What Ellen White Did During a Pandemic


Her example could inform our reactions and actions in the times of COVID-19.

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On August 13, 1894, Ellen White wrote a letter to Stephen Haskell, in which she discusses her deep concern for the people who were dying because of the influenza virus. She wrote,

“Throughout New South Wales we have been tested and tried with the influenza epidemic. Nearly every family has been afflicted in the cities and country towns. Some are now very, very sick. Their lives are hanging in the balance. We pray for the sick, and do what we can financially, and then wait the result.… One day last week there were eleven funerals.… Children do not seem to suffer so much as the adults and the aged. I have been severely attacked, and have not been able to attend meetings for four weeks; but have not given up to take to my bed one day. I have written my number of pages nearly every day, though I have been coughing and sneezing and bleeding at the nose. Brother Colcord has been confined to his bed. Nearly everyone around has suffered but I thank the Lord I am improving and am of good courage in the Lord. We shall do all we can in the name of the Lord.… I do not have to look on helplessly, and groan and pray in seeing my brethren and sisters in distress.… God’s people are being tried and tested, and may God grant that I may be able to help them through the trial … and by so doing be able to cling to Jesus more firmly than ever” (Letter 30, August 13, 1894).

It is important to emphasize that, when she got the letter, Ellen White was already 66 years old, and as such, she was a high-risk person. Her trust in God and her lifestyle helped her to hold on in that moment of crisis and to be victorious.

What she learned during that epidemic can inform us now in the midst of this coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The question I have often heard is: And now, what can we do? The answer to that question should prompt us to react in a positive, creative way, with a good attitude toward the current crisis.

What Can We Do?

We can follow the lead of Ellen White in a number of ways.

  1. Ellen White never got discouraged in the presence of disease. She kept fighting for her family and the brethren she was able to help, as she clung to the Lord’s promises. We must also proclaim that trust in the protecting power of God in the midst of this crisis we are going through. We must remember that God’s presence gives us courage, as He tells us, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10, NKJV). In the words of Paul, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:89, NKJV). It is a situation that has struck but not destroyed us. We are facing struggles and difficult trials, and more challenging situations will come, but Jesus is alive. He is our refuge and strength, and even if we go through the valley of the shadow of death, we should not be afraid, because His staff and rod will comfort us (Ps. 23). Our final victory is from the Lord; let us trust in Him.
  2. Ellen White did not stop working in her home. She set up a time to meet her goals. She says she never stopped writing her daily quota. This is something useful to do, because it reinforces our sense of mission. We must not lose our focus, and we must look for a way of meeting our goals, even during a lockdown. Because “we are isolated but not in silence,” we have a mission to fulfill. In this context of mission, Jesus said, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20, NKJV).
  3. She also kept active with the right attitude. If she had had the privilege of using social media as we have today, I am sure she would have kept in touch with the church, encouraging members and giving them hope through current communication channels. I imagine her creating, perhaps,
  • a small group online
  • a special message to the church through social media
  • morning advice for her Facebook followers
  • a pre-recorded devotional message shared through social media

Do not get discouraged. We have a lot to do, and we can do it with just a little bit of creativity. I have recently read phrases such as, “Churches are open; it's only buildings that are closed.” “The church is open because the church is you.” “We are opening our digital church.” You can follow church worship services on the internet, and many have used Zoom or other video conferencing software as a means of connecting with others. 

  1. Ellen White had a prayerful attitude, full of trust in God’s power. In moments like these, we must trust the wonderful promises that God left for us in His Holy Word. We have thousands of promises to cling to. Ellen White wrote, “I thank the Lord I am improving and am of good courage.… [The church must] cling to Jesus more firmly than ever” (Letter 30). When Paul was being taken to Rome as a prisoner, he had to face a dreadful storm at sea, and his ship endured a strong wind called Euroclydon. At that moment, he said three specific things (Acts 27:23-25):
  • Do not be afraid
  • Do not get discouraged; be hopeful
  • Keep a positive attitude; there will be no losses because God will be with you

May the trust shown by the apostle assist us also at this time.

  1. We should avoid acting eccentric, or as scaremongers, or panicked; on the contrary, we must be positive as we share hope with those around us, those who see us, hear us, and follow us through various outlets.

Meetings in our homes will become more and more relevant for prayer, reading our Bibles, fellowship, and witnessing. When the quarantine restrictions are lifted, we will still keep the experience of having spent time at home. We should use that experience as our evangelism platform, telling our friends and neighbors that Jesus is coming soon.

God is in control, and we must always be ready to listen to His voice. He is speaking; let’s be sensitive to His words.

The original version of this commentary was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.

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