Serving as Long as I Can Be of Any Use
As told by William T. Hannan
IT WAS back in 1922 that I saw my privilege and opportunity to serve my God Jehovah more fully. A call had gone forth for more workers at the headquarters of the Watch Tower Society in Brooklyn, New York, as it was beginning to print its own Bible literature. I wrote for an application, and among the questions it contained was: “How long can you stay?” After giving that question serious thought I wrote down: “As long as I can be of any use.” I am truly thankful to Jehovah that, by his undeserved kindness, I have been able to ‘be of use,’ serving him full time for the past forty-six years and that I can still look forward to further years of use in his service.
I was privileged to hear of God’s purposes seventy years ago, in 1898, at the early age of six. My mother first gleaned a measure of understanding of God’s glorious purposes from a tract that had been used in wrapping a holiday gift parcel sent to her by her sister, my aunt. However, as the top of the tract was missing, there was nothing to identify the author or publisher of it.
Two years later my mother came across a copy of The Divine Plan of the Ages, Volume I of “Millennial Dawn,” written by Charles Taze Russell. She at once recognized it as being the same teaching as that of the tract that had been used as wrapping paper. Mother eagerly devoured the book and read it to us. It presented strong reasons for believing that God exists, that the Bible is indeed his inspired revelation, and that soon God’s kingdom would come and his will be done upon earth as in heaven.
We continued to attend the Presbyterian church even though mother frequently found fault with what the preacher said. Then in 1905 we moved to a farm my father had purchased some six miles out of Bridgeton in southern New Jersey. Now for the first time we came in touch with the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then known. We met with them every Sunday for Bible study and from them obtained the rest of the Bible helps published for the Bible Students. From this time, at the age of thirteen, I had my own set of these books and began to apply my heart to the acquiring of wisdom.
I SEE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR THE HIGH CALLING
As the years went by, my knowledge and understanding of Bible truth increased, but I felt diffident about trying to meet the requirements for the heavenly calling, which was the goal of all of the Bible Students in those days. Then in 1914 the Photo-Drama of Creation, a production consisting of slide and motion pictures and telling the story of the Bible in four evening presentations of two hours each, came to Bridgeton. It made a deep impression upon me and gave me a tremendous boost in Bible truth. One day, not long thereafter, I came to the conclusion: Perhaps there is an opportunity for me also to run for the heavenly high calling. So, early in 1915, at the age of twenty-three, I made my dedication to do Jehovah’s will and was baptized that summer at an assembly in Bridgeton. From then on I really began to experience the joy of serving Jehovah, being used by him. Among those joys were taking my mother and my sisters to the meetings each week in a new Model-T Ford I had bought.
In 1915 I had the pleasure of hearing Pastor Russell for the first and only time as he spoke in Wilmington, Delaware. I have never forgotten his striking introductory remarks. After viewing his audience he said: “Well, have you gotten rid of the old doctrines and superstitions of the Dark Ages? If you haven’t, then take an emetic and get rid of them!” He then proceeded to administer the emetic! Late the next year he finished his earthly course, and I had the privilege of attending his funeral in New York City. There had just been a flower show at Madison Square Garden and a Bible Student who was a florist brought his whole display over to the funeral. It was truly a beautiful sight to behold, and the remarks on that occasion left a lasting impression upon me.
THE TURBULENT WAR YEARS
In 1917 the United States entered World War I, and I was drafted and called up for physical examination. Being opposed to killing a fellowman, I filled out the form for conscientious objectors, as provided by the government, but the draft board refused to consider it. When the examining officer read my paper, he asked: “Do you know what’s on here?”
I answered: “I ought to, I wrote it.” He was highly incensed, and I knew that the board would not honor my request to be deferred as a conscientious objector. However, with legal help I was able to be deferred on the basis of essential farm work and so was placed in Class 4. Later I was again notified to report for military duty, but the Armistice came first and so I never had to report.
In 1918 the officials of the Watch Tower Society were arrested and wrongly convicted of interfering with the war effort and sent to the federal prison at Atlanta, Georgia. It was my privilege to attend the annual business meeting of the Watch Tower Society held on January 4, 1919. What a thrill it was to me to see Jehovah looking out for his work! About three months later we were glad to hear that J. F. Rutherford and his seven companions were released from the Atlanta penitentiary, and still later that they were fully cleared of all charges.
In July of 1917 the Society published The Finished Mystery, Volume VII of the “Studies in the Scriptures,” as the books came to be called. While some were critical of it, to me it seemed to be just what we had been waiting for. Later during the war it was suppressed. After the war it was released and in its magazine, ‘paperback’ form, it was the first publication explaining the Bible that I presented in preaching from house to house. I still remember clearly the first door I approached. I thought I had my presentation well prepared, but when the lady of the house appeared, I just stood there speechless. Finally she said: “Well, what do you want?” That gave me the assist I needed, and that day I was able to place twenty of these publications commenting on the Bible books of Ezekiel and Revelation.
The first big convention I was privileged to attend was held at Cedar Point, Ohio, in 1922. There we learned that, far from the preaching work drawing to a close, as some had thought, it was, in fact, really just beginning. During one discourse by the president of the Society, J. F. Rutherford, a banner was unfurled and we saw and heard the command: ‘Advertise! Advertise! Advertise! the King and Kingdom.’ I felt a tingling in my spine. That talk made me want to hurry home and get busy in Jehovah’s service.
ANSWERING THE CALL
It was at that assembly where I learned about the need of full-time workers at the Watch Tower Society’s headquarters. I answered the call. The Friday before I was to leave for Brooklyn my father, brother and I were digging potatoes late in the evening, and there were just a few short rows left. My father looked up at the sky and said: “I don’t think it will rain tonight and so we can finish tomorrow.”
To this I replied, “But we won’t be here tomorrow.”
When my father asked, “What are you going to be doing?” we told him we were going to Bridgeton to help distribute the Resolution that had been adopted at the Cedar Point convention. Father flew into one of his violent rages and let us have a barrage of profanity, ending up by saying, “You had better hunt a new job!”
I had not as yet told him that I was going to work at the Watch Tower Society’s printing plant in Brooklyn, so this gave me a good opportunity. I replied: “Dad, I have already found a new job. I am going to the Watch Tower headquarters in Brooklyn on Monday morning.” He turned away and did not say another word. He had nothing against our religion. In fact, when discussing religion with others he would defend our beliefs. But he did have a bad temper and he did not want anything to interfere with his farming business.
How happy I was to be in the full-time service of Jehovah God, where I knew that my labors would not be in vain! Later when I came to visit the folks, my father took me aside and said: “If you will come back home and run this place, you can have it and all you can make from it.” He had recently lost $30,000 gambling in stocks and was getting weary.
But I replied: “No, Dad, I feel I have already wasted far too many years of my life, so from now on I am going to lay up treasures in heaven, where thieves do not break in and steal.”
JOYS OF FULL-TIME SERVICE
In the Watch Tower Society’s printing plant I was able to be of use on the magazine trimmer until 1925. Then I was of use as a truck driver for fifteen years. The little Model-T Ford pickup truck depicted on page 98 of the book Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose is the one I started with.
About a year after I came to the Society’s headquarters my roommate invited me to spend a weekend with his folks. It proved to be most enjoyable, and among others, I was introduced to his sister, a fine young Christian woman. We enjoyed each other’s company and began a correspondence that has continued to this day. At one point the question of marriage did come up, but we decided that we both were in position to take the advice of the apostle Paul and choose the better way as well as make room for the words of Jesus regarding remaining single for the sake of the kingdom of the heavens. So our friendship has remained just that over the years. We have proved Paul’s words true in our case, and we are both happy and contented that we were able to do so.—Matt. 19:10-12; 1 Cor. 7:25-38.
Beginning in 1923 it was my privilege to help in building radio station WBBR on Staten Island on weekends. I was used to hard work and this was indeed hard work, such as digging out green stumps by hand; but since it was Jehovah’s work, I was glad to be of use in this way. Later when we heard the good news of God’s kingdom going out over WBBR we felt well repaid. Soon an orchestra was organized to furnish music for the radio programs, and, as I played the violin, I volunteered. However, they needed a bass fiddler and so I took lessons on the bass, and, according to my teacher, I was an apt pupil. We rehearsed two evenings during the week and put on a program every Sunday. As I was very fond of good music, I greatly appreciated this privilege, which lasted for four years.
Among other happy experiences and milestones in my life was that of attending the convention in Columbus, Ohio, in 1931, where we Bible Students embraced the name “Jehovah’s witnesses.” What an honor to bear that name! A few years after that the Society bought a farm near Ithaca, New York, so as to feed the headquarters family better. As I had been a farmer I was asked to help on this farm, going there in December 1940, and I served there for eighteen more years.
After a few years I began to suffer intense pains in my abdomen, necessitating surgery for cancer of the lower bowel in July 1947, since which time I have been a colostomy case. I recovered rapidly and for eleven more years was able to do heavy farm work. Then my strength began to fail and so I was transferred to Brooklyn, where I could both get better medical treatment and do lighter work. While the average life extension of those having had this operation is but ten years, by Jehovah’s undeserved kindness I have been able to keep going, to be of use, for twenty-one years since then. Though somewhat handicapped by sciatic rheumatism, I am still able to work full time in the parcel-post department at the Society’s shipping department.
Since I am unable to do much walking, I preach evenings and weekends by means of letter writing, such as writing bereaved ones about the Bible’s resurrection hope. Among my replies was one from a widow who sincerely thanked me for the comfort my letter had brought her and asked for help in answering Bible questions. I sent her a copy of “Make Sure of All Things.” Another who has shown appreciation and who is making fine progress is an American soldier stationed in Europe.
In looking back, my seventy-six years now seem very short, although, as the poet says, “they seemed not always short.” I am truly thankful for the privilege of still being of use in preaching this good news of God’s kingdom and grateful also that Jehovah’s people can look forward to never-ending joyful service to their great Creator in the coming system of things.—Mark 10:29, 30; 13:10.