Waiting on Jehovah with Endurance
As told by George E. Hannan
DOES forty-seven years seem like a long time to you? Well, as I look back on forty-seven years spent at the Brooklyn headquarters of the Watch Tower Society, those years seem to have gone swiftly—years filled with blessings and privileges. Jehovah’s guiding hand has always been so evident! There have been difficulties too, but all of them have been far outweighed by the real sense of security and stability that comes from sticking close to Jehovah’s organization and waiting on him for direction.
As I go over my experiences I can recall the small beginnings that led me to devote my life in the full-time service of God’s kingdom. The Bible’s clear message came first to our farm home when I was quite young. I used to go to church and Sunday school, but felt as though it was a waste of time. Perhaps the fact that mother had subscribed for The Watchtower had something to do with it. As soon as each issue arrived in the mail, everything had to stop around home until she had scanned its contents and read at least one short article. Though she still attended church, she would come home each Sunday morning complaining about the sermon she had heard.
The significance of the year 1914 was in those days a subject of frequent discussion in our home. That date, according to the Bible, was to mark the end of “the times of the Gentiles.” (Luke 21:24, AV) But what would happen? Personally, I used to think to myself, “Well, 1914 is not far off; I will just wait and see.”
The year 1914 arrived and early in that year we had our first showing of the “Photo-Drama of Creation,” a thrilling screen presentation of the Bible’s true-life story prepared by the Watch Tower Society. The largest theater in our hometown of Bridgeton, New Jersey, was packed out for every showing. As one of the attendants, I had the job of passing out free Bible literature to the departing audiences, as well as what we called “Pax” pins, small badges to intimate that the wearer wanted to be a peace-loving follower of Jesus Christ.
Then in summer, suddenly, World War I broke out. That really jolted me. Now I knew that Bible prophecy was something to be regarded seriously. At the time I was commencing my first year at high school. I felt that farming was not for me. Rather, I planned to go to college and take up electrical engineering. My grandmother left me a small legacy, and I used it to pay for a college preparatory course by correspondence.
In 1916 Pastor Russell, then president of the Watch Tower Society, gave a public talk in Wilmington, Delaware, on the subject “Where Are the Dead?” During the discourse the speaker had to leave the platform several times, his secretary filling in meantime. Later we learned that this procedure was necessitated by his failing health. But that talk impressed me deeply. I shall never forget it.
Following Pastor Russell’s death that year, the seventh volume of the series Studies in the Scriptures was published. Its title, “The Finished Mystery,” really intrigued me. Never did I read through a book so fast. It stimulated my thinking and moved me to read the other six volumes of the same series.
ENDURING THROUGH TRIALS
The year 1918 proved to be a turbulent one. With the United States at war, members of the headquarters staff of the Watch Tower Society in jail under false charges, opposition beating in on the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s witnesses were then known, from all sides, it was a time of crucial test upon God’s people. Would they endure? Or would their Bible-education work come to nothing? What could we do but wait on Jehovah, trusting to his loving-kindness?
In March 1918 came what seemed like a very tangible answer to our questions. A public lecture was announced and widely advertised. It was entitled “The World Has Ended, Millions Now Living May Never Die!” It was spread by discourses and printed brochures throughout the land and abroad. This, in fact, was the first literature I had the privilege of offering to the public on a contribution. Some at the time questioned the likelihood of millions being gathered to the organization of God’s people. For my part I always considered that ‘with Jehovah nothing is impossible.’ (Matt. 19:26) I was willing to wait, work and see what would happen.
About this time I received my draft call. As a farmer I might have been exempted from military duty, but in our family my brother had already been exempted on that ground. I could not agree to accepting noncombatant assignments of war work. Friends and neighbors wondered what I would do if I were picked up by government agents. My usual answer was: “Just wait and see.” It seems that that was just what the draft board was doing, for they deferred my case. Suddenly the war ended on November 11, 1918.
MAKING VITAL DECISIONS
When one is young it is not unusual to have bright plans for the future. I was no exception. In addition to a career as an electrical engineer, we also planned, within our family, to organize an instrumental trio. However, the more I learned from our Bible studies and the more I associated at meetings of the Bible Students, I was brought closer to the time of vital decisions. The question, What are you going to do with your life? loomed large. Get a job in a local glassworks, spend many years in training to be an electrical engineer, or give more and more of my time to the Kingdom-preaching work?
The decision was soon made to attend all meetings of the local congregation, study all seven of the series Studies in the Scriptures, and share in all service activities of that time. All other aims and ambitions went into the discard. It was time, I was convinced, to show seriously by action that I wanted God’s approval and life.
In 1921 The Watch Tower announced a four-day assembly to be held at the Kismet Temple, Herkimer Street, Brooklyn, May 19 to 22. I attended that assembly, and symbolized my dedication by immersion. The actual baptism, conducted by C. A. Wise, took place in a pool beneath the Bethel dining room at 124 Columbia Heights. The following spring I got to another assembly, this time in Philadelphia. That was when I purchased for myself a King James Version Bible—one that I still have and use, though under a new binding, with the convention date still legible on the inside front cover.
In the fall of that year my brother Bill planned to spend the winter in Florida, but before he got away he received an invitation to come and serve at the Brooklyn headquarters of the Society. He accepted, of course, and as I drove him to the railroad station, thoughts raced through my mind: ‘What am I going to do? Why can’t I get into full-time service?’ As he got out of the car, Bill turned and said: “The car is yours.” He did not know at the time, but that helped me make up my mind. I decided to make my move.
That same evening I drove to a pawnshop, purchased two suitcases and a witnessing case, and went home to pack. In the morning as I was loading the car, mother came out quite disturbed, tearful in fact. Among other things she said: “You know, some of the friends are expecting big things to happen in 1925, but don’t set your hopes and expectations on that too much.” I replied: “Mother, don’t worry. I am prepared to work and wait and see.” The text at Habakkuk 2:3 was one I often liked to ponder.
ENDURING IN THE FIELD
I drove to town and obtained accommodations in a boardinghouse run by my aunt. From then on I was a colporteur or full-time preacher of the good news. It was a joy to be free of many problems and cares of this system of things, free to spend all my time in spreading the Kingdom message. Of course, there were responsibilities and a few minor difficulties. For instance, there was the car, a Model-T Ford. It had no battery, the electric power being furnished by a magneto built into the flywheel of the motor. In winter there was danger of getting an arm broken if one cranked the motor by hand. Usually this problem was met by parking at night atop an incline, so that the car’s own momentum downhill next morning would get it started.
Another problem was the cost of living. My food bill came to $4 per week. I had one warm meal a day, the other two consisting of dried fruits and some vegetables that I received in trade for literature. When asked what I would do when I ran out of funds, I would say: “Just wait and see what Jehovah works out for me.” I had heard of some who had quit when they got down to their last $50. My thought was that Jehovah’s intervention was not needed in this regard as long as one had $50 or even $10 or $1. I had confidence he would aid me to meet the high cost of living, not the cost of high living.
On November 5, 1922, the congregation put on a special public meeting and rented the city armory. Extensive advertising by handbills was done, and a speaker from Brooklyn, New York, came to give the lecture. When his speech was over, some strangers in the audience had so many questions for him that he missed the only train leaving for Brooklyn that night. I agreed to take him to the station on the Atlantic City line. Little did I know what this would lead to.
As we drove along, the visiting speaker asked me about myself. Then he inquired if I would like to live and work at Bethel, the Society’s Brooklyn headquarters. I replied that I would like that very much, only I had no knowledge of office work. He said that did not matter since the Society was planning to do all their own printing and would need all kinds of help. Even so, I reminded him that I knew nothing about work in a factory either.
Just as his train pulled into the station the visitor turned and said: “Will you do me a favor?” I replied in the affirmative. “Well, then, will you write to Brooklyn right away and ask for an application form for Bethel service?” I promised I would, and even though quite likely I did not show it, I was greatly excited. Indeed, the old car could not get me back to the boardinghouse fast enough. That night I wrote the letter and even went down to the post office and mailed it.
The response was swift. On November 10 came a telegram asking me to report for work at Brooklyn the next day. And when I arrived in the city the bells were ringing, whistles were blowing, guns were booming and parades occupied the streets. New Yorkers were celebrating Armistice Day. It was November 11, and I had something better to be glad about. I had embarked on a completely new life—a service period of at least forty-seven years here at Bethel!
ENDURING IN A FINE ROUTINE
Getting up in the morning at the sound of a bell, going to meals, to work, and quitting work when a bell sounds—that was my new routine. A few have found it too rigid, too circumscribing; but I loved it. It was clearly the way to avoid waste of precious time. My first job was to mend defective bound books. This lasted two or three days, and then I was assigned to serve in the department that unions call “the foundry.” Here all the printing plates were cast and prepared for the presses.
Right up until now I have continued in that same department. Some who have come to Bethel have felt unnoticed, neglected, unsettled even, simply because they were not quickly given a change of assignment. I am happy to say I never felt that way. It was a pleasure to be given work to do, any kind of work, and I felt that one should give himself wholeheartedly to the job assigned, striving always to improve the quality of the work.
New York city in those days had only one congregation of Bible Students, and, since I had a car, I was invited to witness out on Long Island on weekends, taking a carload along with me. One of my Christian brothers who was always ready and eager to join our group was N. H. Knorr. Later, when construction of radio station WBBR demanded more workers, a change was made. My car was most often at Staten Island, the construction site, and when not needed there we would preach from house to house in the immediate vicinity of the new station.
REWARDS OF ENDURANCE
By staying on the job here at Bethel, enduring, we have enjoyed thrill after thrill as the expansion out in the field, which is the whole world, demanded the expansion of our facilities. The plant at 18 Concord Street, Brooklyn, was soon outgrown. Since that time we have witnessed construction of factory building after factory building as well as several new Bethel homes. Imagine having four city blocks occupied by our printery and shipping facilities, and a good part of three city blocks devoted to housing the Bethel home and offices! All this has been marvelous to our eyes!
What a joy, too, it has been to be an active, on-the-spot witness of all these evidences of Jehovah’s blessing and favor on his people! Over the years it has been my privilege to observe the number of large rotary presses increase from two to twenty-seven; to see the total copies of each issue of The Watchtower rise from 35,000 to the enormous figure of 6,000,000 today. And how faith-strengthening to see the number of congregations in the New York city area increase from one to one hundred and ninety-one! It has been rewarding to wait on Jehovah and work!
LOOKING TO JEHOVAH FOR DIRECTION
Turbulent times came in the thirties. Arrests of the Witnesses began to occur. While engaged in the house-to-house ministry with Bible literature, I was arrested on Long Island. Again, in 1936, I was arrested and held for several hours at Allentown, Pennsylvania. As World War II neared, the hazards increased. In 1939 a Catholic Action group tried to break up our peaceable assembly of Christians in Madison Square Garden. It so happened that I was in charge of attendants, and for a few minutes the situation looked extremely serious. However, the meeting was only briefly interrupted, and certainly a greater witness resulted from the press publicity.
Never, through those difficult years, did the march of the Kingdom witness work waver. We looked to Jehovah and kept right on. Even war shortages were somehow bypassed or overcome. It was my job to see that we kept a good supply of nickel bars on hand—nickel that is used to harden the surface of printing plates so they will stand up under long press runs. Well, as war hysteria spread we quickly ordered a ton of nickel bars. Then one day a well-wisher, a businessman, phoned to say that entry of the United States into the war was expected momentarily, and advised that we should immediately get what supply of metals we would need. Another ton of nickel was ordered, and as it was being unloaded at our factory the Government stopped all nickel deliveries and placed that metal on a high priority list. But we had sufficient on hand to see us through the war.
Truly, Jehovah never disappoints those who wait patiently for him while striving to perform their service well. For instance, some have thought that Bethel service would greatly reduce their opportunities to travel and go places. The very opposite is true. One’s travel privileges increase.
Over these years of Bethel service I have visited every state in the union, except Hawaii and Alaska, and every province of Canada, vacationing or attending assemblies. Also, I have had the pleasure of making three trips to Europe. And all of this travel and meeting with fellow Witnesses in so many lands has served to add zest to the work to be done here at Bethel—the work of supplying that increasing army of zealous Witnesses with the publications they need for their ministry.
Not merely waiting on Jehovah to do something, as are many peoples of all nations today, is what is important; there is more than that. God’s Word, the Bible, holds out precious promises of reward for ‘those who are seeking glory and honor by endurance in work that is good.’ (Rom. 2:7) How satisfying to fill the time of waiting with works that give proof of our love for Jehovah!