I first came across Granny Brand by Dorothy Clarke Wilson some 25-30 years ago after reading the same author’s biography of “Granny’s” son, Paul Brand, Ten Fingers For God. At that time the ladies’ group of the church we attended had an extensive collection of missionary biographies that we could check out at the monthly ladies’ meetings. It was through that venue that I read both books, so I did not own them. I thought about both of them when I was doing the 31 Days of Missionary Stories, but it had been so long since I had read them, I thought it would be better to wait to discuss them til I had a chance to read them again. I found used copies and enjoyed revisiting Granny’s life. The book about Paul was actually written first, and the author met his mother in the course of her research and wanted to write about her, too. Granny agreed at first, and then changed her mind and started to write her own book, and finally gave permission but asked the author to wait until her death.
Granny Brand began life as Evelyn Harris. She was born the ninth of eleven children into a strict but loving well-to-do Christian family in 1879. She had “the eyes and soul of an artist,” and all through her life would stop to paint or sketch beloved sites. But though she loved her art, it didn’t fully satisfy. She had been raised doing charitable works, but she wanted to do more. Various events turned her eyes towards missions, especially a booklet by a young missionary named Jesse Brand, who ministered in India. Not coincidentally, that very same Jesse Brand came to speak at her church. She was over 30 when she told her father she was called to missions. He had wanted to keep at least some of his daughters close by and brought forth various arguments as to why she should stay, but finally, “He understood. It was his own stern creed of obedience to a higher Will that she was determined to follow” (p. 34).
Though at her farewell party someone remarked that “She looks more like an actress than a missionary” (p. 35), it didn’t take her long to lay aside her finery and immerse herself into the work and life in India. There she unexpectedly met up again with Jesse Brand, though he was assigned to another area. When they parted, they began a correspondence which blossomed into love, and when he proposed, she agreed to join him in marriage and his work.
Their wedding night was typical of her response to life: they started on a long journey to Jesse’s home, first 5 miles in wagon drawn by a pony, then in a dholi. I tried to find an image online to share, but none of them looks like the picture in the book, which shows a long length of canvas with poles through openings on both sides, which were carried by four men. The passenger would recline along the length of the fabric and be jostled up and down, back and forth, hanging onto the poles while the men walked…or ran…up and down steep mountain paths. First the heat wilted her clothing, then a deluge drenched her, the higher mountain air chilled her (no one had told her she might need warmer clothing there). Then they walked over a narrow trail with thorns tearing her skirt and branches slapping her face. Finally they trekked across a muddy rice field, and when they arrived, she thought, “Life is not going to be easy. It’s good all this happened. I may as well know it now.” “But she had not come here for an easy time. She had come for love of God, and of these hill people, and of the man whose strong arms were now lifting and carrying her over the threshold” (p. 48).
Jesse was a man of many talents, with skill in medicine, building, and planting, all put to use in ministering to the people and helping them improve their lives. Evelyn’s medical skills were more homeopathic, but they worked together smoothly. One boy was saved early on, but it was six long years later before any other converts. A priest who had actively opposed their message and work became ill and asked them to take his children when he died, as they would otherwise be left to die. His own “swamis” deserted him in his hour of need, and he now believed “Yesu-swami” was the one true God. His conversion and the Brands’ care of his daughter began to crack the door open for the gospel, and eventually more believed and a church was started.
Jesse and Evelyn took in many more children, had two of their own, and had many fruitful years in the “mountains of death,” until, nearly 14 years after their marriage, Jesse contacted malaria, which turned into blackwater fever, and died.
Evelyn was devastated and, after making arrangements for the work, went back to England for a time. But she was called to India, not just to Jesse, and wanted to go back. There were five mountain ranges that she and Jesse had dreamed of bringing the gospel to, and she wanted to continue on.
The mission board had a policy against sending a missionary back to a field that another missionary had taken over because of the understandable rifts that could arise, but Evelyn argued that this work was begun by herself and Jesse and much of their own money had been poured into it. They had built it up with their own hands. The board relented and let her go, and though she loved being back in her beloved hills, and the people loved having her, indeed “this five-year term…was filled with tensions and frustrations.” The missionary couple who came to take over the work “were capable and dedicated, but they were not Jesse Brand, and of course their methods were there own. It was inevitable that differences of opinion should arise between them and one who for sixteen years had been co-creator, co-manager, co-builder of every enterprise in the beloved complex – one who, moreover, could be neither meek nor silent when she felt a principle was at stake” (p. 113).
Meanwhile Evelyn did want to press on to the other ranges. She took camping trips to scout them out. Long used to simple, even stark living, all she could see was the exciting possibilities, while some of those she took with her could only see the hardships. But she persevered. The board wanted her to retire at 68, but after a year she resigned from the board and remained in India independently. She was 84 when she moved to her third mountain range. She continued taking in children, caring for the sick, fighting the production of kanja (marijuana), riding a pony from village to village, and sharing the gospel. She added two more mountain ranges to the original five she wanted to reach. Somewhere along the way people started calling her “Granny Brand,” though she scoffed at the thought of being old until relatively late in life.
She experienced sicknesses, broken bones from falls, and when carriers accidentally knocked her head against a rock and she never regained her balance afterward, she walked with the aid of two long sticks. Whenever she was in the hospital, she disobeyed orders to stay in her bed and went from room to room via wheelchair or pulled herself along the floor to visit other patients, share the gospel, and encourage them.
When her 95th birthday was approaching, she was afraid people would praise her for continuing to work at her age. She wrote to her son, Paul: “I am not wonderful. I am just a poor, old, frail, and weak woman. God has taken hold of me and gives me the strength I need each day. He uses me just because I know that I have no strength of my own. Please tell the people to praise God, not me.” God took her home before that birthday, but those words would continue to express her desire.
She wasn’t perfect and never would have claimed to be. She was opinionated, feisty, independent, and strong-willed, all qualities which can good but can also be a problem in some situations. But because she yielded herself to God, He transformed her and used her to touch many lives for His glory, in her lifetime and still today.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)