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
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
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
DS: What motivated
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
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
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?
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
DS: And that sounds like
Acts, chapter two!