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Heber H. Votaw.

Photo courtesy of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives.

Votaw, Heber Herbert (1881–1962)

By Thang Suan Suum, and Suak Khaw Ngin

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Thang Suan Sum is a doctoral student at the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Cavite, Philippines.

Suak Khaw Ngin was born in Chin State, Myanmar; he has been a pastor, teacher, principal, departmental director, and a seminary professor. He holds a BA in Religion from the Myanmar Union Adventist Seminary and a MA in Education from the Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Philippines. He was ordained to the ministry in 2003. Together with his wife, Pau Za Dim, a son and three daughters, he lives in Myaungmya.

Heber Herbert Votaw was an evangelistic pastor, writer, thinker, leader of the world church, and motivator of the young people.

Early Life

Heber Herbert Votaw was born on March 3, 1881, in West Mansfield, Ohio, United States of America.1 His parents were Lewis Votaw and Angelina L. Curl. When he was born, his mother was a Seventh-day Adventist, but his father died before he heard of the Adventist truth. Heber converted to the Adventist faith in 1898 through his parents’ teaching and the influence of the church school. He was baptized by Elder E. J. VanHorn at Van Wert County, Ohio.2

Education and Marriage

Heber attended 6th to 9th grade at the church school in Battle Creek, Michigan, from 1893-1897 and then transferred to Mt. Vernon Academy to attend 10th-12th grade. He then attended George Washington University and received his bachelor of arts degree in 1920. He also received an education diploma.

After completing higher studies, Heber H. Votaw and Carolyn Harding (born October 21, 1879), daughter of Dr. and Mrs. George Tryon Harding from Mount Vernon, Ohio, were married in Marion, Ohio, on August 5, 1903. The couple did not have children.3

Ministry

From the early part of 1902-1903, Heber Herbert Votaw was a colporteur and did Bible work for a living in Ohio. He then became a tent master for M. C. Kirkendall and J. O. Miller in the autumn of 1904.4 Since the Votaws were a couple who hungered for lost souls,5 they soon left for India to serve the missionary work in Burma. Since October 2 was their last Sabbath in their native land, Votaw spoke at Elgin Church’s Sabbath evening program, and many of his friends listened to his last message before his departure. A financial contribution was collected for the Indian field, and they received $19.75 USD. A church sister who was a widow had also previously donated $25.00 USD, making a total fund collection of $44.75 USD.6

The Votaws left the New York dockyard for India via London on October 15, 1904, in the evening and sailed by the steamship, “Finland of the Red Star Line.” As the ship left the dockyard, many bitterly cried because they knew they might not see their loved ones again. God gave the Votaws peace of mind; they knew that they might not see their home again but were certain of God’s rule over all kingdoms of men from one side of the world to the other. The couple gave Bible studies on board the ship.7 In 1905, Votaw wrote a letter to W. A. Barlow about his first devotional meeting with one indigenous Santhal Indian.8

On January 14, 1904,9 the Votaws reached the city of Rangoon, Burma, and met the pioneering colporteur, H. B. Meyers, and U Maung Maung, the first Burmese believer.10 In 1906, after two full weeks of Bible instruction from Elder Votaw, he baptized “seven Burmese souls.”11 In September 1907, James E. Shultz met the Votaws in Burma and helped them organize a Seventh-day Adventist church among the Burmese.12

Alfred H. Williams arrived in Rangoon to work for a British firm in 1906. Within a few months of his arrival, he came in contact with the pioneering missionaries, the Votaws. That led to Williams’s study of the Adventist faith, and, as a result, he was baptized in 1910. In the same year, Williams met and married Mabel Harcourt, another early Adventist convert who had studied with the Votaws.13 In 1909, under the Votaw’s leadership, there were over 50 Sabbath school members in Rangoon, the capital of Burma.14

In 1912, Elder Votaw extended the worship meeting hall to double its size and had electric ceiling fans installed.15 Under Elder Votaw’s leadership, the Rangoon English Church was attended by people from Chinese, Punjabi, Madrasi, and European backgrounds. The first Telegu convert to the Seventh-day Adventist faith was baptized then. Also, in 1913, a self-supporting mission station opened in the southern part of the Shan States.16 In Myaingalay, Burma’s mission president, Elder Votaw, baptized two Pwo Karens in the summer of 1914. The new believers stood firm and faithful in sharing the Adventist truth with their neighbors.17

On July 1, 1914, the Votaws left for the United States of America via Mumbai on furlough due to his health, which began declining during the winter of the previous year.18 Shortly after arriving, Elder Votaw served as an acting pastor in Columbus, Ohio. He served in that capacity for almost two years.19 Many church members were encouraged by listening to Elder Votaw’s recollections in the mission field.20

In June 1915, after conducting a tent-effort meeting in Columbus, Ohio, Elder Votaw baptized a husband and wife.21 He then taught “Bible and Mission” at Washington Missionary College for two years. In 1917-1918, he assisted Dr. Harding in establishing the Harding Sanitarium. He served as Dr. Harding’s secretary from 1918-1921. Elder Votaw was appointed director of a federal prison from 1921-1925. He was appointed service manager for a sanitarium in Washington, D.C., from 1925-1926.22 In 1926, Elder Votaw was appointed associate secretary of the department of religious liberty of the General Conference, and, while in that position, he conducted various weeks of prayer at several places, one of which was Southern Junior College in Collegedale, Tennessee.23

Later Life

In 1947, Elder Votaw was the secretary of the church’s international religious liberty association of the General Conference.24 At the same time, he was the editor of “Liberty Magazine.”25

On October 22, 1951, his wife, Carolyn Votaw, suddenly passed away in Washington, D.C.26 She supported her husband’s ministry in every way possible. While editing “Liberty Magazine” (1942-1954), Elder Votaw was a coeditor of the book, “American State Papers and Related Documents on Freedom in Religion,” and authored “Your Freedom and Mine.”27

The Votaws lived at 7633 Caroll Avenue in Takoma Park, Maryland.28 Elder Heber Herbert Votaw passed away on October 7, 1962, at age 81, in Washington Sanitarium in the District of Columbia.29

Legacy

Though his health did not allow Elder Heber Herbert Votaw to spend his later years in Burma, the Votaws committed their entire lives to the Lord’s work. Elder Votaw will be remembered as the first president of the mission field in Burma. He left innumerable blessings in a way that the people of Burma came to know the Adventist truth through him. The blueprint of his work ethic is still seen today as he built the bridge of relationships with the country’s governing body.

Sources

2nd Mission Quarterly, April 19, 1941.

Guild, C. B. Southern Asia Tidings. June 1965.

Guild, Nora, editor. Southern Asia Tidings. May 1, 1974.

Hagmann, Olive Krum. Columbia Union Visitor. June 17, 1915.

Kohn, Diana. “Takoma Archives.” Historic Takoma. Accessed September 25, 2019. https://www.historictakoma.org/voice/WhiteHouse0206.pdf.

Lawrence, N. W., editor. The Welcome Visitor. June 8, 1904.

Little, J. C., editor. Eastern Tidings. April 1, 1906.

Little, J. C., editor. Eastern Tidings. September 18, 1907.

Loewen, M. E. Review and Herald. October 18, 1962.

Ludington, D. C. Southern Tidings. December 15, 1937.

Personal Appointee File. Accessed September 24, 2019. General Conference Archives, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA.

Salisbury, H. R. Eastern Tidings. July 15, 1914.

Samraj, E. “1910 Heritage Issues.” Southern Asia Tidings. November-December 2010.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1966.

Shultz, James E. and Bessie E. Russell, editor. The Welcome Visitor. October 12, 1904.

Shultz, James E. and Bessie E. Russell, editor. The Welcome Visitor. November 16, 1904.

Shultz, James E. and Bessie E. Russell, editor. The Welcome Visitor. February 15, 1905.

Shultz, James E. and Bessie E. Russell, editor. The Welcome Visitor. February 22, 1905.

Slades, E. K. Columbia Union Visitor. December 16, 1914.

Smouse, A. R. Northern Union Outlook. March 18, 1947.

Votaw, Heber Herbert. “Superintendent’s Bi-annual Report.” January 15, 1913.

White, J. Ina. Eastern Tidings. November 15, 1951.

Williams, A. H. Eastern Tidings. May 1914.

Notes

  1. E. Samraj, “1910 Heritage Issues,” Southern Asia Tidings, November-December 2010, 25.

  2. Personal Appointee File, accessed September 24, 2019, General Conference Archives, Silver Spring. Maryland, USA.

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid.

  5. N. W. Lawrence, ed., The Welcome Visitor, June 8, 1904, 4.

  6. James E. Shultz, Bessie E. Russel, ed., The Welcome Visitor, October 12, 1904, 2.

  7. James E. Shultz, Bessie E. Russel, ed., The Welcome Visitor, November 16, 1904, 2.

  8. James E. Shultz, Bessie E. Russel, ed., The Welcome Visitor, February 15, 1905.

  9. Personal Appointee File, accessed September 24, 2019, General Conference Archives.

  10. James E. Shultz, Bessie E. Russel, ed., The Welcome Visitor, February 22, 1905, 1.

  11. J. C. Little, ed., Eastern Tidings, April 1, 1906, 5.

  12. J. C. Little, ed., Eastern Tidings, September 18, 1907, 1.

  13. Nora Guild, ed., Southern Asia Tidings, May 1, 1974, 5.

  14. 2nd Mission Quarterly, April 19, 1941, 3.

  15. C. B. Guild, Southern Asia Tidings, June 1965, 5.

  16. Heber Herbert Votaw, “Superintendent’s Bi-annual Report,” January 15, 1913.

  17. A. H. Williams, Eastern Tidings, May 1914, 7.

  18. H. R. Salisbury, Eastern Tidings, July 15, 1914, 8.

  19. Personal Appointee File, accessed September 24, 2019, General Conference Archives.; and E. K. Slades, Columbia Union Visitor, December 16, 1914, 4.

  20. Personal Appointee File, accessed September 24, 2019, General Conference Archives.

  21. Olive Krum Hagmann, Columbia Union Visitor, June 17, 1915, 4.

  22. Personal Appointee File, accessed September 24, 2019, General Conference Archives.

  23. D. C. Ludington, Southern Tidings, December 15, 1937, 8.

  24. A. R. Smouse, Northern Union Outlook, March 18, 1947, 3.

  25. M. E. Loewen, Review and Herald, October 18, 1962, 28.

  26. J. Ina White, Eastern Tidings, November 15, 1951, 8.

  27. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1966), 1384.

  28. Diana Kohn, “Takoma Archives,” Historic Takoma, accessed September 25, 2019, https://www.historictakoma.org/voice/WhiteHouse0206.pdf.

  29. Loewen, 28.

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Suum, Thang Suan, Suak Khaw Ngin. "Votaw, Heber Herbert (1881–1962)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. June 01, 2020. Accessed September 25, 2020. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=EI37.

Suum, Thang Suan, Suak Khaw Ngin. "Votaw, Heber Herbert (1881–1962)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. June 01, 2020. Date of access September 25, 2020, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=EI37.

Suum, Thang Suan, Suak Khaw Ngin (2020, June 01). Votaw, Heber Herbert (1881–1962). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved September 25, 2020, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=EI37.