James White stepped purposefully onto the train, a silent prayer ascending for God to lead him to a soul in need. He strode through each car, his earnest eyes scanning the faces of the people on the backless benches. He was looking for “some individual whose face seemed to indicate that the Holy Spirit was working on his heart.”[1] Suddenly his eyes lit up and a smile spread beneath his beard. He hurried to the empty seat beside a young man hunched over his trunk.

“Hello there! May I sit beside you?”

The youth gave a slight nod. James seated himself and they began to converse. By the end of the train ride, they were friends and the young man had accepted Jesus as his personal Savior. Joy filled them both as they parted.

Elder James White, co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, was a passionate missionary for Christ throughout his long life of service. Witnessing on the train was just one of the ways he sought to share the good news of the gospel. His missionary endeavors included extensive traveling and preaching, establishing the Seventh-day Adventist publishing work, setting up church organization, and serving as General Conference president on three separate occasions.

Yet James was not always so focused for Christ. He began life sickly and skeptical. As a boy, he was often ill and so cross-eyed that he could barely read. At age 19, his health and eyesight sufficiently improved allowing him to attend school for 12 weeks. By studying 18 hours a day he learned enough to earn his teaching certificate and become a teacher. Sometime later he attended an advanced school for 17 weeks. “I have attended high school, in all, twenty-nine weeks,” he wrote, “and the entire cost of tuition, books, and board, has not exceeded fifty dollars.”[2]

James was quite skeptical when his mother introduced him to the Advent message.

It wasn’t long, however, before he became convinced that Jesus would return in 1844. He shared the good news with his students and many of them were converted. Convinced that he “must immediately go out into the great harvest-field”, he prepared three sermons and set out in the dead of winter to preach in the neighboring towns. One thousand people accepted Christ through his preaching.

1844 passed and James “wept like a baby” that Christ did not return. Yet his faith was undimmed. He and his new wife, Ellen Harmon, joined other Advent believers in continuing to study God’s Word. They discovered new truths which convinced them that they were following God.

James and Ellen worked constantly for other’s salvation, often denying themselves of necessities in order to put more into God’s work. James “suffered from dyspepsia and overwork and was often weak from hunger because of his poverty… Yet he worked, traveled, preached and wrote constantly. ‘God forbid that I should fold my arms in lazy-lock while sinners are sinking to eternal night,’ he said.”[3]

To James, it was the greatest joy to give all for God. “I rejoice today that ease, pleasure and comfort in this life are a sacrifice on the altar of my faith and hope… The true disciple will not live to gratify beloved self, but for Christ, and for the good of His little ones,” [4] he concluded.


[1] Ochs, Daniel & Grace, The Past and the Presidents, Southern Adventist Publishing Association, p. 29

[2] James White, Life Incidents [Paradise Press, 1972], p. 14

[3] Ochs, Daniel & Grace, The Past and the Presidents, Southern Adventist Publishing Association, p. 29-30

[4] Ibid., p. 24

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