| LARGE CROSS-GENERATIONAL group sat before me, all eager to claim the prizes I’d promised to the first person to answer various questions on Adventist history. One knew that the Adventist Church was established in 1863; someone else guessed the name of the boat that Edson White built and navigated to bring the gospel to recently emancipated African-Americans in the early post-Civil War South. A third claimed a T-shirt for guessing that Ellen White’s favorite pie was lemon!
But then I stumped them.
“I’d like someone under the age of 20 to answer this question,” I qualified, sure that I would be inundated with correct answers. “Who was the first president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church?”
After the under-20s had thudded erroneously right through the Big Three—James White, Joseph Bates, and J. N. Andrews—I opened the question to anyone, of any age. Though there were several pastors and Adventist teachers in the bunch, none had a clue.
“John Byington,” I prompted. I received quizzical looks in response. I could have said “Thaddeus Mortimer Hornbuckle” and elicited as much recognition. (Current Adventist leaders fared no better. Though most of the adults knew the name of our current General Conference president, none of the children or youth did.)
Adventist history. How much do we know about it, how much do our kids know, and does it matter?
Why Is This Important?
No formal North American Division-wide studies have been done to determine the level of Adventist history proficiency Seventh-day Adventist children possess, but it’s probably safe to say our children could know more than they do about their faith heritage! This knowledge could be valuable to their spiritual growth as well as their loyalty to God and the church. Students attending Adventist schools probably have considerably more Adventist history knowledge than their counterparts in public schools, but even for them it is the sacred responsibility of parents, pastors, Sabbath school teachers, and Pathfinder/AY leaders to buttress and augment that knowledge. This would be especially important for students who are not receiving an Adventist education.
Why is Adventist history important? Our first clue comes from Hebrews 12:1, 2. After a long recitation in chapter 11 of biblical heroes who kept the faith in spite of extreme pressures to cast off their heritage, the writer of Hebrews uses his ubiquitous literary device—therefore—to notify the reader that the punch line is coming up:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1, NLT).*
The Message (a Bible paraphrase) also reminds us of the importance of our faith-ancestry:
“Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. . . . In this all-out match against sin, others have suffered far worse than you, to say nothing of what Jesus went through” (Heb. 12:1-4, Message).†
The biblical narratives remind us that there were scores of ancient heroes who loved Jesus enough to serve Him at great personal peril, sometimes even choosing to die rather than give up their faith. It’s inspiring and motivating to rehearse their fidelity. God instructed His ancient people to repeat often how He had intervened in their history (Ps. 107:2; Ex. 12:24-27; Deut. 4:9). The stone that Samuel named “Ebenezer” was a visual reminder to the children of Israel of the day God’s thunderous voice had routed their Philistine enemies, thus saving the Israelites from certain destruction.
There are also incredible stories of faith and heroism demonstrated in the lives of our early Adventist pioneers. Many of our spiritual ancestors endured bitter cold, oppressive heat, rain, snow, poor-quality and scanty food, smoke-filled accommodations, and separation from family in order to take the gospel to far regions by boat, sleigh, train, buggy, and foot. How did a handful of mostly nonwealthy visionaries build churches and establish publishing houses, hospitals, and schools in the early days of our Adventist movement? The miracle stories of God’s intervention coupled with the faith and sacrifice of His people abound!
Commenting on the value of learning or reviewing Adventist heritage, Ellen White wrote: “In reviewing our past history, having traveled over every step of advance to our present standing, I can say, Praise God! As I see what God has wrought, I am filled with astonishment, and with confidence in Christ as leader. We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us” (Christian Experience and Teachings of Ellen G. White, p. 204).
“Again and again I have been shown that the past experiences of God’s people are not to be counted as dead facts. We are not to treat the record of these experiences as we would treat a last-year’s almanac” (Letter 238, 1903).
“Like the people of Israel, let us set up our stones of witness, and inscribe upon them the precious story of what God has wrought for us. And as we review His dealings with us in our pilgrimage, let us, out of hearts melted with gratitude, declare, ‘What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?’” (The Desire of Ages, p. 348).
“The past history of the cause of God needs often to be brought before the people, young and old, that they may be familiar with it. How frequently were the waymarks set up by the Lord in His dealing with ancient Israel, lest they should forget the history of the past” (Letter 33, 1890).
Pass It On
These statements make it evident that passing on the stories from Adventist history is important to God. But how do we pass on our spiritual heritage? What are some practical ways we can teach our kids Adventist history? Here are a few ideas:
• Tell Adventist heritage-themed stories for the Children’s Corner before the pastor’s Sabbath sermon (see sidebar for resource ideas). This has the advantage of also educating adults, since everyone loves a good story.
• Download Visionary, an electronic magazine produced by the White Estate for kids ages 8-14. Use it for family worship, Pathfinder devotionals, Sabbath school enrichment. (Don’t forget to check out the archived issues as well as the current issue.)
• If you live in or visit North America, take your children to visit Elmshaven, Ellen White’s northern California home located near St. Helena, or Historic Adventist Village in Battle Creek, Michigan, or the first Seventh-day Adventist church at Washington, New Hampshire, which includes a mile-long “Sabbath” walk with extraordinary visuals along the path. Hands-on learning in real time is valuable for all children, but may be especially valuable for kinesthetic learners.
• Purchase and view the video/DVD series Keepers of the Flame, produced by the South Pacific Division.
• Read the books listed in the accompanying sidebar with your children, either at home, in Sabbath school, or at Pathfinders, and engage them in discussion of what it would have been like to be a participant in that story. Encourage your children to describe what it would have felt like, tasted like, looked like, smelled like, and sounded like to have been there.
• Purchase the audio dramatized Adventist Heritage CDs titled Pathways of the Pioneers. (These can be purchased at your local Adventist Book Center or online at www.adventistbookcenter.com.)
• Encourage your children to access www.adventistheritage.org to take virtual tours of Adventist heritage sites and see pictures of our pioneers. This will be more meaningful if you have read stories together about the pioneers pictured at the site.
Now, let’s quit talking about history and close with a relatively recent story from our Adventist heritage.
A True Story
Mother Brooks lay wide-awake and worried in her darkened hospital room. Who would take care of her 10 children? Most were in school, so who would care for the baby? Mother Brooks felt helpless and anxious.
In her distress, this godly African-American mother turned her thoughts toward her Savior. He had helped her so much in the past. She began praying for her children, naming each one.
As she lay there praying quietly, Mother Brooks suddenly heard a voice, a voice she immediately sensed came from God.
“Keep My commandments,” the voice said.
Mattie sat up, startled. “Which one am I not keeping?” she asked.
In her mind she saw the Ten Commandments. One stood out from the rest. One was large and very clear. It was the fourth commandment.
“. . . Six days shalt thou . . . do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath . . .” Mother Brooks was astonished. The seventh day was Saturday. She’d been keeping Sunday. But what did this have to do with the things she’d been praying about? What did keeping the seventh day have to do with saving the children for eternity and getting her health back? Mattie Brooks would soon discover that that simple message had a lot to do with both her health and her children’s salvation.
Mother Brooks had always been a devout Sundaykeeper. Now that she felt she had been honoring the wrong day, she promised the Lord she’d start observing the seventh-day Sabbath and teach her children to do so, too.
Soon Mother Brooks returned home from the hospital. For the next seven years she and the children kept the Sabbath. Since she had no idea that anyone else kept that day sacred, she still maintained her membership in her Sunday church. But everywhere she went, people scoffed at and scorned her. Finally her own church decided to act. A delegation of leaders came to bring Mother Brooks “back into the fold.”
The senior deacon led the group who came that night to straighten out Mother Brooks. First they pled with her to consider her denomination’s heritage, and stated that surely all her beloved preacher-ancestors couldn’t have been wrong about what day they kept. When that didn’t change her mind, the deacons began to try to prove that God had not commanded to honor the seventh-day Sabbath in Scripture.
But by this time Mother Brooks was an excellent Bible student! She didn’t argue with the deacons—instead, she asked “innocent” questions that so confused her interrogators they could find no answers. Finally, confused and upset, the deacons rose to leave.
When all had filed out the door except the senior deacon, he turned back and pulled a brown paper bag from under his coat. He handed it to Mother Brooks.
When he had gone, the children clustered around their mother. She carefully opened the package. Inside was a large, bound volume of The Great Controversy. It was written by Ellen G. White, someone they’d never heard of. Right away they began to read, and God spoke to the family again, this time through the pages of a book.
Young Charles had not yet reached 10 years of age, but his interest in that book was tremendous. Here were heroes any boy could admire—Huss; Jerome; Luther, who defied emperors and popes; and Wycliffe, the Bible smuggler. He read about the Waldensians hiding in the caves of the Piedmont Mountains with their handwritten Bibles. As Mother read, the message of the great struggle between Christ and Satan became very clear to Charles and the other children. They began to understand the Sabbath as a flag of loyalty under which Christ’s troops must march.
Mother Brooks determined to find out more about the people who wrote the book. Before long she and the children joined the Adventist Church. Seven years later, to their great joy, Father also became a baptized Seventh-day Adventist. Now the whole family was keeping God’s Sabbath. Mother Brooks believed that the Voice that had spoken to her in that hospital room was the same Voice she heard speaking to her heart through Ellen White’s books.
Young Charles never forgot that he was part of the great fight between good and evil. When he grew up, he became a pastor, an evangelist, and eventually a General Conference minister known and loved throughout the world as a champion for Jesus Christ. To this day, C. D. Brooks still regards Ellen White as a personal friend whose words were as God’s voice to his family.‡
*Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
†Texts credited to Message are from The Message. Copyright ” 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
‡Adapted from The Spirit of Prophecy Emphasis Stories, Vol. II, prepared jointly by Norma Youngberg, Fern Babcock, The Ellen G. White Estate, and the General Conference Department of Education, 1982.