The Melody Lingers On Seventy-five Years Later

The Melody Lingers On. . . Seventy-five Years Later

IT IS Sunday afternoon. Outside, the summer sun is gently toasting the landscape a golden brown. It is not an oppressive day, but rather cooler than you could reasonably expect for this time of the year. . .

-editor of the Australian Signs of the Times at the time this article was written

IT IS Sunday afternoon. Outside, the summer sun is gently toasting the landscape a golden brown. It is not an oppressive day, but rather cooler than you could reasonably expect for this time of the year. I am in my office at the publishing house, pounding the type writer in a hopeless effort to beat the December 31 deadline for this article (it is now January 12; I told you it was hopeless). Suddenly I am conscious of what we in this part of the world refer to as "a good Seventh-day Adventist smell." I sniff the atmosphere as genteelly as possible, and smile a satisfied smile. That smell is life, health, employment, and wings-to-the-gospel. It is the aroma, the warm, always-to-me-mouth-watering aroma of breakfast biscuits cooking.

Sometimes I hear an occasional person question the spiritual gift that most of us colloquially refer to as "the Spirit of Prophecy." Put frankly, the great majority of Adventists ascribe to the writings of Ellen White an extraordinary authority that is more than human. Just now and again, I say, I hear of someone who questions the prophetic gift. Then I remember the odor of those breakfast biscuits baking, and any doubts that I might have entertained dissolve forthwith. For, you see, it was none other than Ellen White who had a major hand in establishing the healthy giant that now bestrides the breakfast-food market in the South Pacific like a colossus.

How would a woman, relatively unversed in the toils and mills of the business world, pull out of the air an idea that we here, in these faraway antipodes, ought to be gin a health-food manufacturing business? What is more, how could she have the temerity to promise that it would be a success? Only because the idea was not hers, and because it came to her from a Source that was more than earthly.

Soon after she returned to America from her nine years in Australia, the Lord's messenger coined a phrase that we cherish over here. She referred to the health food work as "God's gift to His people" (Testimonies, vol. 7, p. 128). We remember this, and how true it is! How the division treasurer must mull pleasantly over this phrase every time he takes his annual budget to the division committee. Every year there is that more-than-a-million good, healthy Australian dollars given for him to build into his mission budget. (I'm sorry to mention this, but an Australian dollar is, at the time of writing, worth about $1.30 U.S., hence my adjectives above.)

Of course, dollars and cents are not everything. Think of the 1,400 employees of this fine company, more than 95 per cent of whom are church members. Think of the tithe these men and women pay; consider the help they give to the churches where they worship; contemplate the leadership, the business acumen, the expertise they can contribute to conference committees, to church boards, to building committees, to school boards, and dozens of other areas. Then ask yourself, How come Australia has this excellent organization? The answer is simple: Ellen White was here.

Avondale College

It's funny how your train of thought can be sidetracked by an appetizing smell. Here was I, in tending to tell you about the influence of Ellen White in Australia today and intending, too, to begin with her founding of Avondale College at Cooranbong, New South Wales, when that luscious aroma came floating through the window, and half my manuscript was written before I came back to earth. So now to the college.

I wish you could all visit Avondale College (formerly called Australasian Missionary College before the days when the middle word of its name became offensive to some ears and before that the Avondale School for Christian Workers). I would like to take you to the road that runs past the auditorium-gymnasium and show you a monument. This is a monument to a furrow, believe it or not!

You see, in the early days of our work here, Ellen White set about finding a site for a school where workers could be trained. She and her counseling brethren looked at several locations, but somehow none of them seemed satisfactory. Eventually, they came to a tiny hamlet with the unlikely name of Cooranbong and inspected a property of some 1,500 acres. Ellen White recognized it immediately. She had seen it in a vision. Moreover, she had seen a furrow plowed in a part of it. They inspected the property and, behold, there was the furrow in a place where no one in his right mind would have put a horse and a plow. That was the furrow; this was the place the Lord had designated as the location for the training school for His workers in this field.

But visions were one thing; plain common sense was another, and when you allied it to scientific analysis, you had better take care. Again men of authority spoke from the depths of their wisdom. "This place," said one profoundly, "would not support a bandicoot." (A bandicoot is an Australian marsupial varying, according to species, from mouse-size to cat-size and a member of the kangaroo family; they are generally regarded as pests; their dietary needs are small, and they are mostly vegetarian.) It was not, therefore, a happy prognosis.

Ellen White, however, was in touch with a higher authority. Bandicoots are not! Then some wise head suggested that they send a sample of the soil to the government analyst (or some such unimpeachable and impartial soul) to find out what the future of the Cooranbong property would be as far as farming was concerned. Again the answer was discouraging. But Ellen White had seen the furrow. She KNEW. Soil analysis and bandicoots notwithstanding, she insisted, and the property was acquired, she her self settling in the district and taking a hand in the establishment of the school itself.

What prompted Ellen White to fly in the face of such good counsel? Listen: "When we were talking about this land, it was said, 'Nothing can be raised here.' 'Nevertheless,' I said, 'the Lord can spread a table in the wilderness.' Under His direction food will go a long way. When we place ourselves in right relation to Him, He will help us, and the food we eat in obedience to Him will satisfy us. . . . And if it is for His glory, He can multiply it." --Counsels on Health, p. 495.

Sunnyside and Missionary Spirit

The fact that Ellen White settled at Sunnyside, just outside the college estate, and hence was on hand to guide in its early development, has set the seal, I believe, on the missionary spirit with which the Avondale students are still imbued.

In Papua New Guinea, it took twenty-two years to win the first twenty-one converts. In 1973 in that difficult field they baptized 3,013 precious souls. The Adventist Church is strong in the South Pacific. It is because at Avondale College, right from the outset, the students' sights were set upon these far-from-romantic areas. Actually, the people there, steeped in heathenism, degraded, hopeless, and, in many places, dying out because of their primitive and unhygienic ways, were unpromising subjects for the missionary's zeal. But God's Spirit is not inhibited by Satan's strangle hold on either an individual or a nation.

Today, whole islands, in some parts, are Seventh-day Adventist, to the last inhabitant! Today their happy faces shine with the hope that the everlasting gospel has brought them. And though they never saw her, these people have Ellen White to thank that the mes sage of salvation came to them, and that discouragement was never allowed to dull the edge of the missionary's vision.

But back to the college for a moment. It ought to be said that this college was not just a stereotype of American schools. On the contrary, Ellen White explicitly stated that here was a college that was to be different. After her return to America, Ellen White wrote, "When we were laboring to establish the educational work in Australia, the Lord revealed to us that this school must not pattern after any schools that had been established in the past. This was to be a sample school. It was organized on the plan that God had given us, and He has prospered His work." --Counsels to Teachers, p. 533.

Of course, the student who leaves the halls of Avondale College today is a different person from the ones Ellen White knew. But the fundamental missionary spirit is still there. Take, for in stance, a couple of young people I know very well. Bill Townend was our assistant pastor here in Warburton in 1972, 1973. He was tall, young, vigorous, and the young people loved him. His tiny wife taught school here for a year or so. They were popular; they had, in the last months while they were here, a baby girl. Bill was doing an excellent work among the young people. Seventeen were baptized as a result of his work in the second year he was here.

Then, out of the blue, a call came to Bill. Fly the mission plane, stationed at Menyamya, in the highlands of New Guinea. Be one with the other mission pilots, Bruce Roberts, Colin Winch, Ray Newman; follow in the footsteps of the pioneer pilot of New Guinea, Pastor Len Barnard.

"WHAA-AAT! ME?" cried Bill when he first heard. "Not me, please, not me!" And when he told Robina, his little wife, who looks so frail and young, I have the vague feeling that she shed a tear or two, and I know that she wouldn't have chosen to take her little 3-month-old baby into the wilds of the New Guinea mountains, and spend days and nights alone while Bill was on patrol. But they went. And they went with a smile, and Robina (who never drove their car over the black, sealed roads at home) now drives the Land Rover over roads the like of which you never saw even in your worst nightmare, and Bill flies that tiny insect of a plane over the toughest, roughest ter rain in the whole world.

Why did they go? Because they are students of the college that Ellen White founded, where they caught a vision, where the college motto still is "For a Greater Vision of World Needs." I like to think that Ellen White would have nodded approvingly had she been here to hear of their call and their acceptance. I believe that she would have smiled indulgently on two people who, young and in experienced and unworthy to be missionaries as they thought themselves to be, took up the challenge and answered the call.

Ellen White has left these shores these seventy-five years. But the melody of her influence lingers on. This field today has the highest concentration of Adventists per thousand of population of any division in the world. The constituency, both the white people in Australia and New Zealand and their darker-skinned brethren in the South Pacific, are solidly for the writings of the Lord's messenger. The reason is not hard to find: She came here; she lived among us; her memorials---such as the college and the health food work are all about us.


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-editor of the Australian Signs of the Times at the time this article was written

August 1975

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