This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Jesse Wilbert Hoover (CN 319, T3) 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 August 2006.
Collection 319, T3. Interview of Jesse Wilbert Hoover by Paul Ericksen, October 7, 1985.
HOOVER: I would like to make this further observation in relation to the effect of Christian relief on Christian missions. We have traditionally and rather specifically tried to keep segregated those two aspects in order to avoid developing what is referred to as “rice” Christians. If it’s...if it is too closely associated with the permanent traditional mission project, then there’s a tendency on the part of some maybe to become a little too dependent on the mission for the total of...of their life and this to use is unfortunate. Our ultimate goal should be to make people self-reliant, independent (in a better sense of that word “independent”) Christians and not dependent on the mother country. This has been one of the tragic mistakes, in our opinion, of traditional missions down through the generations.
ERICKSEN: Can you recall situations where you saw [pauses] these sorts “rice” Christians?
HOOVER: I don’t know that I can specifically refer to personal experiences in that respect [pauses] although I...I did visit a great many missions both of my own church and affiliated churches and crossed the pathways of a great many missionaries. I...I’m...that observation comes more from the evaluation of mission leaders that I’ve talked on the field.
ERICKSEN: Of other...of other missions?
HOOVER: Well, yes, of our own. Some of them were frankly quite skeptical of the usefulness of relief in...in its total concept because ...because of the fear of this. And I’m not at all sure that it would be profitable thing in all circumstances. My former comment was, of course, about its effectiveness in opening doors.
ERICKSEN: What did you do when you got back from Europe?
HOOVER: We...I traveled very extensively promoting the rather new field of work into which our church had launched in relief. And soon after I was back came Pearl Harbor and our nationally...our direct involvement in World War II. And with it the related problems we have with the conscientious objector and between visiting widely the churches over the United States and Canada in the interest of the program and having to dev...to develop the alternate program for those who could not conscientiously be directly be involved in war. In and out of Washington [District of Columbia] frequently and in contact with other interested groups frequently. This was occ...occupying my time for months and even for years.
ERICKSEN: What was the...what was the response for the evangelical church in general to these efforts?
HOOVER: I found the response very heartening, very warming, very sympathetic. I think...what...in your question you mean the larger Evangelical fellowship rather than the nonresistant fellowship of which I was more particularly engaged. I found that a frank simple open discussion of the issues involved always brought a sympathetic response. I don’t mean to suggest that they agreed with me but I had learned, I think, by that time pretty largely that argumentation just for the sake of argumentation usually get us nowhere. And I think I learned a little about a very humble, frank, straight-forward presentation without argumentation. And I’ve appreciated the...the reception.... I’ve never...I...I don’t think that I can honestly say I’ve ever encountered what I sensed as direct opposition or at least not antagonism. There have been those who...maybe the...maybe approached it differently. I don’t know.
ERICKSEN: Then...then in 1947 you left the country again to tour Asia predominately Asia is that...
ERICKSEN: What was the reason for that tour?
HOOVER: Well, of course, most of the personnel engaged more actively, directly in relief were of the young generation, older young people, not...not younger teens certainly, but older teens and the younger twenties, somewhat immature in certain respects. And they needed frequent help in thinking through some of the problems that confronted them. They needed what amounted to pastoral help in their spiritual life. And then a third dimension in this later tour was an attempt to integrate the emergency relief program with an ongoing permanent missions program for the church. This latter more particularly for my own church denomination, the Brethren in Christ. So there was a kind of multiple aspect to that responsibility.
ERICKSEN: What countries did you visit?
HOOVER: [clears throat] We went [clears throat] we went by ship across the Pacific on the first leg of the journey on one of those what they call Victory Ships, the marine adder [?]. One of those ships that was put together, fabricated on land, and...and then put together in an all-together unorthodox fashion on the seacoast. I think a product of the Kaiser Corporation, if I recall, and they were quite effective but they were rough riders. And it was quite a...quite a journey across the Pacific. We landed first briefly at Manila and the bay was still well dotted with the carnage of the war. Hadn’t been too much done yet in the clean up. We only stopped there very briefly that time and went on the Shanghai, China. And my first weeks of that itinerary were in China. China, of course, was not recovered yet from the war but was in the throes of revolution, the conquest of the Communists. Our relief units in China were caught in the middle between. They were finding it more and more difficult to operate because of the increasing pressure of the Communists. Up to this point the Communist had made no attempt to hold much in the way of territory but their tactics were to hit and run. And just a few days before my arrival in China, a letter had come to headquarters, the Chinese headquarters...
ERICKSEN: Of the central committee?
HOOVER: Of, yes, of the Mennonite Central Committee. Very derisively, sneeringly referring to the way some of our personnel had had to leave the interior under extreme pressures being held up at gunpoint and so on. And inviting someone to come down into the old flooded area, no-mans land in China, and meet with one of the Communist leaders. This letter was from this particular leader, reputed to be, at that time, third in line in the Chinese Communist higherarchy next after Mao Tse-Tung and Chu En lai. Well, we endeavored to accept this challenge not only for the future of the relief work of our committee but for the whole future of Christian missions in China. The full recounting of that episode must find its voice somewhere else, but [clears throat] to all outward appearances it seemed in the end to be a futile thing, a futile gesture thing, failure because it turned out that we were caught in the vanguard of the sweeping Communist First Army that apparently never really stopped until they had complete...completed the conquest of all China. And how we ever escaped with our lives, only God knows. A direct miracle of His grace. We were able subsequently to give encouragement to large numbers of missionaries fleeing interior China as we met with them on some of the coastal cities. But it wasn’t only...it wasn’t until only recently after Chinese closed doors were beginning to open a bit that we learned a little more of what some of efforts might have accomplished. Suffice here to say that the number of Chinese Christian persisting through the almost impossible years of those closed doors multiplied many times over. And that’s been the consistent history of the Christian church from the first century. She multiplies fantastically under the most extreme and impossible pressures. It’s a thrill to know that we had just a tiny, tiny little bit of something to do with that kind of a development.
ERICKSEN: Was there other relief working going on in China at the same time in addition to Mennonite Central Committee relief work that you were able to see?
HOOVER: The...the Friends [Religious Society of Friends - Quakers] again, of course, had relief in China. We were not as closely associated there as we were formerly in Europe. Although there was as a leader of this expedition of which I referred, which contacted this Communist down in no mans land...,one of the guides was an English Quaker. China is so vast so spread out that the contacts there were probably not quite as close as there were in other situations.
ERICKSEN: What other countries did you visit...I guess you mentioned Indonesia...
HOOVER: Worked in Indonesia. Of course went back to the Philippines. I more or less conducted shuttle operations between China and the Philippines for some months there. Then we went on to Indonesia and India and then came back to Europe. There were a number of brief stops and briefer contacts in between some of those major points. So that I got a kind of a bird’s-eye view of the...of the large part of the world. Of course you know the old joke that when you’ve been in China a week you know all about China and when you’ve been there five years you don’t know anything. [laughs] And I’m sure that very aptly applies to me and yet , I think, some of the observations that ones makes under such circumstances [pauses] have a kind of uniqueness and perhaps a value that you may otherwise miss. One becomes accustomed to things after he’s been with them for a certain amount of time and they seem...they seem to cease to impress a person. And missionaries recognize that this happens so that one who is coming fresh has certain perspectives that one who has been there awhile doesn’t...does not have. Whether they’re more valid or not that’s another question of course.
ERICKSEN: What did you do then when you returned to the United States from that tour?
HOOVER: I was completely exhausted after that tour and no only physically but mentally, tired even spiritually, just literally drained. And spent quite some time trying to get back on my feet to recover. Then for the next years most of my efforts were largely interdenominational rather concentrated in my own brotherhood.
ERICKSEN: In connection with...?
HOOVER: Well, in connection, of course, with my mission and evangelization in general. Along with that, trying to get my...trying to get back my feet financially as well. One of the things that characterize our brotherhood, which we referred earlier, which I did not mention, was the fact that at that time our ministers were self-supporting and after those years of giving I was pretty well broke financially. So we went into business to try to recoup our financial situation.
ERICKSEN: What business?
HOOVER: Oh, [clears throat] retailing business in [clears throat] a little city of Napanee...Napanee, Indiana. Later removing near Goshen [Indiana] and still later after retirement for a while went to California and finally back to environs of Indianapolis. At the interesting little city, the home town of James Whitcomb Riley, Greenfield where we find a very cozy environment to retire in.
ERICKSEN: You said you had a retail business. What was it that you were selling?
HOOVER: It was what you might term perhaps a light hardware and appliances and...and decorator supplies and similar things.
ERICKSEN: Now at the same time you were doing that, were you continuing pastoring a church?
HOOVER: I did some pastoring but I...I haven’t done too much pastoring most of my life. My...most of my activity has been more in general church work. I did...I’ve done quite a bit of evangelistic work, I mean, in week or two week revivals as we term them and...
ERICKSEN: The...in the denomination?
HOOVER: Both in the denomination and otherwise. And in general I’ve...I’ve pastored a number of times as in the...in an interim capacity. Not only for my church but for other churches.
ERICKSEN: I’d like to find out a little about these evengel...these revivals. Can you tell me about one just as an example of the sorts of things you did?
HOOVER: Well, one of the outstanding revivals in my career was up on the frontier of Canada up in the far northwest. Up in the areas where the roads end and there’s nothing but unchartered wilderness. This was in 1939 following terrible devastations of the drought in the western United States and parts of Canada. Many people lost all their...all that they had practically in the horrible drought in our own western plains area and in Canada. But because they could homestead very cheap land up on the border a great many of them went up there and took up new land and started life over. [clears throat] Early on...I forget what year it was started we had missions up in that area and in the summer of 1939 I was asked to spend what eventually stretched out to be about three months in that far north country in a number of revivals most of them in tents, some of them in churches. And those people who were, of course, badly discouraged and demoralized because of the unfortunate circumstances they had been through. They were so recipient to a positive gospel that it was really thrilling. Along with the immigrants from the United States were some also from the old country from England and other European countries. Quite an interesting mix. And this was quite an educational experience for me as well as a...a great thrill and from the standpoint of evangelization to see the commingling of somewhat different cultures out there on the great plains. We...at the end of that summer we had a baptism and I don’t recall the number but it was a great crowd of candidates for baptism at the end of the summer.
ERICKSEN: When you would hold a...one of the meetings how would you advertise it?
HOOVER: Wasn’t too much advertising except by word of mouth out there on...it...it was...it was very similar to the earlier pioneer conditions that apparently existed in our own country. And they didn’t have too much in the way of modern communications it was mostly word of mouth and it was amazing how word would spread out there on the border. And large segments of the crowds from a previous location would follow sometimes night after night to new locations. We has tremendous crowds there.
ERICKSEN: Now was...would it be..the service be like the sort of a revival that was taking place in this country. Singing and preaching and then invitation and....
HOOVER: Yes, very similar to the regular format of...of those types of more or less informal [clears throat] revivalistic efforts. [clears throat] Of course there wasn’t too much special singing because talent out there was more or less limited. In my...some of my evangelistic efforts I used to be my own soloist before the sermon as long as my voice would stand up to it. Of course it got pretty rough after you’ve preached several times night after night. But in general it was about the same format that you would find in most of the revival efforts.
ERICKSEN: Was your wife traveling with you for these?
HOOVER: Not for all of it. That was the fall that we had contracted to go to our first pastoral assignment in Philadelphia. And in preparation for that she had sold our property...had no where to go...was expecting me home. I mean the original plan called for my return at a certain point but they were still calling for more and more so she joined me for the latter week.
ERICKSEN: And what about the tours that you took, was she...?
HOOVER: No, no. That was...that was strictly off limits to ladies. [chuckles] Now that’s...that’s...maybe I need to qualify that a bit, of course, we had...we had ladies, young ladies in the relief units in the Orient. Now, in the earlier stages during the war in Europe there were very, very few American ladies there. That was mostly a man’s proposition. But in later stages there were, of course, ladies involved. But so far as the rigorous schedule of the visitation of those units and what went with it, that...that was strictly a man’s job.
ERICKSEN: Did you have any other tours other than the two we’ve already talked about?
HOOVER: No, not...not overseas. No, not overseas.
ERICKSEN: Something that you mentioned. You had said the reason you went to Asia was to work on transferring the Mennonite Central Committee’s emergency relief program into an ongoing...or maybe that was for the...for the denomination.
HOOVER: Well, that was mostly for my own denomination, Brethren in Christ.
ERICKSEN: How was the emergency relief program transferred into an ongoing program within the missionary work?
HOOVER: Well, actually that phase of it was not successful either. Not...not in the ultimate sense. I suppose more or less indirectly, certainly. But on the missions fields, of course, there are usually allocations of territory. Now in emergency relief one seek to do the job regardless of territories or any other considerations. But when it comes to the process then of translating that into permanent missions then one gets into some difficulties. And most mission boards are a little reluctant to give up territory. I don’t know whether this is as it should be or not. I’ll leave someone else to judge that.
ERICKSEN: [coughs] In your...in your work for the denomination with the mission program was the cooperation going on between the denomination and other, let’s say, cousin denominations or other (I don’t want to say non-cousins) but outside the...the pietists tradition.
HOOVER: Yes, our...our mission boards have traditionally belonged to missions organizations...kept up contact and cooperation there in certain areas. Now, of course, I did not have anything directly to do only...only on a temporary basis with my denominational mission’s board. I was not a part of that. I can’t answer too intelligently some aspects of...of the later follow-up there. But I...I do know that we did not establish mission either in the Philippines or in China. Now in India, of course, we had missions previous to this and the mission program in India was somewhat affected by and modified by the relief program. But in the case of establishing new missions on the basis of the relief effort, that did not occur in the Philippines and China, much to my regret.
ERICKSEN: Did you draw any conclusions from that?
HOOVER: Well, it seems to me, now I’m speaking from a rather limited viewpoint here because I...I have never been a...a member of foreign missions board. But it does seem to me perhaps a little greater emphases somehow could be put on the matter of cooperation between the boards in really getting the job done. I think that any of us who have sensed at all the task recognize that it’s too great for all of us combined. And the greatest ultimate degree of corporation and working together and helping each other certainly ought to, in my estimation, be a part in the total program. [pauses] I’m not in a position to evaluate and to criticize too...too exactly.
ERICKSEN: From what you saw of the...the denomination’s mission work overseas how...how was the Brethren tradition translated into third world situations?
HOOVER: Some of our traditions certainly have cultural implications.
ERICKSEN: Such as?
HOOVER: Oh, for example such as our emphasis earlier on rather distinctive modes of dress, of avoiding current styles and fashions and so on. Of course, those things haven’t...have no part whatsoever in the altogether foreign cultural of foreign missions. So far as the underling principles were concerned, I...it’s my impression they were very well transferred into these other cultures. Of course, with the understanding that in certain details of expression their needs must be...some adaptation and [pauses] consideration of cultural differences.
ERICKSEN: Can you think of any particular situations of adaptation?
HOOVER: Well, yes, for example I mentioned earlier that one of the traditions that came down from earliest times was the tradition of what we use to term the prayer veiling or in other words woman’s keeping her head covered in worship. Now this was not exclusively with our tradition but it has it’s vestiges yet even in the Roman Catholic tradition and the Eastern [Orthodox] traditions. And up until just a couple generations ago it was generally observed, whether there was any doctrinal emphases on it or not. It was generally observed by all Christian organizations. Transferred into the cultures on the other side of the world, which some of them have only recently emerged and some of them are still trying to emerge from the tradition that was the foundation of all of that, the veiling. And, of course, [laughs] I think you know the extreme methods which are still employed in some of the Muslim countries in the veiling. Well, of course, some adaptations had to be made there. That’s very obvious. Now it...what has emerged if neither the age old tradition of...that has come down through the Muslims and some of those other related cultures. Nor it is that which was adapted to our Western culture in the tradition more specifically of my denomination...but the principle is still there. That’s just one example.
ERICKSEN: Sure. What about music...
ERICKSEN: ...as a part of the national church?
HOOVER: Well, to...there again there’s some doubt...some adaptations but to a great extent they have brought over the music of their native cultures and adapted Christian lyrics. [pauses] Now, of course, there have been some transferring of Christian tunes also. Both...both have occurred.
ERICKSEN: So national tunes with...
HOOVER: Christian words.
ERICKSEN: Translations of words we would use and also tunes we would use with...
HOOVER: With their national...
HOOVER: ...language adapted. Yes, both...both methods have been used there. Now, of course, I think this further observation at that point maybe is needed. In some of those cultures the music, the tunes, are so minor that they’re scarcely adaptable to...to Christian ideology and expression.
ERICKSEN: Can you expand on that a little?
HOOVER: Well, the...the dirge like doleful [laughs] music of so many of...especially in the Oriental countries [laughs] seems to me it’s almost impossible to successfully use that [laughs] in...in a truly Christian relationship, to express the things that we want to express from our Christian viewpoint. Now, of course, when you get into the techniques of music then that’s a little out of my department. [laughs] Someone else would be better able to evaluate some of that. That’s just my amateur observation.
ERICKSEN: Another thing I’m curious about in regard to mission work. How did the Brethren emphasis on separation of church and state effect the establishment and ongoing work of missionaries overseas?
HOOVER: Well, by and large, it’s my impression that it was conducive to the development of missions because if the impression is gained that there’s political involvement, there are political overtones then, I think, that the...the very foundations of a true spiritual ministry are undermined. And since we have taken a rather pronounced stance on the question of church and state and non-involvement in matters of state, back over our history, I think, it has probably contributed to a facilitating of missions from that standpoint. I don’t know whether I can give any specific statistics or anything to back that up but that...that is just my impression.
ERICKSEN: Have there been changes in the Breth...Brethren’s missionary philosophy or practice since the days when you first got involved in it until the present [pauses] that you’ve observed?
HOOVER: Yes, now, of course, I have no continuing connection with it at the present time but I try to keep current with what’s going.... And one of my earliest convictions when going to the Orient was that it was that it was tragic how slow we were in relinquishing our colonial mentality in relation to missions. I...I think, utterly...utterly tragic that [the] Christian church didn’t wake up long before they did, before it was forced on them. Of course, all missions are...are...have practically turned over the more active administration and responsibility to the what we usually refer to as the natives or the nationals. I think perhaps our denomination was a little more ready, a little more amenable, to that kind of transfer than some were. The missionaries...our foreign missionaries, of course, now for the most part except in cases where they are engaged in actual pioneer or first pioneer work. All foreign missionaries are now over there only in advisory or supplementary capacity. The responsibility, the administration is almost totally the responsibility of the nationals. Well, it’s unfortunate that proper foundations were not laid long before they were for that kind of transfer. Not only in my denomination but in all of them, in my estimation. It’s...it’s the same old story that, my feeling is, that politically so many of these emerging nations (and if anyone from these third world nations hears this record they’ll have it in for Jess Hoover but the fact remains...remains) that it’s my own conclusion that the most of the nations were not ready and maybe not even yet today are not ready for self government. But the were no alternative and a...a large part of the fault of that lies at the door of the more advanced nations, our own included, in not making proper advance preparations for the transfer. Tragic. The same thing obtains [sic], in my estimations, in relation to missions, in relation to the church, in relation to the sponsoring mother church. They were too slow, too delinquent in developing the necessary skills for caring on on their own responsibility. I just...I just don’t think there can be any question on this point. [pauses] So we share fault with them.
ERICKSEN: Well, I...I have no more questions. Are there things that I haven’t asked question about, were there events or issues that you’d like to talk about from your experience? Maybe I should let you think about that for a minute. Okay?
END OF TAPE