In November 2005 The National Geographic magazine published a groundbreaking article titled “The Secrets to Living Longer. The article was researched and written by Dan Buettner who interviewed three different people groups from around the world who lived longer than the average population. Buettner labeled these locations Blue Zones; areas that, for various reasons seemed to foster amazing longevity.
Among the three people-groups were the Seventh-Day Adventists of Loma Linda, California, who according to Buettner’s article, lived up to ten years longer than the average population. Today Seventh-Day Adventists are one of the healthiest people groups in the world and they also run one of the largest Protestant health networks around the world.
But how did this all come to be? What was the catalyst that set the Seventh-Day Adventist church on such a definitive trajectory? The catalyst came in the form of a vision, given to Ellen White in June of 1863 in Otsego, Michigan. The Whites together with George and Martha Amadon were gathered at the home of Brother Hillard for Friday evening worship.
At this time James White was experiencing severe burnout due to a huge workload and being under a significant amount of stress. During the worship hour Ellen White prayed earnestly for her husband and while she was interceding for him she had a vision which lasted about 45 minutes.
The vision outlined specific counsel regarding the health of James White and also general counsel that would be useful to the health and wellbeing of the church at large. Much of this counsel was light years ahead of the medical science of the day. For example, Ellen White wrote that tobacco was a slow, insidious and most malignant poison. However, it wasn’t until 1957 that the surgeon general of the United States linked smoking with cancer.
The broad scope of the vision took a holistic approach to health, with an emphasis on natural and preventative medicine. The vision also outlined the benefits of a whole food plant-based diet. Two and a half years later in December of 1865, she was given a second vision which urged the Seventh-Day Adventist church to take up the work of health reform in earnest. One of the points detailed in the vision was the need for a Seventh-Day Adventist health institution to be established.
Ellen White shared the details of the vision publicly in May of 1866 and the General Conference voted to establish a Health institution without delay. The institution was set up in 1866 in Battle Creek, Michigan and named the Western Health Reform Institute. Its first staff doctors were Dr. Lay and Dr. Phoebe Lamson. Though the institute faced some difficulties it received an overwhelmingly positive response from the scores of patients that flocked through its doors.
Later John Harvey Kellogg became the director of the institution when he was just 24 years old. Kellogg had attended some of the best medical schools of the day and received excellent medical training. He first attended the University School in Ann Arbor, Michigan and later attended the New York University Medical College at Bellevue Hospital in New York. He graduated in 1875 and went on to become on the of the leading physicians in the United States. Under his guidance, the Western Health Reform Institute was rebranded as the Battle Creek Health Sanitarium.
Kellogg was a trailblazer in many respects. He invented breakfast cereals as we know them today and was responsible for inventing the humble cornflake which to this day bears his name. He also pioneered medical treatments and invented several pieces of equipment that worked in much the same way as modern gym equipment.
Health reform and medical work hold a special place in the mission and message of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. Seventh-Day Adventists believe in holistic health which encompasses not only physical wellbeing but mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing too.
This unique view establishes the work of health reform as the right arm of the gospel, carving out a place for it as a close ally of evangelistic ministry.