THE SPIRIT OF SACRIFICE AND COMMITMENT
Following is an interview with James R. Nix, director, of the Ellen G. White Estate, General Conference World Headquarters, and Larry Evans, associate director and editor of the Dynamic Steward along with Erika Puni, director of Stewardship Ministries.
If I can realize that God started this church through them and their victories, then I can be assured He has given me the same promises for that kind of victory to finish the work that they started, However, I must have that same kind of faith and commitment."
DS: Jim, you edited the book, The Spirit of Sacrifice and Commitment. Plans are underway for it to be reprinted. What prompted you to write this book in the first place?
JN: Since I was a college student, I have been collecting stories about the sacrifice and commitment of our Adventist pioneers. However, the idea of the book actually came from Ed Reid, former stewardship director of the North American Division.
Ed asked me to speak at a stewardship seminar and to share stories about the sacrifice of our Adventist pioneers. As a follow-up to that seminar, he asked me to write a book on what I had shared. So, I agreed to compile a list of stories from the original sources.
DS: We often refer to these pioneers as “our forebearers.” That sounds like they must have been pretty old. Were they elderly?
JN: Some were older people, but most of them were young people. Uriah Smith recalls the time when he and some other youth bought their first hand press. Girls in their teens and 20s stitched the early pamphlets together by hand. Though their fingers blistered in the process, they believed in what they were doing. They were passionate about this truth. They were teens and young adults getting our message out.
DS: What motivated them?
JN: Jesus was coming and people needed to know! I think that was the driving force. They believed passionately that Jesus is coming. There was this passion that people needed to know. William Miller had it when he was a Millerite Adventist. Everyone with whom he came in contact was a potential candidate for heaven. And this is how the pioneers both young and old thought: "Get the message out!" They really did believe they were fulfilling Bible prophecy. Therefore, it was a privilege. It was exciting! They could go to the book of Revelation, and from their understanding of the book they could say, “Here we are.”
DS: This must have taken some sacrifice on their part. What kind of sacrifice are we talking about? Did it alter their careers?
JN: Uriah Smith and his sister Annie Smith each had a teaching contract and they both gave up their contracts. Instead of teaching they went to help James White publish our fledgling little paper called The Review and Herald. J. N. Andrews thought about going into law. His uncle, a congressman, who was not a Sabbath-keeper or an Adventist wanted John to take up law. G. I. Butler’s grandfather was the governor of Vermont and no doubt he and the family had great expectations for young George. J. H. Waggoner was a newspaper editor. These individuals along with others gave up significant opportunities and positions to take this relatively unpopular message to share it with the world.
DS: It sounds like sacrifice and commitment were often a family thing.
JN: Often it was. Esther Edson, Hiram Edson’s wife, for instance sold her silverware back when silverware was silver. She did it so they could print the DayStar Extra, which is where our sanctuary doctrine was first published. So yes, families—husbands, wives, and children—all participated together. There also are stories about students who would go on diets in response to appeals for mission work. Kellogg even referred to what he called the Indian diet as a means of providing funds for mission work. I believe it was when he went to the Battle Creek Sanitarium workers that he said in effect, “You know, we’ve got these people that are having famine in India, and if we could just live off of what we can grow in our sanitarium gardens and don’t buy anything extra, we can contribute the money we save to the work in India.” And many of his workers agreed with him.
DS: Did some lose family members when in mission service?
JN: Yes, but not only did they lose family members—some lost their own lives in mission service. And one of their concerns was, “Don’t let my death prevent the work from going on.” We especially find this among the missionaries in Africa, because several of the early missionaries died of malaria or other diseases. For that reason, the word would be sent back, “Tell them, my grave marks the trail into Africa. Don’t let my passing keep people from coming. Send more missionaries!” It's incredible. I don’t know how anybody can really read about the lives of these people, their commitment to improving people’s health—getting the message out and especially telling about Jesus' coming without being moved. It speaks to me today.
DS: This raises another question. Did their sacrifices really pay off? Did the church prosper?
JN: We started out on October 23, or a few weeks after the disappointment in 1844. Historians say there may have been 35 to 50 people in this group at the beginning and now there are about 17 million baptized members around the world. So yes, if you look at the church numerically the sacrifice of the pioneers did payoff. However, there is more to it than numbers. If you look at what Adventists have contributed to the health of the world, how much people’s diets have changed because of what our pioneers shared about maintaining healthy minds and bodies, clean living and overall cleanliness, the impact is staggering.
DS: In the face of all this, did they face ridicule?
JN: I remember hearing a tape recording of F. D. Nichol. He was talking about a time when he was a young man around 1900 or so. He explained that Adventists were referred to as “grass eaters” because of being vegetarians. P. T. Magan’s father sent him to work on a farm in America to get him toughened up as a man. The father owned land in Ireland, but when his son accepted the new-fangled, crazy Sabbath thing, he disowned his son and wrote his son completely out of his estate. So, yes, there was resistance and ridicule. In some parts of the world it is still true, but at least in the United States today much more respect is shown for what Adventists have contributed.
DS: Did our pioneers ever go into personal debt in order to get the message out?
JN: Ellen White borrowed money so that she could contribute to special needs. We have records that she paid as much as 8 percent interest just so she could have money to give to start a school or a sanitarium or a church. Sometimes it was 6 percent. My understanding is that others also were willing to pay interest on borrowed funds to be able to have money to give.
DS: That was commitment! In your study, did you discover that these men and women differentiated between their commitment to God and their commitment to the church?
JN: I think for them it was one and the same. God called this church. They saw it as a prophetic movement called into existence at a precise time in history to do a precise work before Jesus returns. It was His church. For them, I don’t think they would say, “Well, that’s God, and that’s the church.”
DS: From your perspective, why is it important that these stories be retold in this century?
JN: While reflecting on these stories I have been impressed that we all need to remember where we came from, why we are here, and the sacrifice and commitment of the people who started this church—men and women, boys and girls, young and old.
If I can realize that God started this church through them and their victories, then I can be assured He has given me the same promises for that kind of victory to finish the work that they started, However, I must have that same kind of faith and commitment. They were all together. That was part of the genius of the early pioneers. They had the excitement and the enthusiasm and the energy. They worked together.
DS: And that sounds like Acts, chapter two!