Open your digital news feed or view a mere 15 minutes in the 24-hour news cycle and it can bring even a stalwart heart to fear and doubt about the future. Yet in these times of tumult, uncertainty, and doubt, the Seventh-day Adventist Church offers a vision of truth, redemptive relationships, missionary purpose, and hope in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ to Earth. It is these core principles that continue to give us a sense of optimism when others falter.
This sense of hopefulness is in the DNA structure of our experience. In the Pacific Union Conference, purpose and meaning by service to others is who we have been from the beginning. This heritage of leadership inspires us to bravely face our challenges with the same commitment. We rejoice in the promise of Isaiah: “The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.… You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; and you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach” (Isaiah 58:11-12, NKJV). The four core principles of our heritage are revealed in the origin stories of the Adventist work in the West and beyond.
Seventh-day Adventists are a people who believe in truth. At no other time has this affirmation been more needed in our society. At a time of superstition and falsehoods about health and diet, our pioneers embraced concepts of healthful living and medicine that were progressive and rooted in the best science of their time. To think clearly and seek the facts wherever they may lead meant women and men sacrificed in creating an educational enterprise that purposed to have a membership to not be “mere reflectors of other men’s thoughts.” It was a love for truth that began our Adventist work in the frontier of California.
Merritt G. Kellogg was the oldest son of J.P. Kellogg. He came across the plains in a small wagon train in 1859, and after settling in San Francisco he began sharing his faith. In October 1865, Kellogg and a few believers from San Francisco sent a call along with $133 in gold to the General Conference, asking for evangelists to be sent. The reply came that they could not send anyone immediately; however, it seems they did keep the gold. Kellogg continued to press the case for the West—even traveling to the General Conference session to make a personal appeal. J.N. Loughborough and D.T. Bourdeau answered the call and arrived in 1868—packing a big tent for evangelism. They arrived in San Francisco by boat on July 18, 1868. Within a month of their arrival, they launched a series of tent meetings in Petaluma at the invitation of an Independent church. They then proceeded to hold meetings in four more communities in Northern California. As a result of their work, the first Seventh-day Adventist church in California was established and organized in Santa Rosa, California, in November 1869.
Seventh-day Adventists are a people who believe in the power of relationships. We are not hermits living in deserts or hiding out until the end of the world. From our very beginnings we have been engaged in the world around us for the glory of God. We echo the sentiment of Jesus when He witnessed the crowds around Him, “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36, ASV). Health seminars, personal Bible studies, religious liberty, and community services are just a few of the methods of intersection with the people around us. It was the power of literature ministry that opened the work for Hispanics in the United States right here in the Pacific Union.
In 1899, literature evangelists Walter Black and Charles Williams contacted a Methodist minister, Marcial Serna, the pastor of Tucson Mexican Methodist-Episcopal Church. Following a public debate, Serna accepted the Sabbath and then shared this truth with his members, many of whom also became Adventists. Eventually so many of the Methodists in Sanchez, Arizona, became Adventists that the Methodists gave them their church on the condition that the Adventists help them build a new one—and the church in Sanchez became the first Hispanic Adventist church in the United States. Pastor Serna became the first Hispanic pastor in the Adventist Church when he was granted a ministerial license by the General Conference. He continued to share his newfound beliefs with those he knew in Tucson, and many of them became Adventists, forming a second congregation of Hispanic believers. The work of God spread through the pioneering spirit of service and sacrifice by these faithful believers.
Seventh-day Adventists are a people who believe in the continued call for outreach and mission to “every kindred, tongue, and people.” One of the key developmental stages in a person is the discovery of one’s purpose for living. When you find that core drive for life, it animates every decision and action. What is true for an individual is also true for this church. Sharing with others the transforming power found in the message of Christ is the motivational core of every congregation and school and remains forefront in the minds of every board meeting, executive committee, and church function. It was desire for spreading the love of God to every person that pioneered the work for African American people in the Pacific Union and beyond.
Charles M. Kinny was born a slave in 1855 in Richmond, Virginia, and was 10 years old at the end of the Civil War. As a young man, he worked his way west to Reno, Nevada, and it was there on July 30, 1878, that he attended a meeting conducted by J.N. Loughborough. The guest speaker was Mrs. Ellen G. White—and she preached a sermon that Kinny would never forget. She records that “I spoke with freedom to about four hundred attentive hearers, on the words of John: ‘Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God’” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 296). Kinny was baptized on the last day of September and became a charter member of the Reno church. In 1883, church members in Reno, together with the California Conference, sent him to Healdsburg College (now Pacific Union College) for further education. Kinny became the first ordained African American pastor in the Adventist Church. He worked initially in Kansas and then throughout the South, with great success.
Seventh-day Adventists are a people who believe that history will not keep repeating itself ad nauseum with further sin and suffering. The Blessed Hope is faith that God will finish what He began—the restoration of Planet Earth from the wasteland of sin and suffering, back to the Garden of God. And the good news is that He wants to share it with everyone who is willing to accept the free offer of salvation provided through Jesus. It was this animating hope that opened the work of God for Asian-Pacific people in the Pacific Union and across the sea.
In 1892 a Japanese convert, T. H. Okahira, was baptized after public meetings in Paso Robles, California. He then went to Healdsburg College, and as a student there he led out in establishing the Golden Gate Japanese-English School in San Francisco. In 1894, at the close of the school year, he appealed for a volunteer to go with him to take the Adventist message to Japan. The president of the college, W. C. Grainger, responded. In 1896, they went as the first missionaries sent by the General Conference to Japan. In 1907 Okohira and H. Kuniya became the first ordained Japanese ministers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Okohira took part as a delegate during the General Conference sessions of 1913 and 1936. His son started the first Japanese church in Los Angeles.
When our hearts grow weary in doing good, we can remember the heritage of leadership in these stories. Like our spiritual mothers and fathers, we can continue to be animated by truth, redemptive relationships, the missionary purpose, and the hope in the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Your story and mine are ready to unfold!
Bradford C. Newton is the secretary and the ministerial director of the Pacific Union Conference.