Justin Torossian may be best known for being the great-great-great-grandson of James and Ellen White, cofounders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
But the 29-year-old pastor studying at Andrews University spoke humbly about his prominent family tree, saying in an e-mail interview that Ellen G. White correctly wrote in Christ’s Object Lessons: “Christ recognized no virtue in lineage. He taught that spiritual connection supersedes all natural connection” (p. 268).
“In other words, if you believe in God's prophetic gift through Ellen White, then you are her descendant spiritually,” Torossian said. “And according to Jesus Himself (John 8:39-40) as well as Ellen White, this is what counts the most.”
Torossian, a California native who is assisting a local Spanish-speaking church in Michigan while studying for a Masters of Divinity degree at nearby Andrews, said he does consider it a privilege to be a biological descendant of the Whites.
“But I’m even more grateful to be related to them spiritually,” he said. ”And that’s a privilege that all of us can have no matter what family we were born into physically. She can be ‘Grandma Ellen’ to all of us!”
Torossian — who is scheduled to graduate in May 2016 and return to ministry in central California as the pastor of a two-church district — said his personal dream is to see Jesus come in his lifetime and to witness those he has helped lead to Christ caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.
“When we get to heaven, after seeing Jesus and meeting my guardian angel, I can't wait to meet Grandpa James and Grandma Ellen!” he said.
Here is what Torossian said in a far-ranging interview about Ellen White and her influence on his life.
Q: How exactly are you related to Ellen White?
James and Ellen are my great-great-great grandparents. Of their two surviving sons, Willie was the only one who had children — but he had enough for the both of them! The first of his seven children was his daughter Ella (Robinson). Ella had three children, and my grandmother Gladys Kubrock was the youngest. After marrying my grandfather Daniel, they had six children, one of them being my mother Edee. Then my parents had me.
Q: What influence from Ellen White’s life did your mother pass down to you?
Growing up, I lived just 10 minutes down the road from Elmshaven, Ellen White’s last home. As my grandparents lived there and gave tours, my picture of Ellen White was mostly that of the compassionate neighbor and loving grandmother who she was.
While I grew up knowing that we were related to someone God had used in miraculous ways, it didn’t really sink in until I was about 17. It was then, after my reconversion at an evangelistic series, that I went back to Elmshaven and felt for the first time there that I was standing on holy ground. It was then that I really began diving into her books and being blessed by God’s messages to us through her.
Q: Which of Ellen White’s books has influenced your life and ministry the most?
Steps to Christ. I re-read it every year as a part of my devotions. If you read just one page a day, it will take four to five months to finish. Besides that, the compilation called Gospel Workers has been a blessing. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in sharing the gospel.
Q: What is your favorite quotation from Ellen White?
It’s hard to narrow it down to one! I have a few favorites. Currently, Desire of Ages p. 25 is at the top of my list. It says: “Christ was treated as we deserve, that we might be treated as He deserves. He was condemned for our sins, in which He had no share, that we might be justified by His righteousness, in which we had no share. He suffered the death which was ours, that we might receive the life which was His. ‘With His stripes we are healed.’ By His life and His death, Christ has achieved even more than recovery from the ruin wrought through sin. It was Satan’s purpose to bring about an eternal separation between God and man; but in Christ we become more closely united to God than if we had never fallen.”
Q: Which story from Ellen White’s life has had the biggest influence on you?
There are many stories that demonstrate her strong faith, prophetic calling, and faithfulness to duty. But I’d like to share a story my great-grandmother Ella wrote in her book that gives us more of a glimpse into Ellen White’s personality and creativity.
When her son Willie was just a baby, her husband’s sister Anna lived with them and helped with the office work. Auntie Anna loved holding and cuddling baby Willie, but she had tuberculosis. How was Ellen going to get baby Willie out of her arms without hurting her feelings?
Then she had an idea. Making her way closer and closer toward Anna and baby Willie, she reached out and gave Willie a little pinch — just enough to get him to start crying.
“Aw, he must want his mother!” Ellen said.
“Yes, I guess he does,” Anna said, handing him back to Ellen.
This trick was repeated often, but Anna never caught on.
This story not only shows Ellen White’s creativity, but also her compassionate heart. Most mothers in that situation wouldn’t hesitate to tell their sister-in-law: “Please stop holding my baby. You’re going to get him sick.”
But Ellen’s sensitive heart took Anna’s feelings into consideration and found a way to solve the problem without hurting her sister.
Oftentimes people get the wrong picture of Ellen White through unkind Seventh-day Adventists who use her writings in a way that she herself wouldn’t — in harsh or judgmental ways. But this is one of the many stories that demonstrates that while instructed by God to give messages that were at times hard to deliver and hard to hear, Ellen White was like Jesus: She did it always with love and compassion.
Ellen White was enjoyable to be around, had a good sense of humor, and loved people. One of the many young people who lived with the Whites as a little girl while growing up, Mrs. H.E. Rogers, with fond memories recounts: “She took such an interest in our childhood games. At night she would tell us Bible stories and pray with us, then off to bed we would go. Once a week she would let us have a pillow fight. She was warm and human.”
When we understand what one of God’s prophets was like as a person, it helps give us a better understanding of His character and gives us a deeper appreciation of His messages to us through them. While the ultimate evidence for Grandma Ellen’s prophetic gift is that she passes all the Bible’s tests of a prophet, the fact that her life was filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit is important (Matt. 7:20).
Q: What would be your advice to readers of Ellen White’s writings?
I suppose I have one challenge and one piece of advice. My challenge is this: Join me in committing to reading at least two new Ellen White books every year from now until the Lord returns. I guarantee it will be a blessing to your soul! And as you do, my advice is this: Ask God to speak to you through her writings. Always remember, God’s messages through a prophet are just that — God’s messages. While the words have been written by Ellen White, the messages are divine, from God Himself. Just as the purpose and center of all Scripture is Jesus (John 5:39), so is He the purpose and the center of the writings of Ellen White. That’s why the gift of prophecy is called “the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 19:10).
As you read God’s messages to us through the Bible and through Ellen White, ask God to do more than inform your mind. Ask Him to transform your heart.
As we apply what we learn through the strength of the Holy Spirit, He will work lasting change in us. It will be a transformation that will carry us on into eternity.
Carolyn Azo is a reporter from the South American Division, which published a version of this interview in Spanish on its website.