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Brain tumor, wife’s illness give Piland enlarged ministry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–An October 1999 diagnosis of stage four brain cancer with a prognosis of 60-90 days to live not only gave Harry Piland an opportunity to demonstrate his faith in God, but also gave him an enlarged ministry to proclaim a message of hope.

Piland, who from 1978 to 1994 directed the Sunday school division for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention (then called the Sunday School Board), recalled the chill that went down his spine when a doctor told him he had the worst kind of brain tumor, glioblastoma. Even if the tumor were successfully removed, that type of cancer always returns, he was told.

“But even in that moment, I gathered my family around me” — his son David; daughter Vicki Piland Wilson; daughter-in-law Camille; and two granddaughters.

“We joined hands and gave it all to the Father,” Piland said. “He was so tender to me and his presence was so plain and so real to me all of that time.

“Never give up. There’s always hope. The Lord is always with you,” Piland said from his apartment in a Brentwood, Tenn., assisted living facility. He moved there in early 2001 to be near Pat Piland, his wife of 52 years, who resides in the Alzheimer’s unit in the same building.

“I said to the Lord, ‘Lord, my wife needs me so bad. If you could just give me a few additional years I would be so grateful. And, Lord, I’ve got some arrows left in my quiver. I want to give everything I can to you, 100 percent. If you spare me and can give me a little longer, I’ll live the time for you.’

“I wasn’t bargaining with the Lord. I was asking him to bless me. And he did.”

Exactly how the blessing took place, Piland doesn’t know. He just knows that God did it.

Immediately after Piland’s surgery, his pastor, Rick White of First Baptist Church, Franklin, Tenn., visited his hospital room, anointed him with oil and he and other staff members spent most of one night praying with Piland. He also knows from messages he has received that thousands of people throughout the world were praying for him.

In addition, he has participated in a clinical trial of new drugs that shut down the blood flow to cancer cells. For 18 months after the surgery, 15 brain scans were clear. The April 2001 scan raised concerns of doctors, who couldn’t detect whether the problem is a return of the tumor, a result of radiation or something else. However, they elected to treat the abnormality aggressively as if the tumor had returned. That decision has Piland’s full support, along with his desire for the continuing prayers of friends and family.

At Brighton Gardens, the couple share their meals and spend hours together each day. Pat participates in activities she needs to keep her as active as possible.

“Every day that I am here I realize this is what God wanted me to do,” Piland said.

“When I stood at that marriage altar, I made a promise to Pat — richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. I made a promise we were going to be together until death do us part. That’s a promise I intend to keep. I’m going to be with that beautiful girl as long as I live.”

Piland considers Brighton Gardens an added part of his mission field. He’s trying to learn everyone’s name and looks for opportunities to witness and minister. For those who visit his apartment, he often plays a recording of Pat and their son, David, singing “There Is a Savior.”

“I have found we are able to be a witness — both of us — in this place. Her witness has not ended either. When I have people come in to hear her sing, she just beams. When I give a witness, she gets in on it too, though she’s limited in what she can say.

“This is my mission field. Wherever we are, we are to bloom where we are planted,” Piland said.

He also continues to accept speaking engagements in churches and plans on teaching a course at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas. He is driven one or two days a week to First Baptist, Franklin, where he is writer in residence. And he leads a Thursday night Bible study for men in his Sunday school class. They are currently studying the best seller, Bruce Wilkinson’s “Prayer of Jabez.”

The book is a commentary on an Old Testament character’s prayer, in which Jabez asked God to enlarge his territory. Piland said he prays that prayer two or three times daily.

“I just find my whole world has expanded. But sometimes I think I’m going to have to quit asking God to enlarge my territory,” he quipped.

What the future holds, Piland doesn’t know or need to know. He continues to live every day for the God he has served since making his profession of faith at age 11. His life has included a distinguished career in which he served as minister of education at several Texas churches — Hyde Park, Austin; James Avenue and University, Fort Worth; and First, Houston.

He uses every opportunity to sound a message of hope.

When he tells his story, Piland always asks, “Do you have a father, mother, sister, brother or loved one who has a tumor or who has Alzheimer’s? Do you have no hope?

“I am standing here saying there is hope for you. We serve a God of hope. He is not only a supernatural God who does miracles, but he wants you to believe and have hope in him.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PRAYING ON, MAKING PLANS, WEEKLY COMMITMENT and EACH SUNDAY.

    About the Author

  • Linda Lawson