Ellen G. White’s Ministry in the South Pacific
By John Skrzypaszek
John Skrzypaszek, D.Min. (Australian College of Theology) is the director of the Ellen G. White/SDA Research Centre and a lecturer at the Avondale University College. Before his current role, he served as a Ministerial secretary and Personal Ministries director. Polish by birth, Skrzypaszek takes a keen interest in heritage, spirituality, and identity studies. His research aims to explore the relevance of heritage for life’s journey in the 21st century. He has authored 19 peer-reviewed publications and 15 magazine articles. He is married to Brenda and has two sons.
First Published: July 6, 2020
Ellen White lived in Australia between 1891 and 1900. Her ministry within the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific Division encompassed an expansion of mission-focused infrastructures fostered by her generous commitment to service and an inspirational visioning of sharing a Christ-centered gospel with the world.
Arrival and Ministry in Australia
The South Pacific Division was organized in 1894 as the Australian Union Conference.1 Its birth was closely connected with the life and ministry of Ellen White during her years of residence in Australia. In 1903, reminiscing on her nine-year tenure in Australia, she wrote, “I do not regret the years we spent in Australia. I am glad we went there over ten years ago.”2 Despite the personal challenges associated with Ellen White’s invitation to travel to Australia,3 her reflections reveal her focus on mission:
We have found ourselves on missionary soil, in a land where there were but few Sabbath-keepers, and scarcely any facilities. We made it our first work to unite with the faithful laborers there in an effort to open the field as rapidly as possible. The Lord gave us access to the hearts of the people and blessed our efforts to save souls. Churches were organized, and meetings houses were built.4
The new experience provided opportunities for her to think through just how to share the Adventist message cross-culturally.
Reflecting on a dream dating back to April 1, 1874, she had said, “You are entertaining too limited ideas of the work for this time…You must take broader views…The message will go in power to all parts of the world, to Oregon, to Europe, to Australia, to the islands of the sea.”5 Ellen White’s enthusiasm for sharing her convictions appears to have played a significant role in the expansion of the Adventist Church in the South Pacific. At the time of her arrival in Sydney, December 1891, the total membership of the church in Australia and New Zealand was 655 members (445 members in six churches in Australia and 210 members in four churches in New Zealand).6 At the time of Ellen White’s departure to America in 1900, the Adventist membership in the Australasian Union had increased to 2086 in forty-seven churches and fourteen companies. In New Zealand, it increased to 497 members.7 The 1900 General Conference Bulletin also reported the statistical data from missions on the Pacific Islands, Cook Islands, Fiji, Pitcairn, Samoa, and Tonga.8
While in Australia, Ellen White was instrumental in setting up a Bible school for missionary work (August 24, 1892), followed by the establishment of the educational institution known today as Avondale University College (1897). She inspired an interest in health care and healthful living. Her visionary impetus birthed the Health Home in Sydney (1896)9, the Health Retreat in Cooranbong (1899), the Sanitarium Health Foods (1898), the Health Food Cafes in Sydney (1902) and Auckland NZ (1907); finally, the Sydney Adventist Hospital (1903). In her mind, institutions had a part to play in the work of the Church. To accomplish this goal, she travelled widely. During the time of her stay in Australia, she visited New Zealand (1893) and Tasmania (1895), speaking at camp meetings, establishing churches, and sharing spiritual guidance.
In 1894, Ellen White played a part in setting up a new level of the organizational structure—the Australasian Union Conference. The added level of organization aimed to decentralize the responsibility of addressing and acting upon matters of local concern to “those on the ground.”10 Observing the first-hand benefits of the innovative change, prompted Ellen White later to call for reorganization at the 1901 General Conference Session. “The burden of the work in this broad field should not rest upon two or three men…God means what He says. He calls for a change.”11
Following a time of innovative planning that shaped the institutional direction in the South Pacific in 1902, Ellen White challenged the church to engage in an all-inclusive and collaborative involvement in mission. Under the banner of Christ’s extended hands to the world, she called for a harmonious unity. “Union with one another comes through union with Christ.”12 She encouraged institutions to maintain their identity without merging with another. In this context, she called for an all-inclusive engagement in service—pastors, medical doctors, nurses, teachers, students, and people from every profession and walk of life.13
However, her stay in Australia was not without cost. Reflecting on her Australian experience, she said, “Few, however, are familiar either with the self-sacrificing efforts that brought into existence the publishing-house, the school, and the sanitarium in Australia.”14 She was challenged by depression in the country, ongoing lack of finances, and even skepticism.
We have been toiling hard to lay the foundation of our work upon enduring principles, as Christ has given us. Our coming here to Australia was at a time when the banks were broken and means so very scarce that we not only have to give the Word of life but largely to provide food for the hungry and also to clothe those who need clothing. It has been a time of veriest poverty. I do hope and pray the Lord to provide us with the necessaries of life, that we can divide with the worthy, needy poor.15
Her Emphasis on Righteousness by Faith
Ellen White‘s first sermon preached in Sydney set the tone for her emphasis on righteousness by faith in the South Pacific. In a letter to O. A. Olsen, she wrote,
They [the audience] had never before heard words that gave them such hope and courage regard to justification by faith and the righteousness of Christ. They said they felt that the treasure house of truth had been opened before them, and the words had taken hold of their souls fill them with joy and peace and the love of God.16
Soon, the news about Christ’s righteousness and the transforming power of God’s grace spread through the pages of the Bible Echo and Signs of the Times directing the readers mind to a personal relationship with Christ. She wrote, “If you respond to the drawing of Jesus, you will not fail to have an influence on somebody through the beauty and power of the grace of Christ.”17
Ellen White’s ministry in Australia was characterized by helping a number of individuals to rediscover their value and potential. In a diary note dated December 27, 1891, she wrote, “I had great freedom in presenting the plan of salvation and the wondrous love of God for fallen man.” The theme of God’s love and the authenticity of her spiritual nurture created a bond between Ellen White and the infant Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia. The late Arthur Patrick compared this relational bond with the impact that a mother exerts on a young child.18
Ellen White’s departure from Australia in August 1900 was a sad time for many new members. During the nine years of her ministry, people felt the kindness of her loving care. The spirit of the loss was well summed up by Thomas Russell, a businessman in the village of Cooranbong. “Mrs. White’s presence in our village will be greatly missed. The widow and the orphan found in her a helper. She sheltered, clothed, and fed those in need, and where gloom was cast, her presence brought sunshine.”19
The Focus of Ellen White in Her Literary Output in the South Pacific and Its Contribution to Mission
In her classic book, The Desire of Ages (1898), completed in Australia, she called for spiritual refocus on God’s gift in Jesus. “Everyone needs to have a personal experience in obtaining a knowledge of the will of God. We must individually hear Him speaking to the heart. When every other voice is hushed, and in quietness, we wait before Him, the silence of the soul makes more distinct the voice of God.”20 In her understanding, the relational faith-oriented experience with Jesus opened the mind to the “many lessons to be learned from Christ, the Great Teacher.”21 In the same article, she highlighted the focal object of Christian spirituality. “Could our spiritual vision be opened, we would see that which would never be effaced from memory as long as life should last. We should see souls bowed under oppression, loaded with grief and pressed down as a cart beneath the sheaves, and ready to die in discouragement.”22 She then moved on to describe a picture of the missional God in action. “We should see angels flying swiftly to aid the tempted ones who stand as on the brink of a precipice.”23
At the same time as she was writing on the personal relationship of the believer with Christ, Ellen White was beginning to focus on another theme, the value of Christian education. Before the publication of the book Education in 1903, her son, W. C. White, wrote of the book: “more of the plan of redemption has been worked in by drawing from Mother’s published works, such as Patriarchs and Prophets, The Great Controversy, Desire of Ages, Mount of Blessing and Christ’s Object Lessons.”24 Ellen White called for a higher view of education.
Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range. There is a need of a broader scope, a higher aim. True education means more than the perusal of a certain course of study. It means more than preparation for the life that is now…It prepares the student for the joy of wider service in this world and the for the higher joy of service in the world to come.25
The Relationship Between Mission and Education
Ellen White’s connection with the South Pacific Islands was brief and transitory. On her way to Australia, the ship SS Alameda stopped briefly on the Island of Samoa. While the boats and canoes surrounded the ship to greet her, she remained on the boat. As described in the Bible Echo, January 1, 1892, the view of the island and people impressed her.
The harbor or bay of Apia is a beautiful expanse of water, shut in by coral reefs, over which the surf is constantly breaking. The island is clothed in the richest and most luxuriant verdure. The mountains rise almost from the water's edge; cocoa palms grow all along the shore and far up the mountainsides, which are clothed in green to the very summits.26
On her return to America, her contact with the Samoan land was more physical for she braved to step on the dry ground while two local men “crossed arms to make a chair for Ellen White and carried her to the beach.” Even though her contact with the Pacific Islands was brief, it ignited a commitment to mission that provided an indirect stimulus to the growth of the Church in the South Pacific Islands.
Naturally, as a new mission field, Australia provided an environment conducive to the advancement of Ellen White’s understanding of the bond between education and mission.
This bond was described in the 1892 edition of the Bible Echo. “With the great work before us of enlightening the world, we who believe the truth should feel the necessity of thorough education in the practical branches of knowledge, and especially our need of an education in the truth of the Scriptures.”27 The symbiotic relationship between mission and education was evident in the value she placed in training young men and women for “positions of usefulness and influence.”28 In the same publication, she applauded the opening of The Australasian Bible School29 in Melbourne, where, in the context of the local culture, students prepared for missionary work in Australia, New Zealand, Africa, India, China, and the islands of the sea. However, Ellen White promoted a wider view of the missionary engagement. If young people felt no burden to enter mission fields, it would be necessary for children to be educated as manufacturers, agriculturalists, mechanics, or some other professional calling to “become agents of the Lord for the dissemination of light and truth.” In this context, she leaned towards a localized view of the mission where schools aimed to educate children in other professions.30
The symbiotic relationship between education and mission developed while she was in Australia. On April 28, 1897, the Avondale school opened with a staff of six, ten students, and a visionary dream. Ellen White stated, “We must all work earnestly and intelligently to do the utmost to make this school as God would have it. No man’s notions are to be brought in here.’31 A year later, during the Week of Prayer, she spoke of benefits of the education at Avondale school different from all other schools. The view of ‘Higher Education’ implied a saving knowledge of Jesus and understanding that ‘service to God is to be brought into every occupation of life.’32 Service to God signified effective missionary engagement with the people where they are. The practical focus of her visionary dream aimed to reenergize students with a spiritually-oriented passion for mission and service enhancing spiritual authenticity, genuine relationships, professional development, and secure sense of identity. From the hub of a Christ-centered relationship, Ellen White contextualized the missional dimension of God-focused education.
The Fruit of Ellen White’s Ministry in the South Pacific Division
Ellen White’s time in the South Pacific encompassed an expansion of mission-focused infrastructure fostered by her tireless, self-sacrificing commitment to the ministry in the new field. It fostered the spirit of innovative thinking for life and mission in the changing world and inspired young people to travel far and wide to share the message of God’s love not only through proclamation, but by the deeds of loving care.
Her emphasis on human value, equality, justice, and fairness motivated the church to speak out on social issues. During her time in Australia, Ellen White wrote extensively on issues relating to colored races.33 In 1891 she wrote, “The Lord Jesus came to our world to save men and women of all nationalities. He died just as much for the colored people as for the white race. Jesus came to shed light over the whole world.”34 In 1896 she cautioned the church, “The walls of sectarianism and caste and race will fall down when the true missionary spirit enters the hearts of men. Prejudice is melted away by the love of God.”35 Even though she wrote openly on social injustice, she failed to address the abuses and mistreatment of the indigenous people in Australia. Yet, Ellen White’s voice motivated the Seventh-day Adventist Church to respond to this social evil. After her departure to America, The Bible Echo (August 19, 1901) published an editorial expressing a protest against the government abuses and mistreatment of the indigenous people. “Every opportunity should be improved to create a public sentiment against the brutal customs above described until the authorities take hold of the matter and inaugurate a vigorous reform. The blot is a foul on upon the country, and should be eradicated without delay.”36
Ellen White left her footprints in many areas of the progressively developing Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific. The South Pacific Division became the custodian of the legacy shaped by the voice of the inspired visionary thinker. It may be concluded that beside external walls, the bricks and mortar of the institutional structures, her voice ignited a fire of passion for a dynamic contextualization of the symbiotic relationship between mission and education as applied to innovative experimentation and application of God’s love in the changing world. In that sense, the vision of the South Pacific Division should always be inspired by Ellen White’s vision “You are entertaining too limited ideas of the work for this time…You must take broader views.”37
“Ill-Treatment of the Aboriginals.” The Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, August 19, 1901.
Patrick, Arthur. “Ellen White: Mother of the Church in the South Pacific.” Adventist Heritage. Spring, 1983.
Patrick, Arthur. “Ellen White’s Antipodean Exile, 1891-1900: Reflections of her Australian Years.” Adventist Studies. September 5, 2012. Accessed March 16, 2020.
Seventh-day Adventist Online Yearbook. Various years. http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Yearbooks.
“Summary of the Statistics of Conferences and Missions Year Ending December 31, 1900.” General Conference Bulletin 1901.
White, Arthur L. The Australian Years, 1891-1900. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1983.
White, Ellen. “Diary Notes.” Manuscript 89. January 4, 1900. Ellen G. White Estate Office.
White, Ellen. Education. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1903.
White, Ellen. Ellen G. White to J. H. Kellogg. Letter 84. October 5, 1898. Ellen G. White Estate Office.
White, Ellen. Ellen G. White to O. A. Olsen. Letter 21. December 31, 1891. Ellen G. White Estate Office.
White, Ellen. Ellen White to W. C. White. Letter 138, 1897. Ellen G. White Estate Office.
White, Ellen. “Enter the Cities” Manuscript 7. 1908, Ellen G. White Estate Office.
White, Ellen. Life Sketches. Mountain View: CA: Pacific Press, 1915.
White, Ellen. “Our Duty to Colored People.” Manuscript 6, November 4, 1889. Ellen G. White Estate Office.
White, Ellen. “Samoa and Auckland.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, January 1, 1892.
White, Ellen. “Talk by Mrs. White in College Library.” Manuscript 43. April 1, 1901. Ellen G. White Estate Office.
White, Ellen G. Testimonies for the Church. Vol. 7. Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1902.
White, Ellen. “The Bible Coloured People’s Hope.” ARH, January 14, 1896.
White, Ellen. The Desire of Ages. Mountain View: CA, Pacific Press, 1898.
White, Ellen. “The Need of Missionary Effort.” Manuscript 79. June 13, 1898. Ellen G. White Estate Office.
White, Ellen. “The Needs of the Cause in Australasia.” Written to Brethren and Sisters in America. June 11, 1903. Paragraph 2. Accessed December 19, 2019. https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/451.1#2000002
White, Ellen. “The Relation of Education to the Work of God.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, September 1, 1892.
White, Ellen. “To Abide in Christ the Will Must be Surrendered.” Signs of the Times, October 29, 1894.
White, Ellen. “Ye are Complete in Him.” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, January 15, 1892.
Seventh-day Adventist Online Yearbook, “Australasian Union Conference,” accessed February 18, 2020, http://documents.adventistarchives.org/Yearbooks/YB1894.pdf.↩
Ellen White, “The Needs of the Cause in Australasia,” written to Brethren and Sisters in America, June 11, 1903, paragraph 2, accessed December 19, 2019, https://m.egwwritings.org/en/book/451.1#2000002.↩
Arthur L. White, The Australian Years, 1891-1900 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1983), 15-18.↩
Ellen White, “The Needs of the Cause in Australasia), paragraph 2.↩
Ellen White, Life Sketches (Mountain View: CA: Pacific Press, 1915), 208-209.↩
“Report of Seventh-day Adventist Foreign Conference and Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1894), 86.↩
“Summary of the Statistics of Conferences and Missions Year Ending December 31, 1900,” General Conference Bulletin 1901, 162, 164.↩
Ellen G. White to J. H. Kellogg, Letter 84, October 5, 1898, Ellen G. White Estate Office.↩
Arthur L. White, The Australian Years, 1891-1900, 121.↩
Ellen White, “Talk by Mrs. White in College Library” Manuscript 43, April 1, 1901, Ellen G. White Estate Office.↩
Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 7 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1848), 171.↩
Ellen White, “Enter the Cities” Manuscript 7, 1908, Ellen G. White Estate Office.↩
Ellen White, “The Needs of the Cause in Australasia,” paragraph 1.↩
Ellen White, “Diary Notes,” Manuscript 89, January 4, 1900, Ellen G. White Estate Office.↩
Ellen White to O. A. Olsen, Letter 21, December 31, 1891 Ellen G. White Estate Office.↩
Ellen White, “Ye are Complete in Him,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, January 15, 1892, 80.↩
Arthur Patrick, “Ellen White: Mother of the Church in the South Pacific,” Adventist Heritage, Spring, 1993): 33.↩
Thomas Russell, Cooranbong, May 3, 1900. This note was written in an album given to Ellen White on her departure to America in August 1900.↩
Ellen White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View: CA, Pacific Press, 1898), 363.↩
Ellen White, “To Abide in Christ the Will Must be Surrendered,” Signs of the Times, October 29, 1894.↩
Arthur White, The Early Elmshaven Years (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1981), 181.↩
Ellen White, Education (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1903), 1`3.↩
Ellen White, “Samoa and Auckland” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, January 1, 1892.↩
Ellen White, “The Relation of Education to the Work of God,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, September 1, 1892.↩
The Australian Bible School opened on August 24, 1892 with presentations by A. G. Daniells, G. C. Tenney and Ellen White. Arthur White, The Australian Years 1891-1900 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1983), 43.↩
Ellen White, “The Relation of Education to the Work of God,” Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, September 1, 1892.↩
Ellen White to W. C. White, Letter 138, 1897, Ellen G. White Estate Office.↩
Ellen White, “The Need of Missionary Effort,” Manuscript 79, June 13, 1898, Ellen G. White Estate Office.↩
Ellen White, “The Bible Coloured People’s Hope,” ARH January 14, 1896, 1. Examples of other articles about the Southern Work were published in ARH, January 21, 1896, ARH, January 28, 1896, and ARH, February 4, 1896. Other articles appeared in Testimonies.↩
Ellen White, “Our Duty to Colored People” Manuscript 6, November 4 1889 [Prepared for tract, March 20, 1891.↩
Ellen White, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper,” January 21, 1896.↩
“Ill-Treatment of the Aboriginals,” The Bible Echo and Signs of the Times, August 19, 1901, 11.↩
Ellen White, Life Sketches (Mountain View: CA: Pacific Press, 1915), 208-209.↩