A new book about a Seventh-day Adventist Church pioneer’s life in Australia reveals new information not about her theology but about her practical ministry.
Marian de Berg used primary sources—letters, mostly—in writing Stories from Sunnyside: Ellen White in Australia 1891-1900. The sources are familiar—Ms de Berg is Administrative Assistant at the Ellen G White Seventh-day Adventist Research Centre, a role in which she has served for 29 years. However, she did not think of using them as research for a book until challenged by husband Kevin and colleague Dr John Skrzypaszek, the director of the centre.
When the centre began managing “Sunnyside”, “I got pressure from both home and work,” said Ms de Berg during the launch at Mrs White’s Cooranbong-based historic home on Sunday (October 1). “So, I thought, OK, I need to do something about this. I need to get our volunteer guides to tell more stories. I figured the best way to do this was to compile the stories for them.”
Ms de Berg describes Mrs White, a prolific writer who the Church believes exercised the spiritual gift of prophecy, as “a living Matthew 25”. She recalls the story of Mrs White taking healthy food to a sick family who refused to eat it, insisting instead she give the food to another family. So, Mrs White told the family to take several chickens from her property and make chicken broth soup. She referred to the family in one of her letters, writing we must “meet the people where they’re at”.
"Her life here was such a blessing and such a joy to so many people, I just wanted to share it and have you read about it."
“Stories from Sunnyside does not provide an explanatory framework of Ellen White’s prophetic role, nor a theological charter for argumentative debates,” writes Dr Skrzypaszek in the foreword. “It recalls the narratives in the life of a person engrossed in the depth of God’s love.” Dr Skrzypaszek also says the stories Ms de Berg includes are simple but “link with human experience, the story of our heritage. They recall the images of a person who translated God’s love into practical Christian experience. . . . [Stories from Sunnyside is] not just another book, but a set of life-inspiring narratives challenging us to take a decisive step not only to read the story but to make those images ours.”
Publisher Nathan Brown, who is Book Editor at Signs Publishing, considers Mrs White’s ministry in Australia—travelling, speaking, founding institutions and churches and writing—as her most mature and Jesus-focused. “But the book also reveals her mature personal character, her family life, her care for others and her passion for growing the church she had helped found,” he said. Mrs White’s focus on Jesus—she wrote a devotional commentary about His life called The Desire of Ages while in Australia—“changed the lives of people she came into contact with.”
Mrs White lived at “Sunnyside” during a depression in the eastern colonies of Australia. She cared for tramps by giving them small jobs, feeding them and sending them on their way with a loaf of bread and a jar of jam. She also set aside land on what is now Avondale Estate, allocating small acreages to Adventists who had lost their jobs—a six-day working week caused problems for Sabbath keepers. “Her life here was such a blessing and such a joy to so many people, I just wanted to share it and have you read about it,” said Ms de Berg during the launch.
Pastor Dwain Esmond is thankful she did. The Associate Director of the Ellen G White Estate, visiting Australia from the United States at the time of the launch, spoke of his role in addressing the theological challenges to White. “We stay in the fray, a lot,” he said, “so it is good to read about those spaces in her life where she lived the faith and where people were touched and moved by her practice of the faith.” And, he added, it is also good “to have a woman write about a woman.” Of Ms de Berg’s three-decade tenure at the research centre: “She has forgotten more than I know about Ellen White.”
Pastor Esmond’s favourite part of book comes at its end: the memories of others who lived at “Sunnyside” or whose family did. These “smouldering embers of faithfulness” remind him of Hebrews 11:4, the Bible passage that refers to the story of Cain and Abel—Cain kills Abel after God looks more favourably on Abel’s offering. “The verse ends, Though he is dead, he yet speaks. That’s how it is with Ellen White. Though she is dead, she yet speaks. And her life, and her ministry, and her legacy, as exemplified in this wonderful book, continues to touch lives and move people to follow Jesus Christ.”
Stories from Sunnyside is now available from Adventist Book Centres in Australia and New Zealand or from hopeshop.com.