Johannesburg has become like a second home.
The Grace Adventure
But it is the way they have (by grace) responded to the grace of God that intrigues and inspires me the most. They came to Christ, not unusually, when they were a young married couple seeking to have their second child ‘christened’.
The local vicar in a mining community on the rural/urban fringe of Johannesburg invited Chippy to a men’s dinner that week. It was 1960 something and Chippy reluctantly agreed to go. The speaker was an English chap called Dick Lucas and the whole adventure in grace began.
The Brand’s were pioneering types, risk takers, entrepreneurs. They started businesses. Some worked and others didn’t. They were neither crippled by failure nor cocky about success.
After several farming ventures, Chippy built up a successful civil engineering firm, constructed roads and bridges and other infrastructure, built the Gary Player designed Sun City golf courses and eventually, accidentally, providentially, went into the high-end hospitality/hotel business.
By 2000 they had built and owned three of South Africa’s most iconic boutique hotels, winning international awards from all over the high-end hotel world. They called their hotels Mount Grace (in the Magaliesburg Ranges on the outskirts of Johannesburg), Cape Grace (on the waterfront in Cape Town harbour) and The Grace Hotel in Rosebank (in suburban Johannesburg).
Throughout their grace adventure the Brand family of six grew under the Lordship of Christ, had their ups and downs, rejoiced in and shared the gospel of grace and sought to live out grace in every situation.
Family life, working life and all of life was an outworking of joyful obedience to God’s generosity in Christ and they sought to make grace the mark of their lives.
Children married and started families of their own, shared in the family businesses, started some of their own and today the extended Brand family has grown to 23 members across three generations. They are all entrepreneurial in spirit and take grace into every ongoing adventure.
The Grace Memorandum
The Brand’s built their hotel business on what they called ‘The Grace Memorandum’. I feel inadequate to boil it down to a few sentences but essentially they attempted to apply God’s undeserved generosity, in life and in Christ, to a developing business philosophy.
They (parents, children and children-in-law) employed their staff, not on the basis of hot-shot resumes but on a willingness to serve. They wanted to give people a go who might otherwise never get one.
They treated their staff like family. In turn, they and their staff, treated their clients with lavish generosity, going the extra mile and offering those unexpected touches. They took every opportunity to share the reasons for their grace model.
They expanded into other businesses, other ventures, specific ministries, all in the spirit of God’s saving, serving and common grace.
The Grace Memorandum, a document steeped in the grace of God in Christ, is one of the best attempts to spell out and apply what it means for ‘Christian living in the workplace’ that I have encountered. It has been written and applied by a family of very ordinary Christians.
While always acknowledging their shortcomings and mistakes, dependence on Jesus and the joy of sins forgiven, they have, at the workplace coalface, jumped in and given grace in all its fullness a red-hot go.
The Grace Maturity
The Brand family are out of the hotel business today. They have branched into other areas. But The Grace Memorandum continues to permeate throughout all these enterprises.
Chippy and Cynthia, now well into their senior years, continue to love and serve in their local church, encourage and engage in public and personal evangelism, care for the many homeless people who live in their area and use their home and time for generous hospitality.
They have been foundation supporters of the George Whitefield College in Cape Town. They are up to their eyeballs in the Love Trust Early Childhood Development project that is transforming pre-school education in many impoverished townships across South Africa.
A fascinating part of their ministry portfolio is the Quest Africa Gap Year Programme that one of their daughters and her husband lead in the Eastern Cape near Port Elizabeth. This is a Gap Year like no other. 32 young men, between high school and tertiary study, live in community for a year.
They learn to sing, sail and deep-sea dive. They are trained in African bush survival skills, game park management, leadership and character development. It is not overtly Christian and it is not run for Christians. But it is run by Christian leaders who are, and who seek to share their lives and faith at every appropriate opportunity.
Few become Christians during the year. Many have in the years that have followed. All look back on their gap-year experience as one of the most formative and significant times of their life.
Chippy has written an autobiography ‘Branded By Grace’. It is God’s grace, in salvation, service and in every good gift of life, that he writes about with a joy and rhythm that is contagious. It reveals a man who was once a larrikin, and to some extent still is, though tamed a little by family responsibilities and shaped by the gospel and the maturity of years. It reveals a sinner, forgiven by grace, with a fire in his belly to let that grace flow in all of life.
The Grace Challenge
For me, the challenges coming out of my engagement with this family are two-fold. How can I apply the grace of God in salvation, in service and in the enjoyment of every good gift he gives to my life and relationships?
And how can I, as a ‘professional Bible teacher’ who has all too often narrowed grace just to salvation, and narrowed ministry just to things that take place in the life of the local church, help brothers and sisters to take grace into the workplace and every other part of life? How can I encourage others to make grace work, not just at church, but at work, and everywhere else?
And in doing so, where might this lead for engaging conversations about what lies at the heart of it all?
The gospel of grace.
Feature photo: John Hickey-Fry