A College-bred Newshound Finds the Best News
As told by Vora C. Hannan
IN 1975, through the generosity of my brother’s widow, I returned to Wellesley College in the United States for my fiftieth class reunion. The natural beauty of the campus near Boston, Massachusetts, has changed little, but the same couldn’t be said of the dozens of us former classmates—fifty years does take its toll.
‘What have you done during the past fifty years? How have you used your life?’ We were curious about one another. And it was interesting to hear the kind of lives that various ones of us had lived.
I hadn’t accumulated material wealth as some had. Nor did I have a prestigious position or worldly fame to show for my fifty years. But after listening to others, I do believe that I’ve had a more exciting and, yes, happier, more rewarding life than any of them. And it wasn’t just my years as a news reporter that made it so. Let me explain.
A LITERARY, RELIGIOUS BACKGROUND
My thirst for knowledge began when I was only eight. I used to hide books in my bed to read when I was supposed to be asleep. Also, at the same age, I started playing the violin. My parents were an encouragement. Father gave me the six-foot shelf of the Harvard Classics for my bedroom. I devoured these, as well as scores of volumes from the public library.
Both my parents were very religious. After attending the Congregational Church Sunday morning we wouldn’t go riding in the family auto, nor could we read the Sunday comics. All pleasure was reserved for weekdays.
In time, mother became disillusioned with father’s religion and went back to her girlhood faith, the Episcopal Church. I went with her. Finally, mother started to read the Studies in the Scriptures, and became convinced that we were living in the last days foretold in Bible prophecy.—Matt. 24; Luke 21; 2 Tim. 3:1-5.
This time I didn’t follow my mother. Although I read everything else, I couldn’t be induced to read her books. My reaction was: “If the world is coming to an end, then I’m going to enjoy myself.” But father insisted that I go to college; so at age seventeen off I went to Wellesley.
At the time a course in Biblical history was required for all freshmen. I was interested to learn that God’s name is Yahweh in Hebrew. But it wasn’t long before I clashed with what was taught. We were told that the early chapters of Genesis were written by three different men, and that these writings were unreliable. That struck right at the basis of my belief in the Bible as the Word of God, and I communicated my distress to mother.
During my first vacation I confronted the Congregational minister. “Well, Vora,” he explained smoothly, “you mustn’t take the Bible too seriously. You know it was written by many different men, and each wrote as he saw things.” That view of God’s Word was enough to set me afloat from organized religion. Back at college, the acquiring of knowledge became my religion.
After graduating from college I thought I’d be a high school teacher. However, during my first year at it I was more interested in training the school orchestra than in teaching Latin. So I lost my position. Back home I concentrated on music, practicing my violin five or six hours a day.
As far as mother’s Bible literature was concerned, I was stubborn. I would read only the Bible. I had been burned once at Wellesley, and I didn’t want to be disillusioned again.
In 1930 I became a news reporter for the summer, or so I thought. However, I found the work so fascinating that I kept on. Soon I was free-lancing for three papers and also the Associated Press. It was exciting work, the most exciting in the world, I thought. I was also playing and teaching violin. As a result, even in the midst of the Great Depression I was doing well financially.
Still, from my varied experiences in reporting, I began to realize that things weren’t going well in the world. Everything was false. I’d sit beside the timekeeper at a wrestling match and he’d tell me the outcome of each match before it started. Each event that had spectators on the edges of their seats was fixed.
Similar hypocrisy existed in political, social and religious gatherings. As I listened to seemingly endless speeches, I’d pick out some inadvertent remark that exposed weaknesses or wrongs in the system. Then I would highlight that remark in an article. I wanted to call attention to the wrongs in the hope that someone would try to rectify the condition. People like to read such things, but they aren’t at all interested in changing them. Everybody loves scandal, it seems, but not reform.
A REPORTER OF BETTER NEWS
I continued my Bible reading and in time became convinced that mother’s beliefs were Scripturally sound. Still I was stubborn about reading anything except the Bible. One day in April 1933 I drove mother to a baptism talk in Boston as a favor to her. As I sat in the balcony, I thought: “Why, I’ve always wanted to do the will of Jehovah.” Something seemed to nudge me, almost pushed me to go downstairs to present myself for baptism. Mother was completely taken by surprise but, of course, was overjoyed.
In time I realized that the literature provided by Jehovah’s Witnesses is a shortcut to Bible knowledge, and I forgot my foolish prejudice. Then my thirst for reading took over and I devoured all the books and magazines as they came along.
It was getting difficult for me to be a lone Witness in Newburyport, and at the same time work as a well-known reporter. Some Irish Catholic police officers refused to cooperate with me on police stories. They even made fun of Jehovah when I entered the police station.
Then a special representative of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Robert Hannan, was assigned to witness in Haverhill, where the nearest congregation was located. Soon afterward we were married, and I shared with him in the preaching work. Gradually he tried to persuade me to leave the newspaper and become a full-time proclaimer of Bible truth too. But I felt that I had to keep working for our maintenance.
The large national assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses at St. Louis, Missouri, brought things to a head. I told my editor that I would like a few days off to attend the assembly. He commented that being a Witness and a reporter didn’t make a good combination. I agreed. He thought I’d give up my religion. Instead I gave up my newspaper work, and on September 15, 1941, became a pioneer, just in time to escape being a war correspondent.
When the United States entered the second world war, my husband and I started the special pioneer work in Walpole, Massachusetts. Now I could really do something to better the lives of the people I met. Not only could I call attention to the injustices, as I had done in the newspaper, but now I could show them the best news—how Jehovah God was going to solve all difficulties by means of his righteous Kingdom government.
Then in 1943 we heard that Gilead School for missionaries had started. How I wanted to go! We received an invitation to attend the fifth class beginning in February of 1945. Our missionary assignment was Chile, where we arrived in Santiago late in 1946. After a whole day’s train trip farther south, we arrived at Concepción, the third largest city of Chile. Here we were on our own, together with the four who had accompanied us.
NEWSPAPER EXPERIENCE HELPS
For a while life was almost too difficult for me. The second month I was bitten by a fly that was a carrier of anthrax, which kills horses, and had to undergo a sulphur treatment for a month. The next month, in my weakened condition, I contracted typhoid and spent the next two months in the hospital with a high fever. First, I lost my hearing, then my hair; I was reduced to a bag of skin and bones.
After two more months in bed I had to consider how I was going to get started in the preaching work. With my loss of hearing, and being unable to express myself in a new language, it looked hopeless. But I remembered that as a news reporter I always had overcome obstacles to get my story. Now some way must be found to conquer these difficulties.
First, mother sent me a wig to cover my baldness until my hair grew back. That took care of my appearance. How to get around my lack of hearing? That was the major problem.
Most Chileans were at the time nominal Catholics. I used a thin Catholic New Testament that fitted nicely in my book bag, and practiced some appropriate texts. A news reporter asks questions. He never gives discourses. So I decided to follow that method.
Using words taken from a Bible text, I formed pertinent questions. Even though I didn’t hear the householder’s response, I always had something interesting in the Bible to show them that had to do with the current news in their papers. Relating the Bible to news items made it seem like a living book to them. If I didn’t get the sense of their questions, and, as a result, showed them a Bible text on another subject, they excused me because I was a gringuita, an American.
NEWS THAT TRANSFORMS LIVES
As time went on, my hearing improved slightly, and I was able to conduct many Bible studies. One of the first was with a man whose wife had abandoned him to marry another man. But she did not bother to dissolve the original marriage. Not wanting to expose his wife to a charge of bigamy, and yet now desiring to be in a morally clean position to serve Jehovah, this man gradually persuaded his wife to initiate annulment proceedings.
This opened the way for the man to be legally, as well as Scripturally, free to marry the woman with whom he had been living. He, his new wife and their three children all dedicated their lives to Jehovah. Eventually two of the children served as special pioneers for a time, and the man became a presiding overseer.
So the missionary work took on a life-transforming aspect. It amazed me to watch Jehovah’s spirit at work on those I was teaching. By 1950 there were so many who wanted to serve Jehovah that we had to have a series of baptisms in the beautiful San Pedro Lake on the other side of the river from Concepción.
Although my husband and I were located in Concepción, we roamed the province carrying the good news of God’s kingdom to outlying areas. Riding in third-class trains between baskets of fish, crabs and fresh-baked bread, we visited mining towns, fishing villages and textile settlements. Our preaching laid a foundation for the many congregations that were formed later.
Over the years many missionaries served in Concepción for a while and then left. But my husband and I stayed fixed, just shifting a little from one part of the territory to another. It led to our being called los padres (the parents) of all the congregations. Our continued presence seemed to give a certain visible stability.
With the formation of new congregations, the territory for myself and my husband was more restricted. Although living in Concepción, I began to work across the river in San Pedro. There on the outskirts I found a woman living with her six children in a ventilated shack. She had been abandoned by her heavy-drinking husband, who years before took off for Santiago to live with another woman.
One day this woman received a letter from her husband. He offered to give her money for the support of the children if she would come to Santiago. The woman and her children eventually joined her husband, and he began accompanying his wife to Christian meetings. When, after a long struggle, he was finally able to conquer his addiction to alcohol, the good news from God’s Word had accomplished another remarkable transformation. A split-up, unhappy family was brought together and happily united in true worship.
Being able to bear news that has such a grand effect on people’s lives has been ever so much more rewarding to me than serving as a newspaper reporter.
Over the years I’ve seen transformations in the lives of literally hundreds of persons whom I’ve personally assisted to learn the best news. And what is that news? That God cares and that his Kingdom government will soon eliminate all causes for human suffering.
No, I don’t have money or worldly prestige to show for my more than fifty years since graduation, as do a number of my former college classmates, but I do have something much more precious—the satisfaction of having helped many persons to become active servants of Jehovah God.
[Picture of Vora C. Hannan on page 360]