Tuesday, December 27, 2011

An Angel Over Her Tent

     Ellen G. White spent almost ten years in Australia. She first went to the island continent at the request of the mission board after the General Conference of 1891. Stephen N. Haskell, an Adventist leader who had gone to Australia in 1885, urged that the church send Mrs. White to help guide the newly formed groups and institution there. On November 12, 1891, she, her son William C. White, and several assistants sailed from San Francisco aboard the steamer Alameda.
     In Australia she directed many important projects. At her strong urging, the Australian Adventists established a college. At first it was conducted in rented quarters in Melbourne, but at her insistence, a special committee found a site for it at Cooranbong, seventy-six miles north of Sydney. This college was the first to use her idea of combining work and study in a rural location, a pattern later followed in creating most of the other Adventist colleges and academies. Avondale College still continuesto educate Australian young people for service for the church.
     Also she helped pioneer the organization of Australia into regions called local conferences. These united to become a union conference, the first in the denomination. When the church set up a worldwide organization several years later, it followed the organizational pattern developed in Australia.
     As always, she spent much time speaking and writing. Camp meetings provided her with many speaking opportunities. During the years from 1891 to 1900 she wrote countless letters to church leaders in the United States, plus many articles for the Review and Herald, Signs of the Times, and The Youth's Instructor. In 1896 she finished the book Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing. The Desire of Ages followed in 1898. The year 1900 saw the publication of Christ's Object Lessons and volume six of Testimonies for the Church.
Although always busy, Mrs. White still found time for evangelistic activities. At the camp meetings she presented series of talks to large crowds. One such series she conducted during the Brighton Beach camp meeting held from December 29, 1893, to January 15, 1894, in a Melbourne suburb. It was the first Seventh-day Adventist camp meeting ever held in Australia. Mrs. White had just returned from New Zealand, where she had attended camp meetings at Napier and Wellington, the first and second such assemblies the Adventists convened south of the equator.
     Arthur G. Daniells, Mrs. White, and other church leaders urged all the Australian Adventists that could toattend the meetings. To house the people expected to come, those arranging the camp meeting made thirty-five family-sized tents. Few thought more than that would be needed. But as reservations came in, the preparations committee had to buy and rent additional tents.

     When Mrs. White arrived at Brighton Beach, the campsite contained more than one hundred tents, housing 511 people. The careful, orderly arrangement of the tents and grounds impressed the many non-Adventist visitors who flocked to the meetings. The large audiences included doctors, ministers of other churches, and businessmen. They crowded into the main tent to hear Mrs. White speak on such topics as the Ten Commandments, Sabbathkeeping, and the events heralding the second coming of Christ. The wonders of the Adventist camp meeting quickly became a local topic of conversation. Mrs. White said herself that she had not seen such deep religious dedication and enthusiasm since the Millerite meetings of 1843 and 1844.

     But not everybody appreciated the camp meeting so highly. To a group of juvenile delinquents—larrikins, the Australians called them—living in a nearby town, it represented a chance to have some fun. They began to do little acts of vandalism and mischief. They attacked the tents, hurling stones at them and pulling one down. The camp meeting staff had appointed several students from the Australian Bible School to act as guards. They helped control the larrikins. Unable to do much damage, the delinquents decided on a bolder scheme. Their leader outlined a plan to pull Mrs. White's tent down on her thenext night. He considered her the most important person among the Adventists.

     But some of the gang bragged about their plan to the camp's student guards. Learning what the larrikins wanted to do, Fairly Masters, one of the Bible School's students, went to the faculty and warned them about the teen-age gang's schemes. The teachers hurried to the Melbourne police headquarters and asked for protection for the campsite. The city sent a tall, heavy-built Irish Roman Catholic policeman out to the little tent city to guard Mrs. White's tent.

     Actually Mrs. White did not worry when she heard about the teen-agers’ plan. She had often faced greater dangers in her long life. Time after time angels had protected her from disease, accident, and the violence and hatred of men. Since God had taken care of her for so long, she did not see any reason for fear now. Most of the time Mrs. White did not let people give her police protection. Now she accepted it only to please those with her. After the meeting that night, she walked to her tent, prepared for bed, prayed, and fell asleep in perfect peace. She would have slept just as peacefully without the policeman. Outside, the policeman patrolled the area around the tent, watching for the troublemakers. But the boys never showed up. Some of the youthful camp guards warned the gang members not to try anything, because the city had sent a law officer.

     Yawning occasionally, the policeman kept at his post. Not long after midnight, when only subdued snores and the rustle of the night wind among the leaves disturbedthe campground, he paused in his circuit of Mrs. White's tent and glanced toward it. He thought he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. But the tent stood peacefully in the darkness. He started to turn his attention to another part of the campground, but before he could, he saw a beam of light suddenly hover over Mrs. White's tent. Gradually the light assumed a shape and became more solid looking. Gripping his night stick, he watched the shape of an angel form in the light and stand guard above the tent. Instinctively he dropped to his knees and crossed himself. Awestruck, he stared at the angel for several minutes, then slowly rose to his feet and began to walk away. He had decided that Mrs. White no longer needed his protection. God guarded her.

     Back at the Melbourne police station, he explained to his sergeant and the other officers on duty there why he had left his post. He explained that he felt Mrs. White had greater safety than he could give her. Strangely, his superiors did not question his story, but believed it and did not send him back to the campground that night.

     The Irish policeman, however, went to the campsite on his own the next day. He wanted to see the woman the angel guarded, to hear what she had to say. He attended the main services that day and every following day. What he saw and learned about Mrs. White did not disappoint him. The more he heard, the more interested he became; and he joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Later he resigned from the police force and moved to the country, becoming an active lay member responsible for many others joining the church.

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