Billy Graham Center

Robert Wesley & Joan Gordon Brain - Collection 252

[Note: What follows is a description of the documents in this collection which are available for use at BGC Archives in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. The actual documents are not, in most cases, available online, only this description of them. Nor are they available for sale or rent. Some or all of this collection can be borrowed through interlibrary loan. ]

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions

Biographies of Robert and Joan Brain

An Essay on the Contents of the Collection (Scope and Content)

List of Audio Tapes in This Collection (Location Records)


Transcript 1

Transcript 2

Transcript 3

Transcript 4

Transcript 5

Transcript 6

Transcript 7

Brief Description.
Seven oral history interviews in which the Brains discuss their life and faith, particularly their work as missionaries in Zambia with Africa Evangelical Fellowship. In the Robert Brain interview, he discusses his life on the mission field in Angola as a child and as an adult serving Africa Evangelical Fellowship at Catota Bible Institute until 1975, Manna Bible Institute in Zambia, translating the Bible into Mbunda and Luchazi, imprisonment in Zambia, 1987 deportation from Zambia and future prospects with the mission. In the Joan Brain interview, she discusses her decision to become a medical missionary, marriage to Robert, mission work as a nurse, teacher, and mother in Angola and Zambia, Bob's imprisonment, and their deportation from Zambia in 1987.

Collection 252 [February 8, 2017]
Brain, Joan Gordon; 1934-
Brain, Robert Wesley; 1928-
Interviews; 1983, 1987
7 Reels of Audio Tape, Slides (.14 cubic feet)


There are no restrictions on the use of these interviews.



Joan Gordon committed herself to Christ as a child of seven years, having been dedicated for this purpose by her parents. Influences in her youth which led to her choice of the mission field included missionary speakers in her church, youth conferences, and her desire to serve in a medical capacity. In preparation for this, she spent one year at Southland Bible Institute, Pikeville, KY, and then transferred for a year's training at Wilson Laboratories to be trained as a lab technician. She spent the following two years at Gordon College, where she met Robert Brain.

Robert Brain was born in Philadelphia in 1928, during his parents' senior year at Philadelphia School of the Bible. Rev. Leonard and Nellie Brain left on graduation to become missionaries in Angola with Africa Evangelical Fellowship. Robert's school years in Angola were spent at Sekaji School and at Central school in the Congo. In 1944 he went to Capetown to high school, and came to the United States to attend Gordon College, where he received a B.A. At Gordon Divinity School he completed a B.D.

Robert and Joan Gordon were married on June 20, 1953, while Robert was in seminary training. When his work was completed, he taught at Southland Bible Institute while Joan finished her two year training at Gordon College. Joan had applied as a single person to Africa Evangelical Fellowship, and after their marriage and the completion of her education, the Brains left in 1953 for Lisbon, Portugal, to begin the study of Portugese. From there they were sent to Angola to work at Catota Bible Institute. The Brains had five children: Jewel, Sandra, Kris, Calvin, and Betty Ann.

They returned to the United States in August, 1975, for a six-week furlough, expecting to return again to Angola. But the war for independence made the country too dangerous for them and their children, and the mission sent them next to Luampa in Zambia. There they worked with refugees from Angola of the same tribe and language which they had served in that country.

When the Brains arrived in 1977, the Christians in the churches had long hoped for a training school for pastors and Christian leadership. In 1980 Africa Evangelical Fellowship had 105 local congregations in this area. Classes were begun that year with 18 students, and in 1982 construction began on a building to be used by both the Sunday School and a new Bible Institute. In 1983 there were 37 students, Robert was principal of the Manna Bible Institute, and Joan taught in the school, worked with women, children, and adults in the Sunday School programs, as well as with their children's education until they were of high school age.

In 1983 the Brains were on furlough in Maryland and planned to return to Zambia. They were in that country from 1985-1987. They were deported from Zambia in January 1987 as a result of false accusations about their characters and actions as Christians. They moved to Pennsylvania in 1994 where they continued to be heavily involved with translation assignments in the United States with SIM International which is a broader organization that now includes Africa Evangelical Fellowship. As of 2008, they had travelled back to Angola and Namibia nine times to speak at Bible Institutes and pastors’ conferences. Bob was working on a book in the Luchazi language on Women of the Bible, having already completed books on both the Old and New Testament as well as commentaries in Luchazi as well.

Scope and Content

The interviews of Robert and Joan Brain were conducted by Paul Ericksen on June 11 and 19, 1983. The topics discussed on the tapes are to the right of the elapsed time listed to the left. These indexes were made from cassette copies of the reel-to-reel interviews. A complete transcript to the interviews of this collection are available. [Index to T5, T6, and T7 is not available.]

T1 - side 1 (Click to link to the transcript of this tape)
00:00 Beginning of tape
00:05 Introduction
00:15 Robert's youth in Angola; school in Congo; school in the States, 1945; Gordon College Divinity School; marriage to Joan, 1953
02:15 Teaching in Southland Bible Institute; Lisbon, 1956; Angola, 1957; Catota; relocation to Zambia
03:15 Parents' activities as missionaries, Angola
04:30 Sunday School work; conferences
04:45 Childhood in Angola and hunting memories; return in 1972
06:00 Leaving Angola, 1934; furlough; incident of being clawed by a lion
09:15 Mission station facilities during youth
10:15 Angolan playmates; reacquaintance with childhood friend, 1978
11:30 Fragmentary early education; summer courses at Gordon to make up gaps
12:15 Reactions to furlough experiences; Robert's dedication to mission work on parents' second furlough
13:30 Deputation; Madison Ave. Baptist Church, Patterson, NJ
14:00 High school in the Congo; living at uncle's home; Dad's help to get into Gordon College
15:15 Different homes for each furlough
16:00 War experiences on board ship returning home
17:15 Quiet political situation in Africa, 1960s
17:45 Experience of response to the mission call at conference
19:30 Acceptance of work in Angola
20:00 Attraction of work with cousin's airport; recommitment to missions at Gordon
21:45 Shifting of church leadership to Angolans
23:00 Original work with Bunda people
23:30 Learning native language before English
24:00 Classes and life at Gordon; mission speakers, African prayer band
25:00 Edward John Carnell; Dr. Roger Nicole; Edward Ladd
25:45 Carnell's doctorate work, Harvard
26:30 Attendance at Harold Ockenga's church
27:15 Spiritual life at Gordon
28:00 Mission emphasis; alumni missionaries, seminary graduates
28:15 Prayer band activities
28:45 Gradual realization of desire to become a teacher
29:45 Decision to become part of Africa Evangelical Fellowship; losing and regaining language facility
32:00 Portuguese language and African languages
33:00 Meeting his future wife at Bible club meetings
34:00 Joan's interest in mission work; application for lab technician's training
34:45 Need for more training in pastoral theology, education, counseling
35:00 Usefulness of history, biblical courses for work in Angola, Zambia
36:45 Father's abilities with carpentry; homemade furnishings; African help with lumber
39:00 Costs and supplies
40:15 Application procedures; raising support
41:15 Sources of and time spent in deputation
42:45 Lack of candidate school or orientation in the States; language training in Portugal with different mission members
43:30 Usefulness of camera club training for mission work
44:15 Contacts with the Bobbys, TEAM missionaries in Portugal
45:00 Boat trip to Angola
45:30 End of side 1

T1 - side 2
00:00 Beginning of side 2
00:05 Overlap from side 1
00:30 Immediate teaching assignment at Catota because of his language abilities
01:00 Description of school classes and students
02:00 Teaching Old Testament survey; Joan and their daughters
02:45 Village visitation; conferences
03:30 Self-supporting village pastors
04:00 Types of evangelistic activities
04:45 Use of Angolan cultural situations for preaching effectiveness
06:15 Isolation of original tribes and their customs
07:45 Loss of original craft abilities; equipment, foods
09:15 First 300 mile trek of Brains' parents, 1928; carriers and homemade carrier "box" for Robert as a child
10:00 Music and instruments; dancing, circumcision; rhythmic ability
11:30 Instruments in Angola, Zambia; native music; Joan's musical contributions
12:45 Belief in spirits and problems for the living; evil spirits and their revenge
14:15 Witch doctors; new sect specializing in dead white people
16:00 Persistence of belief in witch doctors even when tricks known
17:15 Reasons for return of Christians to use of witch doctors; reactions of the churches
18:45 Burning of idols on conversion
19:45 Description of life style of tribal peoples
20:30 Fear as primary factor in native religions
21:30 Other denominational groups in their area; few Moslems
22:30 Lack of contacts with Pentecostals
23:00 "Sister" mission, Christian and Missionary Alliance; staff members
24:00 Biblical translations between 1955-1963
24:45 Description of family groupings of tribal peoples
25:15 Initial contacts with chieftains for permission to evangelize
27:00 Role of chieftains and effect on villagers
28:15 Roman Catholic evangelizing and effects
29:15 Bible school, churches, hospital; Dr. Regina Pearson; Dr. Robert Foster at leprosarium, Angola
30:30 Hospital ministry, Angola
32:00 Area served by the hospital
36:15 Lack of physical danger
37:30 Leaving 20 years of equipment, furnishings behind because of unexpected evacuation
38:45 Return of some missionaries; contacts with school graduates; turnover of staffing to Angolans
39:45 Staffing of the school left behind with nationals
40:30 Upgrading scholastic standards over 20-year period and process involved
41:45 Concluding comments on satisfactions of watching a ministry develop through the Bible Institute
43:00 End of tape

T2 - side 1 (Click to link to the transcript of this tape)
00:00 Beginning of tape
00:05 Introduction
00:15 Political reactions to foreigners and missions from 1956 and problems after 1960s
03:15 Freedom of village pastors; independence, communism; refusal of entry after 1975
04:45 Protection needed from Portuguese because of opposition movements in villages
05:45 View of missionaries as non-threatening
06:15 Refusal problems because of friendship with Portuguese; warnings not to return with small children
08:15 Two year period of hoping to return; mission's direction to Zambia; ministering to refugees from same tribe
09:15 Arrival in Luampa to wait assignment; starting a Bible Institute there; New Testament translation work for London Bible Society
11:30 First class, 1980; response and motivation and growth
12:45 Robert as principal, Joan as teacher; course rotation, students, preparatory school for wives of students
14:30 Languages in Zambia
15:15 Desire for national staff and Bible Institute, self-supported
16:30 Possibilities of pledged support for Bible Institute from 100 churches
17:30 Future plans to raise support for the Institute by visits to district councils
18:00 Value of experience in Angola with Bible Institute
19:00 Political instability in Zambia, socialism; Russia's interest and African response; present desire for return of missionaries
22:15 Warnings of problems with Angola
22:45 How decisions are made
24:00 African/American staff
24:45 Decision-making process
25:30 Replacement while Brains are on furlough
26:30 Plans for renovating nearby leprosarium to expand facilities of the Institute
28:00 Missionaries who have problems with culture, lack of commitment
31:30 Difficulties of finding evangelists willing to live with the people on full-time basis; language as a barrier to evangelization
34:15 Role of airplanes in mission; purchase of small family cruiser and refusal of its use in the country
35:30 Description of potential usefulness of airplanes; eventual delivery to South Africa of Brains' airplane
37:15 End of tape

T3 - side 1 (Click to link to the transcript of this tape)
00:00 Beginning of tape
00:05 Introduction
00:15 Joan Brain's early contacts with missionaries and decision to become a missionary; schooling; decision to apply to Africa Evangelical Fellowship; meeting and marrying Robert Brain
02:45 Southland Bible Institute, Pikeville, Kentucky
03:00 Individuals who influenced her decision
04:45 Family's positive reaction to her decision
05:30 Conversion in Sunday School, 1942
06:30 Studies at Wilson Laboratories, hospital
08:00 Work on medical staff in mission hospital
08:15 Influence of teachers at Southland Bible Institute
09:15 Spiritual influences and behavior expectations
10:15 Activities and Christian work
11:45 Going to Gordon College; courses; commissioning service for mission field
13:30 Stolen Bible
14:15 Application procedures; indecision about when to marry; advice of Ezra Shank; Bob's teaching at Southland
15:45 Meeting with Ezra Shank, Africa Evangelical Fellowship
18:15 Mechanics of acceptance
18:45 Lack of orientation; Bob's advantage as missionary kid in Africa
19:15 Need for training in children's work, education; furlough duties
21:00 Most helpful classes and usefulness of Navigators' approach
22:00 Language study in Portugal; difficulty of studying while pregnant; fellow students from other missions
25:15 Difficulties of learning Portuguese
27:00 Stringent requirements to pass the course; continuous use of the language
28:30 Difficulties with Angolan language and another pregnancy
29:45 Ease of adjusting to new culture
31:45 Climate and expectations
33:45 Al and Mary Lee Bobby and visits to their home in Portugal
35:30 Combining motherhood with mission work, and few opportunities to use laboratory training because of other responsibilities
39:30 Teaching their children; work for the Bible school
41:00 Working with Angolans and limited facilities for education; differences in patterns of thinking
43:45 Rote learning accepted; difficulties of developing coordinated preaching themes
45:00 End of side 1

T3 - side 2
00:00 Beginning of tape
00:05 Overlaps from side 1
00:15 Writing lessons for Sunday School; sharing information with pastors
01:30 Memorizing as the primary learning tool of the past
03:00 Humorous incident in classroom regarding use of Angolan language
04:30 Procedures for hospital evangelism; insistence on high Christian standards for national personnel on hospital staff
07:45 Her involvement with "junior" church; activities included
10:15 Needed changes for capacity of Bible Institute and Sunday School activities
12:45 Attendance of parents and community at Sunday School programs
14:00 Use of flannelgraph to begin sessions
18:30 Raising a family on the field; decision to teach their children at home; period in English school for teen years; return to complete high school at their station
21:00 Comparison of American and British educational systems; reactions to the boarding school situation; request of their son, Calvin, to be sent away for male companionship; correspondence work for youngest daughter
26:15 Education experiences and adulthood of their daughters
27:00 Difficulties during adolescence with constricted number of companions; daughter's brief love affair
28:00 Different experiences of daughters, Sandra and Chris
30:15 Furloughs; purchasing small plane; furlough in New England; two year furlough; activities during furloughs
34:45 Conflicts and compensations of mission life for families
35:30 Culture shock in the US on furloughs
37:45 Differing responses from churches in US to prayer letters
38:45 Writing prayer letters; content
42:15 Effectivenes of prayer letters for support
43:45 Varying responses from churches
46:15 Churches which withdraw support and some reasons
47:30 Different levels of support required for different countries; high costs in Zambia
49:30 End of interview

T4 - side 1 (Click to link to the transcript of this tape)
00:00 Beginning of tape
00:05 Introduction
00:30 Use of music at Catota; piano in Zambia; use of native instruments
03:45 Need to teach how to think about words during hymn singing; poor levels of comprehension
07:00 Use of western hymns; choir and native songs
08:15 Talented Zambian composer
10:00 Typical day for her in Zambia
13:45 Working in villages; need for special programs for children during church services; programs for youth; junior church and its growth
18:30 Adjustments in Zambia; Angolan refugees
19:45 A day's activity for the family
23:30 Relaxation activities
24:30 Plans for the future
26:00 Retirement facilities for the mission in Florida
27:15 Serving two more terms; no immediate plans for retirement
28:15 Post-retirement possibilities; Bob Brain's father's retired activities
30:15 Attributes for harmonious mission relationships
32:45 Personality conflcts and need to be concerned with persons as well as work
35:15 Positive view of problems as Satan's attack on effective work
36:00 End of tape

T5 - 45 minutes (Click to link to the transcript of this tape)
Expulsion from Zambia; not knowing deportation charges; twenty seven days imprisonment; no quiet and no alone time in prison; having only a partial Bible; South Africans in prison; South African man’s return to the Lord; religious programs two days a week; Jehovah’s Witness translating Brain’s Christian sermons; difficulty in translation work with Mbunda tribe; tensions between Mbunda and Luchazi tribes; finishing New Testament and printing in Luchazi; uncharitable Mbunda translator

T6 - 44 minutes (Click to link to the transcript of this tape)
Their deportation urged by practitioners of witchcraft; watched by government officials; effects of tribalism on churches; leaving Zambia; false accusations from Mbunda tribesmen; working with Chokwe tribesman and refugees; African church’s difficulty with discipline because of tribalism; witchcraft in churches; being spied on by Zambian co-workers and friends; imprisonment; comparing Angola and Zambia; current state of Africa Evangelical Fellowship; needs of Mbunda churches; going to Guinea-Bissau for next project; encouraging Brazilian churches to missions in Portuguese-speaking countries; desiring to do Luchazi translation work and training pastors by internet

T7 - 35 minutes (Click to link to the transcript of this tape)
Bob’s imprisonment; hospitality of Zambians; missionary Roger Schultz; provision of God in getting her to Luampa; visiting Bob in prison; kindness of the prison guards; support from mission; accepting decision for deportation; communication with the mission home office; betrayal of Zambian friends led to deportation; tribalism



The materials in this collection were received by the Center in June 1983, by Robert and Joan Brain.

Accession 83-72
January 29, 1986
Frances L. Brocker
J. Nasgowitz

Accession 87-132, 87-133
May 31, 2008
Noel Collins

Accession 17-09
February 8, 2017
Paul Ericksen

Accession 83-72, 87-132, 87-133
Type of Material: Audio Tapes
The items listed below are located in the AUDIO TAPE FILE:


R/C speed length sides Contents Dates
T1 R 3 3/4 93 2 Oral history interview of Robert Brain by Paul Ericksen 6/11/1983
T2 R 3 3/4 38 1 Oral history interview of Robert Brain by Paul Ericksen 6/19/1983
T3 R 3 3/4 100 2 Oral history interview of Joan Brain by Paul Ericksen 6/11/1983
T4 R 3 3/4 36 1 Oral history interview of Joan Brain by Paul Ericksen 6/19/1983
T5 R 3 3/4 45 1 Oral history interview of Robert Brain by Paul Ericksen 10/26/1987


R 3 3/4 44 1 Conclusion of oral history interview of Robert Brain by Paul Ericksen 10/26/1987
T7 R 3 3/4 35 1 Oral history interview of Joan Brain by Paul Ericksen 10/26/1987


Accession: 17-09
Type of material: Slides
The following items are located in the SLIDE FILE. All of the slides are in color, unless otherwise noted.

S1-S2. Two digital images converted from 35mm color slides of Robert and Joan Brain taken by Paul Ericksen at the Brains’ residence in Lanham, Maryland. 1983.

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Last Revised: 02/08/17
Expiration: indefinite