Alberto R. Timm, PhD, is the associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate, Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.

Unconditional commitment and self-sacrifice for the cause they embraced constantly drove our early Adventist missionaries. For example, W. H. Anderson (1870–1950), while still a student at Battle Creek College in Michigan, yearned to be in the mission field. In 1895 he married Nora Haysmer, and shortly after that, the young couple said goodbye to their loved ones and started their long journey to Cape Town, South Africa. From there, they traveled with a small group of missionaries 800 miles by train to Mafeking and 600 miles by ox wagon to Matabeleland, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). There they established the Matabele (Solusi) Mission.

But their mission endeavor ended up being more costly than they imagined. First, clouds of locusts attacked their early crops. In March 1896, the Second Matabele War erupted with all its horrors and famine. Then in early 1898, a severe outbreak of malaria hit the region. Within three months, five of the small missionary team had already died, three had gone to the African coast, and Anderson and his wife remained alone at the station.

The next year, on a long trip, Anderson became very sick. One evening, he told the locals who had accompanied him that most probably he would not live through the night. So, they should dig his grave under a nearby tree, sew him up in his blankets, and bury him there. Then they should tell his wife, baby, and the others at the mission station not to abandon the work in the country because he had died. His grave at the side of the road should mark the way for other missionaries into that new territory.1

Anderson recovered from his illness. But some years later, his wife contracted malaria. He took her to Kimberley, a long trip of 1,600 miles by train. Nora told her husband, “Harry, I want you to take that train tonight, and go back to the mission. There are those boys and girls we have gathered at the mission station. Who will take care of them? Harry, you must do it.” With a heavy heart, Anderson packed up his things and rode the train back to the mission, not knowing that he would never see her again. A month later, she went to the Cape Town Sanitarium. Realizing that she had no chance to live, she wrote to her husband, “Take care of Naomi [their little girl]; stay by the mission, and make it all we have planned, under God, it should be.”2

Reflecting on the challenges of carrying the Adventist message to the most remote places of the world, Anderson stated in 1919, “Every mission station has its cemetery, where laborers are resting. Every new field that is open to the gospel, plants a grave by the way, to direct future laborers to the field.”3

Why have so many people sacrificed their own resources and even their own lives for this cause? What lessons can we learn from their experiences?

Christ’s cheering example

Brave missionaries such as W. H. Anderson have transformed the history of the world as they carried the gospel into the most remote places of the globe. The book of Hebrews speaks of those who suffered for God’s cause as people “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38). But the moving force that leads people to dedicate their lives and possessions to God’s cause is the supreme sacrifice that Christ made for the human race (Phil. 2:5–11). Bought by His blood, Christ’s followers no longer belong to themselves but rather to Him and His saving mission (1 Cor. 6:19, 20; Gal. 2:20).

The apostle Paul expressed this as being the driving force of all his missionary endeavors. Recalling his dramatic experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1–9), he stated that he “was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19).4 Writing to the church in Corinth, he confessed that “the love of Christ compels us” first to reconcile ourselves with God and then to be “ambassadors for Christ,” pleading with others to have the same vital experience (2 Cor. 5:14–21).

In his exhortations to the Ephesian elders (see Acts 20:17–38), Paul presented one of the most insightful portrayals of what the gospel ministry is all about. Among several other aspects, he revealed his unselfish attitude: “I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel” (v. 33). He also revealed his altruistic motivation: “And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (vv. 22–24).

One could mention many other names, but that of David Livingstone (1813–1873) especially stands out. On Friday, December 4, 1857, he delivered a lecture at the University of Cambridge, England. Toward the end of it, he stated with conviction, “People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? . . . Away with the word [sacrifice] in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. . . . I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which He made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us.”5

A renewed motivation

With such inspiring examples challenging us even today, why do we tend to live and minister as if our mission were fulfilled? Oswald J. Smith (1889–1986) touched the core of the problem when he wrote, “If soul-winning is the most important work of the church, it naturally follows that Satan will do all he can to get us side-tracked or satisfied with something else. And such is the case.”6 But Ellen G. White says that the same commitment and motivation that compelled the apostolic church and the Adventist pioneers will take over the church at the end of time.

In her classic book The Great Controversy, White declares, “The great work of the gospel is not to close with less manifestation of the power of God than marked its opening. . . .

“Servants of God, with their faces lighted up and shining with holy consecration, will hasten from place to place to proclaim the message from heaven. By thousands of voices, all over the earth, the warning will be given.”7 Here is a picture of the final outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28–32), when people will devote themselves, as well as their means and possessions, fully to the Lord and His cause.

Unfortunately, a strong tendency places this eschatological scenario in a quite distant future. But regardless of when it will be wholly fulfilled, our personal commitment should not reflect any procrastination. In reality, “there is a great and important work to be accomplished in a very short time. God never designed that the law of the tithing system should be of no account among His people; but, instead of this, He designed that the spirit of sacrifice should widen and deepen for the closing work.”8

In 1854 Ellen G. White sent a letter to the church in Bedford, Michigan. She stated, “There is too much of a feeling like this: My time is my own; but it is not so. It is not your own. You are bought with a price, and are soldiers, and you must be ever at your post, wherever it is, at home or abroad. Idleness and slothfulness God abhors. Ease and love of self-gratification must be overcome and all must have a spirit of sacrifice. . . .

“. . . O, it behooved Christ to suffer all this to make a way of escape for lost man! He was the innocent Sufferer, and shall we dare to complain of any sacrifice we have made or can make? Shall we murmur who shall suffer something for our own sins? O, no! Let us crave the suffering part.

“Brethren and sisters in Bedford, learn to suffer more. Learn to deny yourselves more. There is need of it. Die to self. Do not love your ease too much. Have energy in your daily labors and energy in the cause of God. Your reward is not here. Jesus has purchased for us an immortal inheritance and for that we can endure anything. O what love, what wondrous love has been manifested us by the Beloved of the Father! O, do not, any of you, neglect the preparation necessary, and finally be weighed in the balances and found wanting!”9 Such timeless counsel is pertinent to our own generation and perhaps even to us individually!

Unquestionably, God expects from us a full and unreserved commitment to Him and His cause. But remember that He does not require from us anything beyond our potential and abilities. In 1875 Ellen White warned, “Men and women who love the cause of God as they do their lives will pledge upon these occasions [at the camp meetings], when their families must suffer for the very means that they have promised to give to advance the cause. Our God is not a taskmaster and does not require the poor man to give means to the cause that belongs to his family and that should be used to keep them in comfort and above pinching want.”10


We began with the story of W. H. Anderson, and we will conclude with him also. In the last paragraph of his autobiography, titled On the Trail of Livingstone, Anderson says, “I have given my money, my strength, my wife, and I intend to give the rest of my poor self to finish the work God has given me to do. I want you who read these lines to ask yourself that question, ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?’ ”11

May the Lord help us also to overcome our natural selfishness and materialist tendencies, and to fully dedicate ourselves—including all our talents and possessions—to Him and His cause. Let’s live in this world a decent life, demonstrating by all that we do, that our most important investments are “ ‘in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal’ ” (Matt. 6:19–21).

  1. W. H. Anderson, On the Trail of Livingstone (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1919), 136, 175, 176.
  2. Anderson, 348–351.
  3. Anderson, 329.
  4. Scripture is from the New King James Version.
  5. Dr. Livingstone’s Cambridge Lectures, ed. William Monk(Cambridge, UK: Deighton, Bell, 1858), 23.
  6. Oswald J. Smith, The Man God Uses (New York, NY: Christian Alliance, 1925), 95.
  7. Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911), 611, 612.
  8. Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3 (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1872), 396.
  9. The Ellen G. White Letters and Manuscripts With Annotations, 1845–1859, vol. 1 (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 2014), 440, 441.
  10. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, 410, 411.
  11. Anderson, Trail of Livingstone, 351. It should be noted that the spirit of sacrifice in the Seventh-day Adventist Church has, from its inception, been a multiracial enterprise. See James R. Nix and Fylvia Fowler (eds.), The Spirit of Sacrifice and Commitment: Experiences of Seventh-day Adventist Pioneers (Nampa, ID: Pacific Press, 2000); Samuel G. London, Jr. Seventh-day Adventists and the Civil Rights Movement (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2010); Carol Howard Hammond, Precious Memories of Missionaries of Color, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (Fort Oglethorpe, GA: TEACH Services, Inc., 2019); DeWitt S. Williams, Precious Memories of Missionaries of Color, vol. 2 (Fort Oglethorpe, GA: TEACH Services, Inc., 2016) and “Chronological Listing of African American Missionaries,”, accessed July 21, 2020,— The Editors.

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