Appreciating the Service of the “Faithful and Discreet Slave”
AS TOLD BY MARY HANNAN
“WHY don’t you come with me to the Bible study?” queried my mother one Sunday morning as she, my sister and my oldest brother got ready for the six-mile drive to town by horse and carriage. “I will if you will get me back in time for Sunday school,” I replied. The time was before World War I. The place: a 75-acre farm in southern New Jersey. Our family consisted of father, mother, four boys and two girls, and mostly our religious affiliation had been with Presbyterians.
But mother had changed of late. Someone had mailed her a single copy of a magazine called “The Watch Tower” containing Bible proof that there was no such place as a burning hell for wicked people. Mother had always believed there was, but she was also a firm believer in the Bible. You can perhaps imagine how she felt when she learned the truth about hell. She talked it to everyone—neighbors, relatives and us children at home. Some of those she talked to even thought she was losing her mind.
Mother got to be an ardent student of the Bible. She bought and devoured the “Studies in the Scriptures,” a series of clothbound books issued by the Watch Tower Society. She began to study regularly with a small group of Bible Students who used to meet in a private home in a nearby town. She would often talk to us children about the things she was learning. Scripture readings, too, were featured at our meal-table. I can recall one of those readings that deeply impressed my young mind—the sixty-fifth Isa chapter 65 of Isaiah’s prophecy.
Finally, to please mother, I did start to attend Bible-study meetings with her, but with my sister I would always contrive to get to Sunday school too. However, the more we learned from mother the more difficult the questions we used to put to our Sunday-school teacher. When answers to our questions were not forthcoming, we soon lost interest in Sunday school.
EMBARKED ON A CAREER
When high school days were over, I decided to make schoolteaching my career, and entered the State Normal School in the fall of 1915 for a two-year preparatory course. At the school I was faced with having to register my religious affiliation, so as to be permitted to go to a place of worship each Sunday unchaperoned. Not knowing of any Bible Students in the area, and not yet having broken all connection with the Presbyterian church, I registered as a Presbyterian.
Now, very much on my own, I began to do some very serious thinking—especially on religion. Very few of my fellow students were willing to discuss the subject. However, I had brought with me the set of six “Studies in the Scriptures,” and now began to read them thoroughly while also keeping up with Bible reading.
Meanwhile, war was raging in Europe, and everywhere war was being commended as something noble and self-sacrificing. One Sunday morning I decided to attend the Presbyterian church near our school. I expected to gain some spiritual uplift. Instead, I heard a preacher whipping up the war spirit by a political sermon. I was thoroughly disgusted and resolved never to set foot in church again. But my love for the Bible and its fine principles continued unabated.
I shall never forget my first meeting with Bible Students at an address furnished by my mother. One Sunday morning I found the address and climbed a dark stairway to an upper room. But what a joy it was to join the little group of earnest students! Happily, too, there was a girl in my own age bracket, one who became to me a real associate.
Home for summer vacation, I found that mother, my sister and my oldest brother had all symbolized their dedication to Jehovah God by water baptism. I, too, had come to appreciate the privilege of taking this step of “consecration,” as it was then known, and was baptized before vacation time was over.
Back at school that fall I learned that a four-evening showing of the Photo-Drama of Creation, a marvelous presentation of the Bible story on slides and film, was to be featured in a nearby city. But no girls were allowed to leave the school grounds in the evening without chaperon and special permission. I approached the head preceptress with my request and showed her some of the folders advertising the Drama. As she deigned to glance at them she saw a picture of Adam and Eve in Eden. She called it obscene, and when I tried to explain what it was all about, she closed the interview, saying: “Don’t try to tell me what is the right religion!”
When mother learned of this incident she wrote the school’s principal, a kindly old gentleman, and he readily agreed to grant the permission. The preceptress had to be content with warning me not to talk about the Photo-Drama to the other students. But how happy I was to see that Drama! It was worth every effort to get there. Recalling this incident later, I mailed a copy of the book The Harp of God, soon after its release by the Watch Tower Society, to the school principal. Imagine my surprise to get an acknowledgment in which he assured me that he had “read the book with interest and profit.”
SOME VIVID MEMORIES
When word came of the death of the Watch Tower Society’s president, Charles T. Russell, I was one of the great crowd who attended the funeral. Among the mass of beautiful floral designs I can remember one bearing the significant text, “Be Thou Faithful Unto Death.” Then there was my first boat trip to Boston to attend a convention of Bible Students. That was when some of us learned for the first time about an opposition movement that had tried to scuttle the Society and its Kingdom-preaching work from inside.
With the coming of the fall again, it was back to teaching for me. Yes, I had entered the teaching profession. But it was not to be for long. The war spirit had invaded the schools and colleges. Teachers were called upon to give 100-percent effort to promote war-thinking or resign. To me the issue was clear-cut. I resigned. So back home again to help mother and to share in some very thrilling leaflet distributions with other Bible Students.
In those days, too, I recall how refreshing were the occasions when two or three congregations of Bible Students would get together for a special visit by a representative from the Society’s headquarters in Brooklyn. We could count on a rich spiritual feast.
News about a Bible Students convention to be convened at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reached us during the tense days of 1918. The then president of the Society, J. F. Rutherford, and his colleagues were still in prison. Could we attend this convention? My brother and I decided to go with other friends by special train. What a thrilling time we had! Brother Rutherford, though absent, was reelected president. There was a petition to circulate, appealing for release of these fine, responsible Christians from jail—a petition that ultimately had over 700,000 signatures! And there was the joy of meeting new friends and recounting experiences.
I was back at teaching again. But how eagerly I used to await my copies of the new magazine published by the Society, The Golden Age (now Awake!)! I used to drive to school by horse carriage and would try to read each new issue on the trip. Later I provided transportation for one of the other teachers, and I would let her drive while I read portions of the magazine to her.
In those days I had to miss some of the earlier conventions because of school responsibilities, but then came the good news of a big assembly at Columbus, Ohio, and in the summertime when I would be free. Needless to say, our family made the trip by car and enjoyed the whole program. Opening attendance was 7,000. But that was a vast crowd to us. How exciting, then, to see the numbers build up day by day to the peak of 35,000 on Sunday!
WHAT CAN I DO?
As the years passed, the longing to have some share in the witnessing work grew, while at the same time I was no longer satisfied in the teaching profession. I began to realize that Jehovah God was using his people on earth, moving them to organize and serve Him. Whenever any representatives of the Society visited our district I would ask them all about the full-time preaching activity. One of those visitors reminded me of a Scripture text that says, “He that reapeth receiveth wages.” I wanted to become a reaper.—John 4:36, AV.
In 1926 the Society released a new book called “Deliverance!” It made a clear distinction between Jehovah’s organization on earth and Satan’s. I was more than ever convinced that there could be no middle ground. I wanted to serve with the Lord’s organized and anointed servants on earth, his “faithful and discreet slave.” (Matt. 24:45) The message stirred my desire to give up teaching school and join the ranks of the “pioneers” or full-time preachers. But did I know enough about the Bible? Could I manage financially? What would happen if I failed? Would I be able to get a job again?
Well, I made my decision. It was no easy one for a girl. Yet I can never put into words the freedom I now felt—the relief from worldly pressures. I felt as if a weight had been removed from my shoulders. Now, well stocked with the new Deliverance! book, my partner and I could get started in our first assigned territory, a mining region in Pennsylvania. My companion already had some experience, so I was able to learn much from her. Day after day we would accept orders for the Bible publications we carried, and then, on a set day, make deliveries to those who ordered. And it was truly satisfying to be able to discuss Bible questions with some.
Winters were severe, however. We had to wrap up warmly to carry on, and even then I found that my health was being impaired. Eventually I decided to return home and see if I could get on my feet again. It took some weeks before I began to get back to par, and meantime the promise of spring was in the air. I was all set to get back with my partner. But then came a telephone call from the Society’s Brooklyn headquarters: “Would you like to consider Bethel service (Bethel referring to the home where the headquarters staff live and work)?” Of course, I would love to, especially seeing that two of my brothers and a cousin were already serving there. I agreed to come to Brooklyn for an interview.
BLESSINGS AT BETHEL
“You seem rather frail,” was the first remark of the Society’s president, Brother Rutherford. But when I explained about my recent illness, he asked: “Are you prepared to stay and go right to work?” Of course I was, even though I had only packed an overnight bag before coming for my interview. And to work I went, the first few months doing housework in the new Bethel home and in the annex that was being used while construction work progressed.
Then one day Brother Rutherford talked to me about my work and asked if I would like to try proofreading in the factory office. Well, I’ve been trying ever since. Words are inadequate to express the satisfaction and joy I have experienced in the many years since then. The comment of one of the older brothers particularly helped me to appreciate the privilege of such close association with the Lord’s ‘faithful and discreet slave.” Said he: “You have one of the greatest privileges that any woman on earth could have.” I surely agree.
Then, for a time, there were four of my family serving here at Bethel, for my sister Harriet was accepted for service at the headquarters one year after I came. However, after a brief illness in 1951 she completed her earthly course. Keeping busy in the work of the Lord proved to be a real benefit to me, for sorrows and troubles got pushed into the background, and the peace of mind that comes from conscientious service quieted every anxious thought.
The joys of service here at Bethel far surpassed my expectations. And there were added blessings, such as getting to conventions. During the years, I have attended assemblies in over a dozen states, as well as enjoying two convention trips to Europe. And vacations? Yes, these have been provided too, and often made most refreshing and upbuilding by loving and generous friends.
MILESTONES ALONG THE WAY
In 1931, at Columbus, Ohio, I can well remember that I was sitting in the top row when the new name, Jehovah’s witnesses, was announced from the platform. I can still hear the tremendous applause that burst forth from the great audience. In the early thirties another thing I can recall is the time I was escorted by police to the chief’s office while engaged in house-to-house witnessing in Floral Park, New York. But the chief dismissed the complaint, and I was taken back to the same street, where I placed more literature as a result of the publicity.
Then there was the time when we used the phonograph largely in our door-to-door ministry, letting recordings made by Brother Rutherford do the talking and introducing of our message. And another feature of our service back then: walking down Broadway, New York city, wearing a sandwich sign and carrying a banner with the inscription, “Religion Is a Snare and a Racket.” Passersby would look at us as at something very strange, but the important thing was that attention was drawn to the vital message.
Each large convention, too, had its never-to-be-forgotten high point. At Washington, in 1935, it was the joy of seeing a “great multitude” rise to their feet on being identified as the earthly class of Jesus’ followers. In 1941, at St. Louis, Missouri, we saw 15,000 youthful Witnesses stand and file by to receive their free copies of the newly released book Children. In New York city, in 1942, many of us listened to the first public broadcast from Cleveland by the Society’s new president, N. H. Knorr. And that same year some of us spent vacation time at the Kingdom Farm near Ithaca, where we saw the well-equipped buildings that had just been constructed. We did not know at the time that this was to be the location of a special school, the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead. Surely the Lord Jesus was prospering his “faithful and discreet slave”!
It was grand, too, in 1950, to see the multitudes of our spiritual brothers and sisters and interested persons who toured the Bethel and factory here during the Yankee Stadium convention. Many were the encouraging words they spoke to us as they filed through the buildings and marveled at the cleanliness and order that prevailed.
Particularly did I appreciate in those days the special privilege of sharing in the proofreading of the complete New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, an instrument that was hailed by Witnesses throughout the world with such enthusiasm. Also, it was fascinating to watch the new building project here at Brooklyn, from and after 1958, as the new Bethel home at 107 Columbia Heights took shape. In 1960, many of us moved into the new building.
In 1961, it was a fine thing to be present at the opening of the 36th Class of Gilead School, as its ten-month course got under way in its new quarters in our new building. And since then we have attended many graduations, and seen many strong young men and women leave for faraway assignments as missionaries after completing their training here.
From time to time our physical bodies need rest and repairs so as to be able to keep going efficiently, and that is what happened to me in 1962. Due to some necessary surgery I had to be laid aside for a while, a very trying situation when one wants to be at the work one loves. But loving care and encouragement offered by fellow Witnesses cheered me up, and particularly comforting to me was the assurance of the Lord’s care as expressed at Psalm 23:4.
There are many other joyous experiences that I could tell. But time and space fail. In addition to our duties here in Bethel we also use evenings and weekends to share in the preaching work from house to house. I have had the joy of seeing some with whom I started Bible studies become publishers of the Kingdom message themselves, in one case down to the third generation. What greater joy could one have? Though not getting any younger in years, I am still hoping, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, to spend yet more time in showing my appreciation for the service of the “faithful and discreet slave.”