Children will receive new learning materials about Ellen White and other Seventh-day Adventist pioneers.
University presidents will be invited to tour church historical sites in the United States.
General Conference leaders will spend more time reading Ellen White’s inspired writings and taking her advice to heart.
These were among the immediate results of a six-day church heritage tour that participants described as life-changing. The group of about 75 General Conference departmental directors and spouses also expressed a new appreciation for Jesus’ leading in the church’s past and a renewed desire to follow the faithful example of the pioneers in proclaiming His soon coming.
“I think the greatest thing for me was to realize that the pioneers were ordinary people just like us who went through afflictions, the loss of loved ones, and relationship challenges,” said Gideon Mutero, vice president for finance at church-owned Hope Channel.
“Despite their challenges, they kept their faith and passed it on to this generation,” he said. “In spite of all the difficulties that we face, we should keep the faith and pass it on to the next generation — and also be prepared for the return of the Lord.”
The tour — the first ever for departmental directors from the General Conference, the administrative body of the Adventist world church — began with visits to the childhood home of church cofounder Joseph Bates in Massachusetts and places where church cofounder Ellen White was born and grew up in Maine. Closing highlights included a stop at the first Adventist church, founded in 1862 in Washington, New Hampshire, and a stirring Sabbath worship service in pioneer William Miller’s chapel on his farm in upper state New York.
“There is nothing like seeing firsthand places where God’s people were rewarded immensely by their faithful and their complete dependence on the Lord in highly unusual or difficult circumstances,” said General Conference president Ted N.C. Wilson, whose office organized the tour and is partnering with Hope Channel to produce a heritage television series.
Wilson expressed hope that the tour would help “breathe new invigorating commitment into this great Adventist movement.”
“I’m hoping that this trip will affirm in the hearts of our church departmental leaders that God is in control of the Adventist movement and that He is going to see it through to the end,” he said.
Leaders Respond Enthusiastically
Initial reactions from tour participants indicated that they were fired up to share what they had learned.
Children’s ministries director Linda Koh said her department intended to produce a range of materials about the pioneers, including an animated film about Ellen White that would be released in 2019.
“We need to better acquaint our children with Ellen White and all of the pioneers,” she said. “A lot of our children go to public school, and they don’t know much about Ellen White.”
Lisa Beardsley-Hardy, director of the education department, said she was making arrangements for Adventist university presidents to participate in a similar tour in 2019.
“I have already written a proposal so that I might take university presidents on a tour next year,” she said.
Calling the Adventist school system “nurseries of our future leadership,” she added, “I want our educational leaders around the world to share in the experience that we have just had and to reflect on our past, being inspired and being rooted more deeply in mission.”
Health ministries director Peter Landless, who toured the sites for the first time after working at the General Conference for 18 years, said he was inspired by the pioneers’ enthusiasm and perseverance even when they lacked means.
“We sometimes bemoan the fact that we don’t have enough resources,” he said. “We have to make use of what we have to the absolute maximum.”
Jerry Page, secretary of the Ministerial Association, was especially moved by stories of pioneers who ignored Ellen White’s counsel to their own detriment. He pledged to spend more time reading her writings and seeking to follow her advice.
“I’m going to make sure that I am taking enough time to, like David, say, ‘God, search me and see if there is any wicked way in me. Baptize me now with the Holy Spirit, and change me,’” he said in an interview.
Page, speaking during a morning worship talk as the tour ended on Sept. 16, appealed to other church leaders to also spend more time reading Ellen White’s writings.
Tour That Changes Hearts
The heritage tour, which typically lasts four to 10 days and can be organized on the website of Adventist Heritage Ministry (adventistheritage.org), inevitably leads to transformed hearts, longtime tour leaders said.
“I think they all have a new spirit,” said General Conference meeting planner Sheri Clemmer, who has helped organize six tours for the General Conference since 2012. “Anytime we can make our pioneers more human, they come to life for us.”
James Nix, director of the Ellen White Estate, who has led 75 to 100 tours since 1979, recalled a pastor who went on a heritage tour shortly before retiring from decades of ministry.
“I wish I had known this years ago,” the pastor, tears streaming down his cheeks, said during a special testimony time in William Miller’s chapel. “It would have completely changed my ministry.”
On a tour with a group from an Adventist school, Nix was surprised by a prayer offered by student at the Adventist church in Washington, New Hampshire.
“Lord,” the young man prayed, “help me to know that this is your church and that Ellen White really was your true prophet.”
Nix learned that the student wasn’t an Adventist and had enrolled at the Adventist school in an attempt to leave the company of drug-using friends. He had joined the heritage tour during a school break because it sounded fun.
At the end of the tour, during testimony time at William Miller’s chapel, the student said, “Thank you, Lord, for showing me that this is Your church and that Ellen White was a true prophet.”
The student later was baptized, and he went on to work for the Adventist Church.
“When you see that kind of impact on people’s lives, you realize that the Holy Spirit is working,” Nix said. “There is a place for these historical sites. We need to keep alive in our memory the story of God’s leading in the beginning of this church.”