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Brand, Evelyn Constance Harris (1879-1974)

 

 

Granny Brand

(1879-1974)

 

Amy Carmichael in her lovely little book of verse entitled Toward Jerusalem in six brief lines unwittingly painted a word picture of Granny Brand.

Make us Thy Mountaineers;

We would not linger on the lower slope,

Fill us afresh with hope, O God of Hope,

That undefeated we may climb the hill

As seeing Him Who is invisible.

Let us die climbing. . . .

 

Evelyn Constance Harris was born May 1879 into a well-to-do family, the ninth of eleven children.  She grew up in a strict Baptist home in the fashionable St. John's Wood area of London.  Her father saw that she had the best of education suitable to young ladies of that age and station in life.  She was a very artistically talented young lady who remained so throughout her long life. 

She accepted Christ as a young girl and was baptized by emersion at eleven years of age.  In the home and at church she was exposed to missions, particularly those in India.  As a young lady she would at times break out of the protection of her home, going into the London slums on missions of mercy.  As a young adult, she was challenged by the letters published in a missionary journal written by a missionary to the hill people of south India.  Later, when on his first furlough, she heard him speak both at her church and at tea in her home.  As Jesse Mann Brand spoke of the neglected hill people so steeped in Hinduism, sin, and poverty, her heart was drawn out to these whose home was on the Kolli Moloi "mountains of death," so named because of the many diseases and particularly deadly malaria that ravished these mountain areas.  She volunteered for missionary service to these needy people.

As much as her parents hated to see her leave home, they recognized that the hand of God was on her and that she must be obedient to the call of God.  After a short course of missionary medicine, she proceeded to India in 1912.  Her first task was to learn the difficult Tamil language.  The hot, humid climate of Madras was depressing as well.  Here again she met Jesse Brand, who spoke Tamil like a native.  It was first as language instructor, encourager, friend, and subsequently beloved that the relationship grew rapidly. However, illness necessitated her going to a more healthy hill station to recuperate. 

Letters came almost daily from Jesse.  Joyfully she accepted his proposal of marriage. Because Jesse felt that the hill people would be misled with any display of wealth or luxury, he went up to the mountains to build a very simple three-room home with a small outside cook house. It was to this home she was carried on her wedding day in a type of wicker basket.  The last few miles were in a downpour of rain.  It was August 1913.

Together Jesse and Evelyn ministered to the hill people in south India.  There were no roads, so on foot or hill pony they trekked all over the mountains.  Jesse was a man with many talents-doctor, dentist, preacher, teacher, counselor, agronomist, builder, etc.-all things to all men.  His medical skills, which he had learned in England, broke down barriers.  Their first convert was a lad whose salvation brought great joy to their hearts.  But he died very soon of pneumonia.  It was six more long years until the next fruit was realized from their labors. With the years, the work among the hill people progressed. A church with outstations was established. 

Two children were born to the Brands:  Paul and Connie.  They grew up as young gazelles on the "mountains of death."  They trekked with their parents and were a part of the team.  In due time they were left with family in England to pursue their education. 

Strong, energetic Jesse was rarely ill; but in July of 1929, he came down with a severe bout of malaria that soon turned into black water fever-one of the most lethal complications of that disease.  He died July 15, 1929.  There was a simple service, and his body was buried there on the "mountains of death."

Evelyn was devastated, alone there in the mountains.  As soon as possible, a niece Ruth, who was in her last year of medical training, dropped out of school to go to be with her aunt in India.  Some three months later she accompanied her back to England.  By this time Paul was a strapping 15-year-old, and Connie was a lovely 13-year-old young lady.  They hardly knew their mother-she had aged so much in the ensuing years; but soon the absence of years was erased, and they were at ease and happy with her. 

A year later she returned to her beloved hill people in the mountains.  It was hard without Jesse, but she was soon into the routine of medical clinics, teaching, discipling, rebuking, and exhorting all over the range of mountains; and the next five years sped by.

During the war years, the mission board would not let her go back to the mountains-the unrest, the division of India and Pakistan, the bloodshed of those years were thought to be too dangerous for her to be alone on the mountains.  She served reluctantly on the plains, but she was always importuning the board to allow her to return to the mountains.  Finally, in 1947, what she called a "new birth" occurred. 

  • There was a new India, now an independent nation.
  • Paul, now a medical doctor, returned to India as a missionary to the Vellore Christian Medical College.
  • Evelyn, at almost 70, went to a new range of mountains. She built a small waddle and mud hut for a home and tirelessly ministered to these neglected people.

My wife and I had already met Connie, a trained pharmacist, who, with her husband (a missionary pastor) was serving in Nigeria, and Paul, who was gaining a reputation for his work in leprosy.  In 1953 Granny fell in her home in the mountains and fractured her hip.  She was carried down out of the mountains to Vellore to be with Paul and his family. I was there at the time, observing Paul's work.

At 74 years of age, Granny was a feisty old lady, very dedicated to the task to which God had called her.  Paul and his family were trying to persuade her to retire from the rigors of mountain life and come live with them in a comfortable home.  She would have none of it.  I remember her saying that since no man was willing to go to these people, live under these conditions, and tell the people of Jesus, she would go back. And she did.

In 1963, at the age of 84, she moved to a third range of mountains.  Again, she had the same pattern of extensive trekking on a small hill pony, walking with two bamboo poles for support, and living in very simple conditions. She had an utter lack of dependence on things.

In 1965, after working alone in the mountains for almost 35 years, a missionary nurse was assigned to work with her as her companion until the time of her death.  In a letter to Paul, Granny wrote that she would soon have her 95th birthday. She was sure a lot of kindly people would write and praise her and say how wonderful she was to be working still at 95 years of age.  She said, "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."  Her memory was beginning to fail and so was her eyesight.  In October, she came out of the mountains to see Paul, who was on a brief visit to India.  Here again, she fell injuring her knee.  There was no fracture, but the injury was very painful.  She slowly went down following that injury and quietly slipped into the presence of her Lord December 18, 1974, at the age of 95.  Her frail, wasted body was carried back and buried beside her beloved Jesse there on the "mountains of death."

A few years earlier, she had written this free verse:

Why did You have to break me first,

Why did You take my all away

Before You satisfied my thirst?

Why must I sink in deepest deep

Before the promises to know?

I realize now it had to be

Before He taught my soul to pray,

Before the glory I could see,

The glory that He promised me.

 

Isaiah 52:7 

5/12/00

Dr. John A. Dresibach

 

 

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