I was born into a Seventh-day Adventist family right as World War II started. My family didn’t know all the health principles I know now, but the ones we knew we practiced diligently. We ate lots of fruits and vegetables, drank plenty of water, and got our exercise through hard work. We didn’t eat unclean meats, but had clean meats at almost every meal. We never had alcohol or caffeine, so I have never smoked or done drugs. I am grateful that I was raised to know these health principles and to follow these healthy habits.
What I Didn’t Know
But several things my family didn’t know about were the harmfulness of eating a lot of sugar and the blessings of a plant-based diet. One of my earliest memories is my father making punch for our meals. In my mind I still see the five-pound bag of white sugar under my father’s arm with the sugar streaming into the big pot full of water and ice, and my father stirring until he had a delectable ice-cold liquid. We each drank two or three glasses of ice-cold punch with our meals. For breakfast I wolfed down Frosted Flakes, after adding two or three tablespoons of sugar. The little white gooey residue left at the bottom of the bowl, made up of milk and sugar, we liked the most. But we didn’t know that we were harming ourselves. We just lived up to what we understood.
There was one total vegetarian (vegan) at our local church, Ebenezer in Philadelphia. Her name was Sister McCloud (back then young people didn’t know adults’ first names). She made delicious soy ice cream in the hot summers, a sure way to all our hearts. Sister McCloud was old enough to be my grandmother, but she was full of energy. One time while my father was walking the four flights of stairs from the church basement to the attic, Sister McCloud whizzed past him and was waiting for him in the attic. It was her energy that convinced my father, who did manual labor for a living, to become a vegetarian.
My father became a vegetarian first. It took me decades to finally become one. I loved meat. When I joined the General Conference Health and Temperance Department in 1983 as an associate director, my supervisor, Dr. Mervyn Hardinge, told me that he wanted me to read The Ministry of Healing, by Ellen White. I had grown up reading Sister White, but hadn’t read that.
While prayerfully reading The Ministry of Healing, I was strongly convinced that I must become a vegetarian. I was in my early 40s. I struggled at first and wondered whether I had enough self-control. The text that kept going through my mind was “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). I decided that being acceptable to God would be my highest priority.
Victories Through Christ
Shortly after I made my decision to be a vegetarian, I was invited to speak at a camp meeting. I spoke at the Sabbath service about my experiences in Africa as a missionary. I had many people who wanted to talk to me afterward, so was waylaid from a meal that I knew was awaiting me at a saint’s house.
When I finally arrived at the home where I was to eat, I knew I was in trouble. The barbecue meat smelled so good. The guests were eating it with such gusto and relish. I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and prayed fervently that I would have the power and self-control to resist it. I must have been in there a long time, because my wife came and knocked on the door and asked why I was taking so long. I told her my dilemma and asked her if she would pray with me and for me. We prayed together in that bathroom for God to give me the power and self-control to remain a vegetarian. I don’t know what happened, but when I came out of that bathroom, I no longer desired to eat any meat.
Little did I know that the Lord would lead me to another health adjustment. When I turned 76, I was almost 200 pounds and had become a diabetic. I happened upon several statements by Sister White advising two meals a day. I had been eating three meals a day my entire life. But as I had with meat, I prayed for strength to do what I believed God wanted me to do. I started to eat two meals a day instead of three. It wasn’t always easy—and I quickly realized how much I enjoyed eating and counted on each meal—but God helped me, and I quickly got used to it. I also prayed for special strength to stop eating sugar, my strong weakness. I replaced cookies and cakes with dates, raisins, and other healthy sweets. I also learned not to buy sugary desserts and bring them home, where they would be a constant temptation.
In a short while I lost 30 pounds. Most incredibly, I no longer had diabetes. Under my doctor’s supervision, I was able to discontinue the blood pressure, cholesterol, and stress medications I had been taking for years. To me it was a miracle! We need knowledge, but knowledge is not enough. Peter advises that we should add to our knowledge self-control (2 Peter 1:5, 6). Temperance or self-control is a fruit of the Spirit and a gift from God (Gal. 5:23). God is willing to give us this gift if we ask Him for it. We need a power that comes from above to help us implement our knowledge. Thankfully, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7, ESV).