July 16. Most people don’t think of this day as remarkable, but July 16 is an important date. Fifty-one years ago, on July 16, 1969, NASA launched Apollo 11, carrying the first human beings to the moon and plunging the planet into a new age of space exploration. As time has passed, many people no longer remember this significant event. I think of something different when I think of July 16. It’s an anniversary of a special woman whose life and ministry have affected millions. July 16, 1915, was the day Ellen White died.
Growing up in an Adventist family, I don’t remember when I first heard her name. Ever since I was a little girl I would hear her name mentioned, often in connection with her writings. I heard her quoted from the pulpit and around the supper table. Not that this was a bad thing, but growing up I never conscientiously made a decision to read her writings or to discover who this remarkable woman was.
Not until I became a teenager and was trying to discover for myself what Adventism was all about, did I encounter who she really was. I’ve always believed that there was a God, but as a young person I wanted to make sure that the church I was a part of was something I believed in and knew about. When I researched more about Ellen White, I discovered what an interesting life she led. I began to think of her as a cool historical figure. But other than that, I didn’t see her as too relevant to my life.
I have always enjoyed history, so when my mother was invited to work at the Ellen G. White Estate, I was very excited because that would mean I could go and see the vault where all the original copies of Ellen White’s writings are kept. Touching some of the original sheets of paper, obviously wearing gloves, was an exciting experience for me. Examining her pen strokes and reading or attempting to decipher her handwriting was an adventure.
As I became more interested in Ellen White I began to volunteer at the White Estate. In 2015, when the White Estate renovated their visitor center at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, I started to lead tours as a volunteer. It was thrilling to learn many stories about Ellen White and her family and share these stories with visitors.
When I told some of these stories to my friends, they found them interesting but perhaps not too relevant for life in the twenty-first century. For a while I also thought that her writings were beneficial to people of her day, but perhaps not very useful to me and my friends.
This changed, however, when I decided to work as a student literature evangelist during the summer of my sophomore year in high school. As I canvassed the neighborhoods of Detroit, Michigan, I began to realize that her books we were canvassing, including The Great Controversy and Peace Above the Storm, were not just good books to read; they also changed lives and gave people hope, comfort, and healing. These books were lighting up the darkness of people’s hearts and guiding them toward the greater light,the Bible.
Watching the books in action made me curious to start exploring her books for myself. The first book I read completely through was Steps to Christ. This book absolutely changed my life. I finally realized that her writings are still applicable and that the advice and wisdom I can get from them are a great help in my life. That’s why July 16 is a special day for me. It’s a moment to remember the life of this remarkable woman who was God’s messenger, and a reminder to keep reading and exploring these messages.
Jemima Klingbeil lives with her family in Maryland. In August, she will start her senior year at Great Lakes Adventist Academy in Cedar Lake, Michigan, United States.