Billy Graham Center

Collection 252 - Robert Wesley Brain. T2 Transcript.

This is a complete and accurate transcript of the oral history interview of Robert Wesley Brain (CN 252, T2) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations, such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. Readers should remember that this is a transcription of spoken English, which, of course, follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.

... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.

.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.

() Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.

[] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.

This transcription was made by Christopher Easley and Paul Ericksen, and completed in January 1992.

Collection 252, T2. Interview of Robert Wesley Brain by Paul A. Ericksen on June 19, 1983.

ERICKSEN: This is an interview with Robert Wesley Brain by Paul Ericksen for the Missionary Sources Collection of Wheaton College. This interview took place at the Brains' home in Lanham, Maryland, on June 19th, 1983 at 5:00 p.m. Bob, I'd like to start by asking you to talk about the political situation in Angola as you remember it, as it developed through the whole time that you were in Angola up to...up until the time that you left.

BRAIN: When we first went out the Portuguese were the ruling colonial power and it was very quiet. There was no problems or difficulties at all. That was back in 1956. But [pauses, clears throat] the situation started to change in the early '60s, 1960, '61, when these so-called "freedom fighters" started to agitate for independence and carry on some sporadic fighting in the outlying areas. This resulted in [clears throat] the government being very, very suspicious of foreigners. They felt that it was a possibility that any foreigner could be involved in helping, to them, they would refer to them terrorists). In fact, in Luanda, as well as some of the other mission boards up in the northern area, they...they found evidence that they were involved in helping the freedom fighters. And this made it very difficult for the rest of us who wanted to maintain a strict neutrality in the whole picture. [clears throat] This resulted in some of the missionaries being expelled from Angola, and a lot of others when they went home on furlough were not granted re-entry visas. The missionary force had been about three hundred and fifty missionaries in Angola and this was worked down 'til this was about fifty and even less because of the implications of missionaries being involved with these people, especially up in the north. However, we down in our area, we...we really tried befriend the Portuguese, to win their confidence. We had them in our home all the time, entertained them, we had singspirations [singing meetings], we had special programs for the Portuguese children, and they would come in from the local stores as well as other small communities to these services on Sunday night. Then this gradually developed into a Bible study and we had some people that were converted. Because of this attempt on our part to...just to show them that we were ordinary people and we were in there for purp...spiritual purposes, trying to reach the people with the Gospel, our village pastors had complete freedom of movement and were not restricted in any way whatsoever. The Africans often referred to us as bridges [pauses] between them and the Portuguese government. This went on until independence was...was declared. In the meantime there'd been an overthrow of the government in Portugal, and the communists had taken over, and independence was promised. And then there was a lull in the fighting until they tried to get the three parties to sit down and...and share power in Angola.

ERICKSEN: Now when would that be?

BRAIN: I think that would be about '74, '73 or '74, because we came home in...or was it '75. Yeah, I think it was '75. And it was quiet there, you know, for quite a long time, but as the time came for the granting of independence, these three different...(there were three different) [pauses] factions started to fight among themselves. And this is what got worse and worse and worse and worse until in 1978, we...we couldn't get back '75 we couldn't get back in again.

ERICKSEN: How...were there any opposition movements right in the area you were working in?

BRAIN: [clears throat] Yes. There were groups of the...all the villages to the east of us had to leave the area and come into the post and resettle in villages near the Portuguese where they could get protection. And other villages, further removed, they, of course, were swallowed up by these liberation movements. So the large buffer zone east of our...our mission station, Catota, perhaps stretching for maybe fifty, sixty miles where there was nothing, and of course we weren't permitted to go out into that area. We used to go out into that area. There were villages and we'd visit them, and also there were some good hunting in that area, and we used to go out there hunting, but we couldn't go out there anymore.

ERICKSEN: And how did the opposition movement feel about the missionaries?

BRAIN: Well, I think that by in large they looked on us favorably because they realized that we were there to help the people, and we weren't committed to any single political idea or movement, so that as a mission station, we weren't troubled in any way by the terrorists, although some villages near us were attacked.

ERICKSEN: So, your inability to go back in '75 wasn't a personal [pauses]...they weren't keeping you necessarily out, but missionaries in general. Is that...?

BRAIN: No, no. I would say it was a personal thing, because as I explained, we tried really gain the confidence of these Portuguese people and we had them in our homes. Two of them that moved into the area were connected with the international police, which was involved in the security, political security of the country, and one of them was...was converted through our ministry there. And this...this really created a tremendous bridge between our evangelical work and the Portuguese government. But when the communists took over, then this is where the problems came in. And then, of course, the Cubans [army troops sent by the communist government in Cuba] moved in, and the missionaries that were there and stayed on through all of that told us that they didn't think that we should come back with our little children.

ERICKSEN: Because of the danger involved.

BRAIN: Because of the danger involved, and, you know, there might...they might try to seek some kind of reprisal against us because of our close association with the Portuguese. I might just add that this paid off in spiritual dividends because this young fellow that was in the international police, he had to flee to Brazil to save his life, and there he went to a seminary and is now a pastor, married and is a pastor of a little church down there. And there are several other couples that we have followed up on since then and...that came to know the Lord.

ERICKSEN: Then after your furlough, you went to Zambia. How was it decided that you would go there?

BRAIN: Well, we couldn't go back into Angola because they felt it was too dangerous, so we waited hoping that things would get better. But in the meantime, more and more Cubans came in and the things got worse, so that we waited around for two years, hoping that things would get better, but they didn't. So the mission felt that, you know, we should go back into Zambia because just across the border form Zambia is the same tribal group and the same language and the same Bible is being used that was used there in Angola. So we didn't have any problems from that standpoint. And more than that, hundreds and hundreds of the refugees that fled Angola knew either Mother and Dad or knew me, or knew about me, so it was just like moving in among the same people that we've been working among in Angola.

ERICKSEN: And what work have you been doing Zambia?

BRAIN: Well, we...when we first went there, we were allocated to a town right in the Zambezi valley called Mongu, and we were supposed to have worked with the church there and built up theological education by extension, which is being used extensively in Zambia by our mission. However, there was no housing, so they asked us to go to Luampa for a few months, and, you know, see what would be worked out. But when we got to the Luampa, the people there were just excited beyond words to see us because they knew of the type of work we had been in and also they had been praying for a Bible institute for Western province for many, many years, even before we ever got there or ever...ever knew of them. So they felt we were just God's answer to their prayer. And this meant that the...the de...the four (at that time it was four) district church councils started negotiation with the executive committee of our mission, Africa Evangelical Fellowship, and in Zambia it's called the Evangelical Church of Zambia, have get permission to open a Bible school in Western province. So we stayed on there and this negotiation was drawn out over the course of two years, during which time I was asked to work with the London Bible Society on translation work. So I worked with the Mbunda translation team. They'd been working on the Mbunda Bible for over thirteen years and had never succeeded in polishing it up to satisfy the demands of the Bible society. So they asked me to work with them and I did. I worked with them for two years and we finished the New Testament, and this was sent in to Lusaka for corrections, and to Nairobi, and then finally to Hong Kong where it's being printed right now. Then in 1980, having in the meantime received permission to open the Bible institute [Manna Bible Institute], in 1980, we started with our first class [pauses] of eighteen students.

ERICKSEN: And how did did the school develop between that time...

BRAIN: We [clears throat]...

ERICKSEN: ...and when you came home for furlough?

BRAIN: ...we...we started out with eighteen students, which was just a...just a miracle. People said, you know, people wouldn't come and [laughs] they didn't want to really study the Word of God, and we had eighteen students. And the second year, 1981, we had another ten students, and in 1982 we had [pauses] another fifteen, bringing our total to about thirty-six; some had to leave. But it was just wonderful the way the Lord brought in these people. And the big thrill of it was their motivation. They'd been praying for a Bible institute for many many years, and now with this Bible institute opening up in their area, in their district, it was just a...they were really just thrilled, really anxious to study the Word of God. It was just a thrill working with them.

ERICKSEN: Are you teaching at the institute, administrating?



BRAIN: Yes. I am the principal of this institute now and I teach courses there, and also my wife. We have some other missionaries that help us, as well as two or three Zambians. The school has two main parts. The Bible institute proper, where we have a three year cycle course, that is set up, and we just simply rotate the courses every three years. And we found that a lot of the students that wanted to study the Word of God...most of them were older men and women that were mature and had had their families and so on in some cases, they didn't know how to write very well. So we set up what we call a...a preparatory school, where incoming students can perfect their reading and writing skills. And then if and when they can pass the entrance exam, then they'd be accepted into the Bible institute. So, we have two school, as it were running, one the Bible institute and the other one the preparatory school. We find that a lot of the wives of our students are interested as well, and we encourage them because we feel that when the wife is trained, in some ways she can help with children's work and women's work, and we encourage them to come into the Bible school. So in order to prepare them for this we...we have set up this...this prep school.

ERICKSEN: You're working with the...the same language group as you were working with in Angola. Is there anything in the move to Zambia that you had to adjust to? Were there new things Zambia that were different even though you were working with the same group?

BRAIN: No, I wouldn't...I wouldn't say so. There was [pauses] some differences and adjustments had to be made because of the different organization. In Zambia, I would say that the church organization was further advanced than we had had in Angola, and [clears throat] this was something that we had to get used to and work with.

ERICKSEN: Anything in particular that...that comes to mind, differences in the situations that you referred to?

BRAIN: No. I would just say that the mechanics of the different committees, the executive committee, and everything had to be cleared by this and this took time. One thing I was...I was very happy for that I saw was the fact that everyone was not interested in setting up another mission-operated Bible institute. They wanted the Western province district councils to feel that this was their responsibility. And when we go back this time, we would like to really push this. We would like to have them supporting this and sending in regular faith contributions to help pay for the expenses, the teachers salaries and so on, and make them feel that it's their responsibility.

ERICKSEN: Is the economic situation such that they will be able to do that?

BRAIN: Well, [pauses] any little bit would cou...would help, you see. For example, we have approximately a hundred churches in Western province, and if each church would pledge say between one and five kwacha a month, that would be between a hundred and five hundred kwacha a month, and that would be a tremendous boost to the running of Bible institute.

ERICKSEN: What's the exchange rate on a kwacha?

BRAIN: It's about one per one now, I understand [one kwacha for one US dollar].


BRAIN: They all have other commitments, you know, with the organization. They have to...they are encouraged to pledge and to give. There's a pastor's retirement fund and they have their own expenses, but if they could just add the Bible institute, this would make it feel...make them feel that it's theirs and that's what...that's what we want.

ERICKSEN: How do you go about or what plans do you have bring them into more participation in that? Is there any particular way that you go about that?

BRAIN: Well, I like to go out and visit these district councils and meet with them when they meet and, you know, present them with this need and ask them if they could help us along that line.'s not a very complicated thing, but I would like to try and work them in a little bit more.

ERICKSEN: One thing that I was wondering about, was there anything that you learned in setting up the institute in Angola or working in the institute in Angola that made it easier setting up the institute in Zambia?

BRAIN: Oh yes, I mean, know, the experience we'd in Angola was just marvelous. We'd been there working there for twenty years, and I stepped into a situation there that was...was already established. And then Mr. and Mrs. Pearson [Emil and Daisy] who founded it, they retired and left it with us and I was the only man on the station running the Bible institute, as well as acting as, what we called in those days, church liaison officer. So all of this was a valuable experience for me when I started the Bible institute Zambia. And I set the one up there in Zambia more or less along the same lines that we had been running in Angola, because we felt this was the type of thing that challenged them and they were interested in and equip them for...for the Lord's work.

ERICKSEN: Was there anything you changed?

BRAIN: I can't say that there is, no. I just followed along the same line [laughs].

ERICKSEN: What are the...what's the political situation in Zambia like?

BRAIN: Oh, I would describe it perhaps as being unstable at this time. The present government is a humanistic government with a...a Christian approach. It doesn't seem logical to have a humanistic government with a Christian approach, but this is what they've tried to do. But it is fast turning and becoming more and more socialistic. And I think that the Russians are moving in with more and more advisers. And they have the biggest embassy Lusaka of any of the other foreign countries. And you just see, you know, more and more of their influence in Zambia. There was a time when the...the...the educational system permitted Christian classes taught in schools on school time, but now there's a movement around eliminate this and this has largely been eliminated and substituted by a course called scientific socialism. They f...they feel that scientific socialism is as much a religion as Christianity is, and they want their children to learn what this is and to know what it is, and gradually Christianity is being pushed out and eliminated in all these schools, and this course of scientific socialism is being brought in. So I think it's just a matter of time, it's just a.... Instead of going at it with guns and bullets, they're going at it gradually, and they...they take teachers and government officials to Russian and to Western...Eastern block countries to see and to look around, and everything is all paid, and it's just fantastic just they're winning them over. So I don't know. I don't know what the future holds. There are people that claim that the Africans will never adopt Marxism completely, and we certainly have seen changes in Angola and Mozambique. These were taken over the Russians and the Marxists, and today they are begging missionaries to come back in there. So [chair creaks] we just don't know just what the future holds. In a sense there is liberty, and yet a Christian finds it very difficult without compromising his Christianity join the party. And without...without joining the party you can't get a card, you can't hold a job, and you can't buy a store, you can't buy supplies. So there...there are real problems in these communist countries, even though it's...they say they have a freedom of religion.

ERICKSEN: And you foresee that coming to Zambia?

BRAIN: I...I think it's coming, yeah.

ERICKSEN: Anything you can do or thinking of doing to at least prepare for...

BRAIN: Well, we're starting...

ERICKSEN: ...that eventuality?

BRAIN: warn and tell our Christians, and I'm sure they see the handwriting on the wall. All they have to do is, you know, realize what's happening next door in Angola, and they must see it coming.

ERICKSEN: Another thing I was wondering about, how decisions were...were made on the field. Are decisions made by the board and given to you to implement, or do the missionaries themselves do quite a bit of the...?

BRAIN: In smaller matters, relating to local work, I think the missionaries, or in our case, like in the Bible institute we have a staff/faculty...staff meeting. We are left largely to do our own thing locally. When it comes to major decisions, then this would involve the general council executive committee and the general council, which meets once a year. The executive committee, I think, it three or four times a year? I think it is. For any major decisions, then you'd have to consult them. But for everyday running of the school and so on, loc...policies of the local...of a local nature, you wouldn't have to consult them.

ERICKSEN: Now the staff that you refer to, is that made up of Africans and Western missionaries?

BRAIN: Yes, yes, yes. We have one man that is a graduate of our Bible institute in Angola, and I found him there in Zambia. He's a refugee. So I called him into the mission and he helped me with the translation work, and then when we opened the Bible school, then he helped us in the Bible school. He's one...our head teacher there. Then we have some ol...other local people, too, that are helping 'em...helping us, some in the prep school, and others teach a course or two in the Bible institute. And since we left for furlough in January, the main load of tea...of teaching on the African teachers. However, there are some missionaries involved, too.

ERICKSEN: When you're making decisions, do try and encourage the Africans to take the initiative in making the decisions or is it sort of a joint process or do you make the decisions? Who...?

BRAIN: My policy has been our faculty meetings we...we present the problem, and then just ask for opinions all around, and generally we...we come to a unanimous decision. After all if it's the Lord's will at work it should be unanimous, so we should be agreed [laughs]. And that's the way we operate.

ERICKSEN: Who's been taking all of your responsibilities while you've been home on furlough?

BRAIN: Beth Springle, wife of one of our doctors, is acting principal. Then we have another missionary, she's a lab technician, a third generation missionary, Margrite Foster, and she's teaching two courses. Then we have the African teachers in there that are helping, and I'm not sure if they have one of the nurses coming down...coming down to give health courses or not, but we try to encourage this because we feel that anything they can learn from that side, like prevention of diseases and symptoms and good diet, good food, this is very helpful.

ERICKSEN: When you return in October, is there anything particular that you are hoping to accomplish in the term? You referred to one thing a little earlier about...

BRAIN: Yeah.

ERICKSEN: ...getting the...


ERICKSEN: ...churches involved.

BRAIN: Yes, we have...we have something that really, really seems tremendous that the Lord is working out for us. At Luampa there, we have had a leprosarium located about a mile and a half away from the mission station. And due to the change of policy in treating these patients, they...they are going to evacuate all those buildings, and they have been turned over to us, the Bible institute. And we would like to go back there and...and take a look at the these buildings, see what we can do, if there's...if it's necessary to remodel them and make them into our classrooms and office and so on, and move over to this new campus. This, of course, will mean that all the students will move as well from the little village that they're living in now. And over there, at the leprosarium, they will have a lot more ground and gardening area where they can plant vegetables and corn and so on help with their diet. Yeah, we...we've been encouraging people here in the States to send us out seeds, vegetable seeds to help in this.

ERICKSEN: [pauses] I'm wondering, could you talk at all about cases that you've seen, not of course mentioning particular names, but incidents where missionaries have come to the field who really shouldn't have been there in the first place or have had had difficulties either adjusting to life on the field or just coping with the day to day routines and [pauses] sort of the...the disasters on the field?

BRAIN: Yes. Of course, there are always problems like this when you're are dealing with [pauses] human beings, and we've had some...some sad cases in Angola as well as in Zambia, just in the short time we've been there, where missionaries just seemed to have not fitted in. There are several things that contribute to this. I suppose the most important thing is the lack of a real personal...personal and close walk with the Lord. But what happens is, in situations like this, they get out to the mission field and perhaps have been misled, maybe in missionary conferences and...or maybe in orientation courses. I think that, you know, when people are anxious to enlist the help of others, you tend to paint an tend to paint the good side of it, and people come out there looking and expecting one thing and they find another thing out there, and the...the shock, the cultural shock is just too much for them. I...I find that today missions, because they are becoming more and more specialized, people with special skills are coming out. And I find that sometimes missionaries that come out with special skills, they're very good in those particular skills. However, they don't get a spiritual outreach worked into their program. They'll come out there as pilots or as mechanics or as electricians or as teachers or as nurses or lab technicians, and they dive into that work and do a wonderful job but have no spiritual out...outreach. And perhaps this is due because maybe they don't really settle down and really master the language, and they feel that "Well, you know, I'm out here as a professional missionary. I'm...I've come out here to do mechanical work. Why should I learn the language?" Well, that type of missionary in my estimation never has a real sense of fulfillment. It might be true the Lord called him out there to be a mechanic or to be something else. But unless they have some kind of spiritual outlook...outreach, many times, (I'm being very careful in the choice of my words), many times this type of a missionary ends up disillusioned and...and gives up. They might stay for a term or two. [clears throat]

ERICKSEN: Since the mid-'50s when you first went out to the field, have you seen an incidence of this sort increasing or decreasing? Are mission boards becoming more effective screening the people they are sending to the field?

BRAIN: I think I've seen an increase in as much as there has been a change in the general missionary thrust. Early missionaries went out there and shall we say that they were evangelists by and large, and they traveled around and did village work and got in with the people and lived in tents and grass houses. Today missionaries are located in townships and mission stations that are established with proper residences and electricity and running water, and they are not getting out among the people. And I know that Africans miss this. Many times the Africans accuse the missionaries of being out there just to earn money. You know, in their ignorance, they...they feel that the missionary is out there to earn money. Of course, the missionary, in comparison to a person doing the same type of work out here isn't...isn't earning any money [laughs]. But that's the way they look at it, because they just don't see missionaries with the same love and the burden that their...the...the pioneering missionaries showed when they came into the...into the country. So I would say this is on the increase, yeah. I...and I think that it's becoming more and more difficult for mission boards to find missionaries that will dedicate their lives to church planting and...and working with people. Today's quite easy to find nurses and doctors to come out and teachers, relatively easy in comparison to finding people that will come out and do, shall I say, full-time spiritual work. And it's very difficult today to find people that really master the language, so that they could get in there and translate materials into like Sunday school lessons or the translation of just simple books into the...into the various languages. They're depending more and more on the fact that more and more of the Africans are speaking, either like in Angola it would be Portuguese, or in Zambia it would be English.

ERICKSEN: Shifting the topic quite a bit, [Brain laughs] I understand...


ERICKSEN: ...that...that you've had some experience with flying? [Brain laughs] Have you used that out on the field at all?

BRAIN: No, Paul. In the early '60s, two men from our mission came up from South Africa in a small Piper airplane, a four seater, and they came to our mission station, Catota. And the main idea was for them to tour the field, because one of them was Dr. [Robert] Foster, and he was looking at the possibilities of making a transfer and coming to Angola. And another idea was to look into the possibility using a small aircraft, because our mission was using it down Swaziland, I believe it was. So I came home on furlough that time, just after their visit all enthused and raised money. We were able to buy a small family cruiser. We paid only four thousand dollars for it. And I had some friends, (because my cousins were in the airport business)...and I had some friends that we recovered...completely recovered and rebuilt the whole body of the plane. And I had another man that was a mechanic and he rebuilt the engine. We also got permission from the FAA [Federal Aeronautics Administration] to increase the power of the engine so it would fly better at higher altitudes. But when we went back into Angola, this is just '61, '62, things were getting real bad and they'd caught some missionaries mixed up with these freedom fighters and so on, that they were really suspicious of [clear throat], pardon me...of allowing anybody to come in there with a small aircraft and a radio, you know. It was just an impossibility. So I never did any flying as such in...overseas. I did a little here in this country, but not overseas in the Lord's work. It was very disappointing [laughs]. We really could have used it because we Catota we had forty-two outstations. And [clears throat] the idea was take visiting pastors out and like hold conferences in these different places and then come back. And it would have been ideal. The Africans out there would have all been very willing to prepare small runways for, you know, small aircraft. It would have been very, very wonderful. It would have stepped up communication, too, and reaching out to these people, but it was never to be [laughs]. The aircraft did go to South Africa and was used there though in the Lord's work so it wasn't a total loss [laughs].

ERICKSEN: Very good. Thank you very much for your participation in the interviews.

BRAIN: Well, thank you.

ERICKSEN: We appreciate it.

BRAIN: We appreciate if we could be a help to somebody.


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