This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Jesse Wilbert Hoover (CN 319, T2) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. Foreign terms which are not commonly understood appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing.
Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcript was made by Wayne D. Weber and was completed in May 2005.
Collection 319, T2. Interview of Jesse Wilbert Hoover by Paul Ericksen, October 7, 1985.
ERICKSEN: Thinking back on your year at Wheaton, how did the Depression affect both your own education...let’s start with that one. How did the Depression affect your education?
HOOVER: Well, I believe, did I mention it earlier here that because of the Depression...first of all I skipped a year between Messiah and Wheaton hoping to work and to somewhat recover my financial situation but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a job all that time. The Depression was really, really severe. Young people who have come on the scene since that just don’t realize what the Depression really was. I tell you, it was really monstrous. But my older brother agreed to help me through the last year and loan me some money. So I went to Wheaton but, of course, I was on an extremely stringent budget and this affected my year at Wheaton very seriously in that I didn’t...it...it also contributed to the fact I had no time for outside activities besides having no money for them. So far as Wheaton itself was concerned I...I’m not sure that I can answer that. Having nothing to compare it with I do not know how the Depressions might have affected the operation of the college itself.
ERICKSEN: Where there other students in your same position?
HOOVER: Yes, in those days it was not anything too unusual for students to be rooming off campus and trying to conserve their resources in that respect. A lot of students tried to find work, I did too even though I had no time for work yet I did try to do some outside work in order to get a little finance. But I assume that aspect of it was very much curtailed at that time.
HOOVER: I know that it was almost impossible to get any kind of employment even if I did want any...something to do. Now, how that affected the rest of the students I...I’m not sure but I assume it did.
ERICKSEN: Do you recall any other local, national, international event that had an impact on the college while you were there?
HOOVER: One of the things that had an impact on a quite a number of students and me personably was a revival down at the city Baptist church, I guess, because Dr. [J. C.] Massey was a Baptist. Dr. Massey held a meeting there. He spoke in chapel once or so but he was, I think, probably for about a week at the downtown church which was very widely attended by the student body and had a very, very much impact on them...of J.C. Massey.
ERICKSEN: Was he on the faculty or...?
HOOVER: No, no he was southern...I guess from Dallas, I’m not quite clear on that but he was one of the most eloquent, pulpit orators that I have ever heard. Of course, this was always very interesting to me.
ERICKSEN: Before we leave your Wheaton days you mentioned Dr. [C. Benton] Eavey as being one of your favorite faculty, were there any other faculty members at the college who were particular favorites.
HOOVER: Well, of course, I had third year Greek under Dr. [George H.] Smith, I’d had two years at Messiah, I took the third year under Dr. Smith, he was an outstanding teacher. I took some courses under Dr. [Elsie S.] Dow, [laughs] she was a unique character.
ERICKSEN: Why so?
HOOVER: She always came across to me as being very austere. Now that probably is an incorrect evaluation.
ERICKSEN: You remember any...anything particular that gave that impression of her?
HOOVER: Oh, any...any responses that she made seem to me that her...her questions, her approaches were pretty much one the austere side as...probably was just a...an impression of my own. But she was a great teacher, made some great contributions in the field of literature. Dr. [pauses] I guess I just better stop trying...these old names won’t come back to me. But I...I did appreciate the scholarly level of the thinking coupled with a very deep sincere obvious appreciation for and awe of the almighty God. My first experience, perhaps, of seeing these two concepts so closely interwoven...oh maybe I shouldn’t put it exactly in those terms because I had it, of course, at Messiah and yet there was a...a depth that probably wasn’t evident at that time at Messiah too. I recall also with appreciation Dr....Dr. [Russell] Mixter and his contributions in the field of science. Helping to think through the relationship between science and the Christian faith, of course, was one of the significant experiences of my year at Wheaton. Trying to find a core relation there that was really intellectually satisfying, yes, and spiritually satisfying.
ERICKSEN: What did you do following your graduation?
HOOVER: I was unable again to get employment so I went back...worked for about a year on the farm.
ERICKSEN: Your father’s farm?
HOOVER: My father-in-law. In the meantime I’d...we’d...we’d married just after my conclusion of my summer school term and went to work with my father-in-law with his rather extensive agricultural operations. A little less than a year I discovered I had tuberculosis and had to take time out to recover from that...spent that time at my own parent’s home in Ohio. I think I would like to just witness at this point to the miracle of God’s grace in that respect. It didn’t happen suddenly, it didn’t happen spectacularly but it was a complete healing [clears throat] even though the specialists dismissed my case and said it was one in, I don’t know whether they said a hundred thousand or what the number was, but very unusual that it would have healed to the extent that it had. But in those days they never pronounced a case of tuberculosis healed, it was only arrested. I didn’t know until forty years later when I was at death’s door with double viral pneumonia, a very rare case of pneumonia. They were giving me extensive tests. Among others the test for tuberculosis, the sink test. I told them it was no use because I had tuberculosis and it would certainly show up positive that...medical science says that never changes but to their amazement and to mine they never did succeed in getting a reaction. That’s how completely God healed me from TB.
ERICKSEN: What...you said that it wasn’t an immediate thing, what were the circumstances of the healing?
HOOVER: Well, [clears throat] I took...I took about a year off, did practically nothing, oh I did some exercising and so on but nothing in the way of...of real work. And, of course, I was on a heavy prescribed diet plus some, what did they call them in those days, [pauses] well, I suppose they took what is now replaced by vitamins in that particular era of medical practice. I remember it’s an awfully...awfully bitter tasting concoction, in other words, I did the best that current medical science had to offer plus relying on the healing grace of God.
ERICKSEN: Now did your...you referred earlier when we were talking about the distinctives of...of the Brethren to the one practice what is of...
HOOVER: Divine healing.
ERICKSEN: ...divine healing. Did that...were there practices in connection with that?
HOOVER: Well, yes, a simple anointing with oil and praying over the sick as instructed by James. [book of James in the Bible] No kind of seance oriented thing or any thing of that type. Very simple direct approach to the whole problem that was the traditional. As far as I was concerned I felt led to simply commit it into the hands of our gracious Father and whatever He decided it was all right. I was able to relax in that attitude and I think that had a lot to do with it.
ERICKSEN: So you took a year off and at the end of that year your recovery was complete.
HOOVER: [clears throat] Well, it was...it was enough that the doctors approved my going back to work. At that point I helped my father-in-law establish a business. He had been farmer for his years and he had an opportunity to go into a...a farm exchange business and needed some help beyond what his capa...capabilities were. I helped him establish that...was with him for about five years. That was a kind of a detour before I became more actively engaged in the calling to which I felt urged soon after my conversion., felt that distinctively a call to Christian ministry. And was miraculously confirmed by then president of Messiah College in a very, very outstanding dramatic way.
ERICKSEN: Could you talk about that?
HOOVER: Yes. My call came during a Sunday morning worship service in the college church in which President [Enos C.] Hess was presiding, was leading the worship. The reading was of the experience when Elijah was taken from Elisha. It would be too long to discuss all the background but my uncle, my father’s only brother, was one of the outstanding, top leaders in our denomination, the Brethren in Christ, in his generation and had a rather tragic death. My call that Sunday morning in the chapel was this, “Jesse you are being called to take the mantle of Uncle John as Elisha took the mantle off Elijah.” It rather broke me up yet it wasn’t so completely a surprise, I suppose, in a sense. But a couple of weeks later President Hess came to me and said to me privately, “Jesse, the Lord is calling you to take the place of Uncle John, isn’t He?” He had no way, no way of know anything about it. So I never could reasonably question the authenticity of that call.
ERICKSEN: Now as you were completing your...you mentioned you were working for your father-in-law on this business for about five years, were you planning to do something else during that time?
HOOVER: I had...
ERICKSEN: How did the transition take place?
HOOVER: I had rather planned from at least the time that I matriculated at Wheaton [clears throat] to combine my ministry with teaching profession and steered in that direction but not only were the doors to that profession closed because of the Depression but even more so, more permanent so because of my history of tuberculosis. Public school wouldn’t seriously consider me. So I...I was faced with the res...the choice of finding some other means of self support. So I more or less accidently got into the field of business. I hadn’t been particularly trained or qualified for it but that’s the way it happened.
ERICKSEN: What were the circumstances that led to your volunteering to go to Europe in 1941 then?
HOOVER: [clears throat] At our general [clears throat] at our general conference which was in Oklahoma in 1940 [pauses] war clouds were handing low. Our brotherhood, of course, was concerned particularly because it might involve us and our distinctive non-resistance, conscientious objector position. I felt challenged to volunteer to our church leaders, the church leaders of the Brethren in Christ, for whatever I could do. [cleared throat] We had just newly been placed in a city church, in...in the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the previous fall. And I was located in such a strategic way that I could be a kind of go between, messenger boy, or what have you, between our church and the Mennonite Central Committee offices in Pennsylvania. So I volunteered what I could do at that point. That was the beginning of my more direct involvement. It rapidly escalated [clears throat] until I was, as we say, carrying the ball no only for my church but for the Mennonite Central Committee. In the...in certain areas of development and relationships to government and so on, and so on. That [laughs] that’s a long, long story in itself.
ERICKSEN: Now, just to...to pick up a couple of things, you were transferred to Philadelphia...
ERICKSEN: ...to a church there?
HOOVER: Yes, I guess I should have, I guess, picked it up one year earlier. We [clears throat] gave ourselves to the home mission board because the Philadelphia church, at that time, was under the administration of the home mission board, a kind of a mission church. And we volunteered to serve with them. I...as I recall that was only on a yearly basic at that point. We were in Philadelphia for four years or almost four years then during which time I had a leave of absence to go to Europe the first time abroad. So it was from the standpoint of our location...you can call it by accident or you can call it Providence that we were in a strategic position to enter more fully into certain aspects of the work.
ERICKSEN: How did your...your volunteering to go to Europe grow out of your involvement with the Mennonite Central Committee and....
HOOVER: We as a church decided to affiliate with the Mennonite Central Committee.
ERICKSEN: As a denomination?
HOOVER: As a denomination to affiliate in their service work. Service work which included at...in the initial stage only...only included relief for war sufferers, later included other aspects but because we were rather small as an organization we decided we should link up with the Mennonite Central Committee in that relief work and because...because this type of activity was new to our denomination they wanted to send someone to actually experience and participate in the relief activities abroad in order to have first hand inside information. And then rather than serving a full term, usually the term of that kind of service was three years, but rather than serving a full term to fulfill the purpose of furthering the whole concept among our brotherhood it was determined that I should only those nine or ten months and return and to promote among my own brotherhood. Incidently having large contacts with the Mennonite constituencies which were also associated in the Mennonite Central Committee.
ERICKSEN: Where...where did you go when you were in Europe then in 1941 [unclear]?
HOOVER: The only open door to Europe at that time was to Portugal, Lisbon. Up through civil-war ravaged Spain, which was still teetering on the edge, on up into southern France, so called free France but, as everyone knew then and knows more fully now, was very much under the heel of [Adolph] Hitler too. All Europe was practically a fortress, completely dominated by Hitler. And to most thinking people, I suppose, it was utterly fantastic, almost insane, to venture into Europe under those circumstances.
ERICKSEN: Your venturing into Europe.
HOOVER: Yes. We had some very tense moments and hours but for the most part I can say honestly to the glory to God that I felt that this was the call of God [pauses] and that He would take care of it and whatever happened was in His hands and therefore was all right. At one point we even withdrew to the abandoned Côte d'Azur as they call it in French, the fantastic playground of the royalty of Europe...then abandoned, of course. We had miles and miles of the most fantastic beaches anywhere in the world all to ourselves in a villa down there by the Mediterranean coast, middle of the summer.
ERICKSEN: This is....
HOOVER: No one else in sight, abandoned because of the war, of course. We went...we went there deliberately to have solitude. To think through what should be our course of action in view of the constant pressure of the American government to get out. And in those circumstances, realistically, we told one another there (there were two other young fellows from the Mennonite constituency who were associated with me there) realistically we shared with one another what we would do in case...the other two boys, just young fellows, of course. I wasn’t very old I was about thirty...let’s see [pauses] thirty-two, I guess at the time but the others were younger and unmarried. And they decided they were going to stay regardless of all that might occur. Because of the limited circumstances in which I’d gone, the agreement that was made as I referred to before, plus the fact that I was married, they decided that if it came to the final issue that I should get out. I never quite agreed to that but we did make arrangements as to what should be done with our mortal remains in case. This just indicates a little bit of the extreme, extreme pressure that we faced there.
ERICKSEN: Just one further question about the...the difficulties you were having. You mentioned that you were being pressured by the consulate to get out how. What form did that pressure take?
HOOVER: Oh, they would call every day or day and urge everyone to get out. A little earlier, of course, it was more selected personnel, those who could possibly be spared and so on. But finally they were urging everyone, all Americans to get out. It was anticipated that Hitler was going probably move to cut off what was left of any connections to the...to the west. Which probably was unrealistic because that almost never happened but anyway that was what was back of it.
ERICKSEN: Do you recall any particular instances? You mentioned earlier that things were often very tense and you were in dangerous situations. Do you...can you cite an example?
HOOVER: Well, I don’t know if I have anything in the way of personal examples except, of course, from the stand...from the personal standpoint we were always in...in jeopardy from the refuges themselves. For example, one night I came back from my frequent journeys out into the territories to check on things and make inspections, and so on. My only train connection came into Marseille late at night, up close to midnight if I recall correctly and I...all kinds of trans...of public transportation, of course, were long since stopped. I had no alternative but to walk out to my rooming quarters out along the seacoast. Several number of...quiet a number of blocks, quiet a little walk. And I was mentioning this at the office the next morning and a young fellow [clears throat] who was with the Friends, the Quakers, who was a full-blooded Frenchmen but had American citizenship, was back and forth between American and Europe a great deal before and during the war up to that point. He knew things very, very throughly and I was mentioning the fact that I had walked out the night before. I saw him raise his eyebrows rather pecuniarily and I challenged him on it. He said, “Don’t you know Mr. Hoover that this...the streets of Marseille are just full of people, refuges who would stab you in the back if they knew you had ten francs [French coins] on you. Well, he knew enough about it, of course, he knew I was covering...carrying hundreds of American dollars. And furthermore I had stepped over countless people in the crowded streets the night before. Stepped over their prostrate bodies sleeping in the streets in...in going home. Well, I tried to be a little more cautions about things but sometimes it was inevitable, no alternative. And I simply had to trust in a higher providence for protection. But it gives some little indication why tensions were so severe.
ERICKSEN: What was the state of the relief work you saw?
HOOVER: What was the...?
ERICKSEN: What was the...the state...how would you evaluate the...the relief work that you saw?
HOOVER: Well, what...what the churches were able to do, of course, was in a sense only a drop in bucket. We’ve always known this to be the case and don’t try to hide that fact but the significant thing is that so little, comparatively speaking, accomplishes so much in the direction which I feel is our ultimate objective. And that is, well it’s two fold, first of all we believe that we have a direct responsibility on the...in...in terms of the Bibles teaching to alleviate human distress and suffering wherever it is possible for us to do it. Jesus taught us that anything in this direction was done in His name was done unto Him and would be so treated at the judgment. But beyond that it’s my own conviction, the conviction of those who work closely with it, that under certain circumstances, particularly if not perhaps in almost all circumstances, work of this type is without any question the most effect means of opening doors to the Christian gospel that has ever been devised. And to me this is one of the salient considerations. I know from personal experience that this is true...opens doors that otherwise had been close locked for generations and centuries.
ERICKSEN: Can you think of an example that you saw?
HOOVER: Well, yes, now if you...I don’t know whether you want to [clears throat] defer that to...to later consideration or not but can more particularly in relation to my later journey in the Orient. And the most striking example of it was my visit in Indonesia, particularly the island of Java. It was just in a period, of course, when I was there that the nation of Indonesia was being formed from the old Dutch colonies. I personally witnessed some of the almost unspeakable devastation that occurred in the civil war, the rebellion against the government of Holland. [clears throat] I wanted to go out and view some of the actual scenes but I was not permitted to go except under heavy, and I mean heavy, military guard. I...personally I felt that I would have been safer without it but I had no alternative. [clears throat] My guide volunteered [clears throat] to take me out and escort me. [He] was a Christian, the only survivor, I emph...emphasize “only,” the only survivor of that unspeakable, horrible night when countless thousands of Muslims swept down out of the hills for the express purpose of completely wiping out the Christian communities and villages. Now in most countries of the world settlements is [sic] a little different than it is here in America they tend to settle in ethnic communities or religious communities or whatever other particular division there may be. In the case of Indonesia they had their Christian villages, almost total Christian, segregated. And this man who was my guide was the only survivor of his village in that horrible night. He took me out and showed me over the devastated landscape, of course, as I said under heavy Dutch military guard. A few days later [clears throat] we visited one of the off islands, one of the larger islands off the shore of Java, reputed to have been so totally Muslim that they had never permitted a Christian missionary or any other Christian of any category to set foot on their island. It was rumored (I never confirmed it, I’m not sure that this is true) but it was rumored even during World War II an American troop ship was floundering offshore, for what reason I’m not quite sure, but at least a great many American servicemen were able to get a...ashore off of the sinking ship but they would not permit them to come ashore. They murdered them on the beaches rather than to let their island be polluted by any possible Christian influence. This is how fanatical, unspeakable fanatical the situation was. And I want to say only to the glory of God I was the honored guest of the caliphs, the sultans...toured unmolested up and down that island. Why? Because I was representing relief. They knew it was in the name of Christ, certainly, and you can judge from the subsequent developments of Christian missions in Indonesia as to whether there was any influence or whether there wasn’t.
ERICKSEN: Going back to the relief work that you were observing in Europe, where there other missions groups in involved in relief work in Europe?
HOOVER: Well, yes, at the time the Friends, or what we usually refer to as the Quakers, were probably the most prominent. We, of course, were closely associated and in...in most foreign situations there’s a much closer cooperative [pauses] working together than there is often time among various groups in this country, that’s naturally necessarily so. We were...we worked very closely in harmony with the Quakers. Our work there, just to give a brief glimpse, as I mentioned, of course, our efforts were to less...less that a drop in the bucket in comparison to the needs. We necessarily had to focus and the particular focus that we decided on was children, relief of refugee children. Our work was almost exclusively, there were a few exceptions where we did something for some older people but practically exclusively, among children. There were two types of help for these refugee children. There was in the refugee camps which, of course, was extremely inadequate but helpful. And then we took some of the most critical cases of malnutrition of children from the camps into our own colonies for additional care. This latter probably was the most significant so far as observance of immediate results could be tabulated...see the response of these children under proper care. And here again, of course, I need to point out that, that section of Europe [clears throat] up to that time, at least, and to a great extent down to the present is very, very largely under the influence of the Roman Catholic church and the tremendous impact that it had on these people is...is just beyond measure, really. Let me give one example perhaps. I spoke some French, although I wasn’t eloquent in it, and I had a right hand man who was a refugee from Spain, Macea [?] Coma [?], a farmer, big businessman, very successful international merchant from Barcelona, Spain, lost everything he had in the civil war, fled for his life. He spoke very adequately in several languages and he almost always accompanied me when I went for any kind of official interviews or consultations, he in other words was rather closely associated with us there for some months. And one morning he was with me down in the old, old, ancient, historic, little port of Caluire along the south coast of France. It’s the point where history says the Phoenicians first made contact with western Europe and I’ve forgotten the point in history when that occurred. And the old church there formed out of the ancient fortress of Caluire. Historic, not beautiful on the outside because it was an old fortress, but inside one of the most fantastically furbished sanctuary I’ve ever seen anywhere. We talked about it, Coma and I, he said to me, “Yes, this is...this is great, this is outstanding, one of the most remarkable, I guess.” But he said, “The thing that we appreciate is that your Christianity is interested in people rather than these things.” A little later over lunch at an outdoor cabaret he was asking me some pointed questions about our evangelical faith. And I was giving him the most straight forward and simple answers that I could give him. And I’ll never forget the tremendous surge that went through me when he laid his hand on mine and said, “Mr. Hoover, I think I can be that kind of Christian.” I failed to say that because of the horrible things through which he had passed and remembering that the church was very closely tied up with the state in that most recent persecution in Spain he had become an atheist. He said to me, “Mr. Hoover, I think I can be that kind of Christian.”
ERICKSEN: Can you think of other examples that illustrate the way that evangelism was integrated in your...in the relief efforts what were going on?
HOOVER: [clears throat] We usually backed off from much in the way of direct, what you might call, propaganda in relation to the relief feeling that it could be counterproductive. My own evaluation personally was that sometimes we tended to back off too much from it. Of course, there was always the tagging of the items for relief by the committee name and the motto, I guess you might call it, in the name of Christ. But so far as any effort to directly influence or anything of this type we always carefully avoided it.
ERICKSEN: Is that how you would characterize most of the work done by the committee over the...the longer period the you’ve been connected with them in the same way?
HOOVER: Yes, in general I think so, of course, it depends somewhat in the historic background of the people with whom we’re working but we...we do want to avoid, and I think correctly so, seeming to want to make what the Chinese characterize as “rice” Christians. In other words people who are simply adhering to a certain set of what have you for the...for what they can get out of it in the material sense and I think that rightfully we need to carefully avoid that. But I think sometimes we were a little remiss in making a direct association with the spirit that was in back of it. However, after I’ve said that, I think I need to make this further comment. I think people did inevitably sense what it was all about and I...I couldn’t help remarking the difference that it made in people’s response and in their thinking and their total attitude toward relief if it was administered by private Christian agencies in the name of Christ and what far larger dimensions was done by governments and more or less disinterested parties. I don’t know that I can exactly cite examples of this but it...it...it came to be a very strong prevailing impression with me that...that the fundamental response of people to the...to relief under those two separate circumstances was so entirely different. My only estimation of...of the situation is this, by and large even the more or less large scale relief administered through government had been more or less counterproductive. Oh, people probably appreciated it and yet in a certain sense they almost resent it. Just a part of human nature reacting to a superior or richer entity. But on the personal lever, in the name of Christ it did have a remarkable, striking, almost astonishing effect even as limited as it was.
END OF TAPE