My parents consciously chose not to have a television during my childhood. Some might view this as a deprivation; I regard it as a blessing. In almost every room there was an abundance of books, a constant source of pleasure and knowledge, offering windows into new and fascinating worlds. Early on I discovered there are books you read once, then abandon. There are others you may return to from time to time. The real treasures are the books that become familiar friends—even lifelong friends. Ellen White’s books fall into the latter category.
As with many friendships, it’s hard to pinpoint when our friendship began. Her books have been a constant. As a young child I remember admiring the shelf of books with the beautiful red binding. Through the years bindings and covers have changed, but the content has remained constant.
A Shaping Influence
We used the Ellen White devotionals for our family worships. Sometimes I struggled with the words and understanding the concepts. My first meaningful personal encounter with her writings came when I was given a copy of Steps to Christ at my baptism. I was a teenager, and it encouraged me to commit my life more fully to Christ. It stimulated me to read more of her books. Beginning with Patriarchs and Prophets, I read through the Conflict of the Ages series. Each one expanded my understanding and shaped the life decisions I was making.
A few years later a family summer road trip through New England to Battle Creek, Michigan, brought new perspectives. Ellen White had been just a year older at her baptism than I had been at mine. She was 17 when she experienced, in 1844, the devastation of the Great Disappointment, when, contrary to expectations, Jesus did not return. Like many others, she struggled to understand what had happened. Somehow the fact that the early Adventist pioneers had been mainly young people had eluded me. The rather stiff formal portraits of Adventist pioneers with suits, beards, and serious faces had created the perception that the church had been organized by middle-aged administrators. The reality of a youth-led, dynamic movement gave a new perspective and appreciation for Ellen White’s writings. When she wrote about her wonderful, beautiful Saviour, it was based, not on a well-honed theory, but on her personal experience.
An Uplifting Companion
The commitment to give my life more fully to Christ led me to Newbold College to study theology. At the beginning of my third year, I applied for one of the colporteur slots for the following summer. Although not mandated, there was an expectation that all theology students should spend at least one summer as a colporteur. I had put it off for two summers, so it was now or never. I was secretly relieved when I was turned down. I had tried. My conscience was clear.
Nine months later, as the end of the college year approached, I was worried. I did not have a summer job. I had applied to all the usual places. Either I was unsuccessful or received no response to my applications. I couldn’t understand it. I prayed, but I still couldn’t find a job. I needed the money to return for my last year. Two weeks from the end of the year, the principal called me into his office and asked if I would like to go to Norway as a colporteur. I wanted to say no, but without any other options, I said yes. The next day I received another job offer, but I had committed myself and went to Norway.
Six weeks later I found myself in a caravan on the outskirts of Aalesund, a shipping port on the Norwegian west coast. The friend who came with me had left. I was alone. I didn’t speak the language. Sales were not bad, but they were not what I needed to make a scholarship. It was one of those “why” moments. Why, Lord, did You bring me here?
I picked up my copy of Steps to Christ and began to read. When I came to the chapter on the privilege of prayer, words that I had previously underlined jumped off the page:
“Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him.”*
They spoke to me in the silence and loneliness of that caravan in a way that had not impacted me before. I desperately longed for a friend. Someone to talk to. Someone who understood my language. Someone who knew how difficult it was to make myself get up in the morning, go out, and knock on doors. I poured out my heart. I talked to God in a way I had never talked to Him before. He remained God, Lord of lords and King of kings, my Creator and Redeemer, but He became my friend. The one to whom I told my deepest longings, fears, and joys. Unlike my friend who had left, here was a Friend who didn’t leave me. He was with me 24/7. The Lord answered my prayers. During the next six weeks He provided courage, protection, and comfort.
Shortly afterward, I found myself in an apartment with someone who was very aggressive and tried to prevent me from leaving. The Lord provided me an invisible wall of protection. All attempts to stop me were thwarted. As I closed the door, a neighbor came out of their apartment to ask if all was well. They had seen me go into the apartment and were worried, as “bad things happen to people in there.” I knew that my angels had worked overtime. My sales improved, allowing me to return and finish my studies.
I count myself truly blessed that I was introduced to Ellen White’s books at a young age. They have become lifelong friends, a source of counsel and wisdom, helping me to gain a clearer picture of my beautiful Saviour. As the world today seems to implode, they provide insights into the controversy, which is coming to a climax. They reassure me that, if faithful, I will get to meet the author and, more important, the Jesus she consistently lifts up.
* Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956), p. 93.