August 19, 2016

Thomas Davis, an Adventist Missionary Who Found Jesus After the Mission Field

Thomas A. Davis grew close to Jesus reading Steps to Christ as a Canadian medic stationed in England during World War II.

By all appearances, the relationship flourished as he went on to become a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, editor, and missionary in the Philippines and India.

But Davis realized — at first reluctantly — that he had lost that intimate walk with Jesus when he returned home from the mission field in 1970 and his wife, Margaret, immersed herself in a search of the Bible and the writings of Adventist Church cofounder Ellen G. White.

The couple went on seek an abiding connection with Christ that forever changed their lives — and led Davis to write a best-selling book called How to be a Victorious Christian.

“The book has impacted my life and thousands of others through the surrendered life in Christ,” said his daughter, Lorna Dreher.Thomas A. Davis pictured in 1978, when he was an author and editor at the Review and Herald Publishing Association. (Photos: Courtesy of the family)

Davis, a former associate editor of the Review and Herald (now the Adventist Review), died on July 30 in Kelowna in Canada’s province of British Columbia. He was 96.

“Throughout his life as an editor and pastor, Thomas Davis was faithful to his Savior. Above all else, he sought to prepare others to meet Jesus in peace,” said Mark A. Johnson, president of the Adventist Church in Canada, who officiated Davis’ funeral on Aug. 13 in the Kelowna Adventist church.

“He influenced many in their walk with Christ,” Johnson told the Adventist Review. “I was one of those.”

Thomas Atwood Davis was born on Feb. 9, 1920, in Safe Harbour, Newfoundland. His parents joined the Adventist Church when he was 11 and enrolled him in an Adventist school, a decision that he later said set the course for his life.

During World War II, Davis was drafted into the Royal Canadian Air Force while studying at Oshawa Missionary College (now Kingsway College) in Oshawa, Ontario. Two of his three years of service were spent as a medic in England.

He soon realized that he needed to spend time in God’s Word if he was going to maintain his relationship with God and escape the temptations of enlisted life, Dreher said. Other than the Bible, his favorite books were Ellen White’s Messages to Young People and Steps to Christ, she said.

“His close walk with God showed since many of the enlisted men began calling him ‘preacher’ and would come to him for counsel and encouragement,” Dreher said. “But after returning to college he relaxed in the Adventist environment, not realizing his need nor understanding how to stay connected with God.”

20 Years of Church Service

Davis met and married his wife, Margaret Penner, while studying theology at Canadian Union College (now Burman University) in 1949. He graduated in 1951, working first as a singing evangelist and then as a pastor.

He left pastoral ministry in 1958 when he moved to Washington to became editorial assistant for the Bible Dictionary, which was being prepared by the Review and Herald Publishing Association as part of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary series.

“Though Dad trained in theology and became a pastor, he was really a writer at heart,” Dreher said.

With the dictionary project finished two years later, Davis accepted the post of editor-in-chief of the Philippine Publishing House. In 1965, he was called to take the same position at the Oriental Watchman Publishing House in India.

His daughter Cheryl Dunn recalled his love for music and travel during those years.

“While we lived in India he decided to make a recording of the songs he loved,” she said. “I practiced the piano for hours, and then we recorded his songs on reel-to-reel tapes. Dad also loved to travel. On our first furlough from the Philippines in 1964 our family toured through India, the Middle East, Egypt, and Europe before visiting family in Canada.”

After five years in India, Davis was invited back to the Review and Herald Publishing Association to become an associate editor of the Review and Herald, a position that he held for three years.

It was then he discovered that his walk with Jesus was not as close as he had thought.

“After our family returned from the mission field in 1970, my mother, Margaret, went through an experience that caused her to feel a need for something real in her Christian walk, thus she started a search in the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy like never before,” Dreher said by e-mail.

“As she grew closer to God, she couldn’t help but share with Dad. At first he was resistant — after all, he was the minister of 20-some years, the theologian, and the studier in the family!” she said. “But as my mother shared more about what she was learning, he conceded. In the back of his mind was the realization that though he studied the Bible a lot, he’d lost the close walk with God, his first love, that he’d had in the air force, and he wanted it back, though he didn’t know how.

“So both my parents started studying together and gradually they grasped the experience of the abiding connection with God, which changed their lives.”

Thomas Davis, right, with his wife, Margaret and their three children, Arlen Davis; Cheryl Dunn, second right; and Lorna Dreher, in 2007.

Best-Selling Book Is Born

Out of that experience came Davis’ 1975 book How to Be a Victorious Christian, which received a strong endorsement from then-Adventist world church leader Robert H. Pierson.

“In a simple, yet forceful, manner he [Davis] places before his readers the way to live the Christian life as a true overcomer,” Pierson wrote in the book’s foreward. “Step by step he makes the way inviting and very practical. Jesus will live again in your experience as you see Him lifted up in all His beauty and loveliness in every page.”

Pierson also appealed to attendees of the General Conference Session that year to read the book, Dunn said.

“We were told that Elder Pierson held it up at the General Conference Session in 1975 in Vienna, Austria, stating that every Adventist family should have this book in their home,” she said.

Read: How to Be a Victorious Christian (PDF)

Davis went on to write other books on practical Christian living, including Of Course You Can Walk on Water; Was Jesus Really Like Us?; Conscience, Your Inner Voice; Laodicea, the Church that Doesn’t Know; and Coming, The Latter Rain. He also wrote award-winning poetry and Preludes to Prayer, a daily devotional book for 1967 that was later reprinted by Quiet Hour Ministries and translated into several languages.

Davis remained at the Review and Herald Publishing Association from 1970 until his retirement in 1985, working also as book editor and editing the health magazine Life and Health (now Vibrant Life).

Moving back to Canada, Davis kept busy answering Bible questions by e-mail, preaching, teaching a Sabbath School class, and singing.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret; their three children, Arlen Davis of College Place, Washington; daughters Cheryl Dunn of Calgary, Alberta, and Lorna Dreher of Priest River, Idaho; five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. He also is survived by two brothers, Kenneth and Edward Davis; and a sister, Irene Town.

Reflecting on his 96 years, Davis wrote in a life sketch shared by his family that he had been “impressed by two facts that are no less vital because they are so very self-evident: the shortness of life and the eternal importance of constantly, jealously maintaining one’s relationship with the Lord Jesus.”

“If the latter is not the supreme object of our lives,” he said, “then they are terribly, tragically, eternally wasted.”