James R. Nix, director of the Ellen G. White Estate, felt a pang of jealousy when he saw a statue of Joseph Smith.
The statue, which depicted Smith being commissioned as a prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, caught Nix’s eye when he and his wife entered a visitor center several years ago in Salt Lake City, Utah.
As he walked by, he saw a father looking at the statue with his young son of about 3.
“Look, son,” the father said. “That’s where God called the prophet.”
Nix turned to his wife and said, “Where in the Seventh-day Adventist Church can I have that kind of experience with my child or grandchild?”
The incident planted a dream that Nix finally saw fulfilled on Sunday with the dedication of a new visitor center at the Ellen White Estate. Church leaders declared the attractively presented collection of original historic documents, memorabilia, and a multimedia presentation as the grand finale to be on par with exhibits at world-class museums in nearby Washington D.C.
“It’s a dream that has been cooking for many, many years,” Nix told a group of the church’s top leaders gathered at the world church’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, for the Spring Council, an annual church business meeting.
Nix and other church leaders hope that the new visitor center will allow people to discover Adventist Church history and ultimately gain a closer connection with the Bible and Jesus.
“May it always point people to the Word and most of all to the Living Word,” Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, said in a dedication prayer at the visitor center, located in the underground level of the church’s headquarters.
The new center was dedicated on Sunday evening together with a new research library for the Biblical Research Institute on the third floor and the “Eden to Eden” art display in the foyer and atrium on the ground floor. “Eden to Eden” is a collection of 78 original paintings by Nathan Greene, Elfred Lee, and other Adventist artists that depict the story of redemption from Adam and Eve’s Eden through the new Eden after Jesus’ return.
Wilson said people might ask why the church decided to invest in the paintings and the new White Estate visitor center. The answer, he said, is simple: Both will allow the Adventist Church to share its hope in Jesus’ soon coming to non-church members, young people, and the many other visitors who come to the church’s headquarters every year.
The White Estate’s visitor center is divided into two parts: one devoted to the life of Ellen White, who Adventists believe had the biblical gift of prophecy, and the other to her ministry. The smartly decorated rooms are filled with yellowed books and 19th-century furniture, state-of-the-art displays and interactive activities for all ages.
“I like the combination of the historic with modern technology,” said Alberto R. Timm, associate director of the White Estate, who joined church leaders for a tour in the evening.
“You could spend literally a week reading everything down here,” said Wilson.
The center’s remodeling took eight months to complete and was contracted to Flip TV, an Adventist-operated production company in Laurel, Maryland. The project’s cost was not revealed, but Nix said he painstakingly set aside money for years in order to collect the funds to cover it.
Tours of the White Estate will begin June 1 and to be offered on the half hour, Monday through Thursday.
Victor Issa, an Adventist sculptor perhaps best known for a set of statues depicting Jesus’ Second Coming in the atrium of the church headquarters, contributed a bust of Ellen White to the visitor center.
Issa paused thoughtfully when asked whether he hoped the bust might have as big an impact on visitors as the Smith statue did on the father several years ago.
“I have a hope the young people and others who see this will be part of the group waiting for the Second Coming,” he said.