This Week in AG History — September 17, 1938
By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on AG News, 17 September 2020
Esther Bragg Harvey (1891-1986) served Jesus Christ and the people of India for 48 years before retiring as an Assemblies of God missionary in 1961. During her first nine years on the field she buried three children and her young husband. Yet when she passed away at age 95, hundreds of Indian children called her “Mama.”
Esther Bragg was not raised in a Christian home; yet at the age of 12 she witnessed the peace her grandfather experienced, singing a hymn as he passed from the earth. The young girl determined to find the God of her grandfather. When she asked about going to church her father forbade her to “get religion.” Bragg would sneak out of the house to attend church, often finding herself locked out of the house on her return. Her father finally told her she must choose between leaving the church or leaving her home. Heartbroken at the thought of leaving her mother, Bragg turned to God in prayer. The Lord gave her a vision of himself carrying His cross. She saw that her cross was much smaller than His and asked the Lord to forgive her and help her to carry whatever cross He laid on her back. Her father soon relented.
In her senior year of high school, Bragg became very ill. Pentecostal believers from a local mission prayed for her and she was healed. She began to attend Pentecostal services and in 1911 enrolled in a short-term Bible school in Norwalk, Ohio, where she met J. Roswell and Alice Flower. The couple led her into an experience of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and Harvey soon felt that God was leading her to mission work in India.
In obedience, Bragg set sail for India arriving in December 1913. Just a few months after her arrival, word came from a mission in Nawabganj that some American missionaries had to leave suddenly and left a 27-year-old former British soldier, James Harvey, alone to carry on the work. He had no money and no supplies and was in desperate need, traveling from village to village without even a pair of shoes. Bragg felt that she could be helpful and responded in answer to the call for help.
Unbeknownst to the other, both Esther Bragg and James Harvey wrote in their journals that they felt the Lord had brought them together. Soon “together” became the word that defined them, as they were married later that year (1914). Together they received some of the first credentials with the newly formed Assemblies of God, and together they traveled — holding meetings, helping others, encouraging workers, discipling new Christians, and building a school for boys. With joy they discovered that “together” would soon include another little life.
But their dreams were crushed and together they buried their first baby. Another new life promised hope, but a second small grave was dug next to the first. When a third pregnancy brought promise, Esther found herself also gripped with fear. However, God blessed them with a strong and healthy baby girl. A baby boy followed soon after but was soon very sickly and weak. Esther prayed, “Lord, I cannot and I will not give him up. I must keep him.” In her prayer, she was reminded of the commitment she made before she left for India: “I put it all on the altar — the things I know and the things I don’t know.” She realized losing children was one of the things she “didn’t know” and she had already laid them on the altar before they had even been born. Soon the heartbroken parents had three little graves near their mission house. Together James and Esther continued their work.
After bearing four babies in eight years, and burying three of them, the Harvey’s felt they had born well what had been laid on them. Then, in 1922, James became gravely ill. Esther nursed him for a month, while carrying on the school and mission work and caring for their 3-year-old daughter. In her exhaustion, she prayed for God to heal James quickly so she could get some rest. She felt the work was too great for her to carry alone and she could not go on waiting for James to get better. After two days and nights without sleep caring for her husband, Esther physically collapsed when she realized James had slipped away from the bonds of earth.
In her grief and weakness, Harvey fell into a deep depression. She could not pray and despaired that she had failed God in her short 29 years of life. But when she found herself too weak to do any praying on her own, others stepped in to pray for her. Soon she felt her strength return. A friend brought the young widow and her child into her home for rest. The presence of the Lord drew near and she felt resurrection life bring her back from the brink. Previously, she had leaned on her husband for strength, but now the single mother learned to trust the Lord’s strength to be sufficient to help her lead the school her husband had begun in Sharannagar.
Over the next 27 years, Esther established a church and oversaw the James Harvey Memorial School, building a missionary bungalow, sleeping quarters for workers, school buildings, and a dormitory for the orphan boys. In the Sept. 17, 1938, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, the editors published an SOS letter from Harvey detailing the destruction of the mission from flooding. They were in a critical place due to collapsing buildings, deadly cobras being washed up into their sleeping areas, and no money to buy food or help with rebuilding. Harvey wrote to the American Assemblies of God church members that, “we are in a desperate situation with not one cent of money to help ourselves or anyone else.” The editors encouraged the Evangel readers to give to “one of our largest mission stations in North India.”
God and the Assemblies of God responded to the need and the James Harvey Secondary School continues to this day in 2020.
After her retirement, Harvey traveled to American churches to share the needs of India. In her book, The Faithfulness of God, she looked back on her life and wrote, “I have had to go through many things, one sorrow after another, but I always found He giveth grace. When we are called to pass through the waters, He is there to hold us up.” She died at age 95, trusting in the God she began seeking at age 12. Even though she buried so many of her own children, her tombstone at Greenlawn Cemetery in Springfield, Missouri, calls her “Mama ji” – the name she was given by the children of northern India.
Read Esther Harvey’s request for help, “Calamity Strikes Sharannagar Mission,” on page 6 of the Sept. 17, 1938, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “For Jonathan’s Sake” by Carrie Judd Montgomery
• “Not By…But By” by F.M. Bellsmith
• “Are We Blind Also” by John L. Franklin
And many more!
Click here to read this issue now.
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.
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