John Andrews and his family decided to cross the ocean against the current of that time. Therefore, many forgotten truths were brought to light, many hopes were reborn, and many dreams came true.
The girl excitedly opened the big door in front of her. She was expecting to see a small, dark room with an old bed, where she could lie down and sleep. Sleep was all she wanted after such a long journey. The door creaked as it opened, and the stairwell crackled under her brother’s heavy footsteps. What she saw seemed straight out of a fairy tale.
A large, bright apartment with sober but plentiful furniture, a large bed and an open window, through which the gentle rays of the afternoon sun polished everything the same colour she had found in her grandparents’ house, in America. It was the happy end of such a long journey, a generous gift that their great God was offering from the overflow of His love. She felt so good! It was as if all this beauty and peace was embracing her!
They had tears in their eyes, and dreams… many dreams and decisions.
She looked at her father—tall and skinny, aging faster than he should have been, but serene and brave—as a fairy-tale hero, and without saying anything, she hugged him lovingly. As if awakened from his dreams, Charles, her older brother, rushed over and hugged them both. They had tears in their eyes, and dreams… many dreams and decisions.
So, as the host politely walked away, the three guests who had travelled across an ocean sat around the table in the middle of the room and wrote their first oath: “We hereby covenant together that we will use only the French language in our conversations with one another. We will try in the fear of God to keep this covenant, and ask His help that we may fulfil it faithfully. But it shall be our privilege to use the German language whenever we can speak a word or sentence of it.”
They then placed the resolution on the door, after all three of them signed it. It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and they decided to speak in English for an hour every day, between 4 and 5 o’clock. Mary Andrews was 12 years old when she signed the document that would change her life and the lives of her family and then hundreds of thousands of Europeans. Charles, her brother, was four years older, and John, their father, was 45 years old. All three left Boston in September 1874, to serve as missionaries in Europe.
There was a time when ships brought to the American ports thousands and thousands of European immigrants that were eager to find a newer and better world. America’s mirage charmed tens of thousands of Europe’s inhabitants, who left everything they had for an uncertain future, one of promise and illusions. From this perspective, the gesture of the three Americans was bizarre and quite difficult to understand. However, the story of the Andrews family begins long before this moment.
A start full of promise
John Nevins Andrews was born in 1829 in Paris, Maine, a small town in the far northeast of the United States. His uncle, Charles Andrews, who was only 15 years his senior, had managed to make a career in law and then politics, and was even elected to the United States Congress.
For a young John and his family, this had long been a desirable prospect. He had all the ingredients to make it a reality—a brilliant mind, an impressive memory, and a lively spirit. He was tall, had a determined look, and an iron-will. Since he was wealthier than John’s parents, Uncle Charles offered to cover all of John’s schooling expenses because he saw something in him. Unfortunately, John was not in very good health, so he had to postpone going to college for a while.
Even though he was only 14 years old, John fell in love with Scripture.
This situation did not frighten him very much, because, as a naturally curious and eager to learn boy, he quickly found new branches of study and research. At that time, John and his parents attended conferences of a preacher who had taken over America—the Baptist William Miller. It was 1843 and, according to Miller, the last year of grace on the planet. The ease with which the preacher spoke from Scripture and the logic of his arguments impressed John.
Even though he was only 14 years old, John fell in love with Scripture. It became the love of his life and he promised to do everything to know it better and understand it more accurately.
A new, surprising start
At first, he tried to memorize Bible verses. Then he learned entire books of the Bible until he realized, to his delight, that he could cite from memory, in detail, the entire New Testament. He never bragged about this, and did not show off his performance, but kept learning. He was 17 when a friend gave him a copy of an article written by Thomas Preble, which said that the proper day of worship is Saturday, not Sunday.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Naturally curious, he read the argument and found the text convincing. His huge hunger for understanding the Bible made him forget to study law or politics, so he devoted himself entirely to the study of Scripture. He learned Hebrew, Greek, and Latin on his own. He never skim-read nor commended trivial explanations. He had a depth of thought that conquered, and a logic of expression that could not be resisted.
The last crossroads
At the age of 21, John was invited by James White, one of the leaders of the Sabbatarian Millerite group, to join him in publishing a book that would present often ignored truths of the Scriptures. It was the third turning point in his life. Contemplative and concerned with studying, John had to divide his life, from then on, between travel, argumentative sermons, and writing.
He was not paid for his exhausting activity, nor rewarded with any benefits, nor turned into a star. On the contrary, he suffered from hunger, was sometimes rejected, and often slept outside or in uncomfortable places, but his zest for life and love for the Good Book that had changed his life were absolutely contagious. Pastors or laypeople, practising or unfaithful believers, all listened to him with pleasure and were captivated by his arguments.
In 1855, at the age of only 26, he felt, for the first time, that he could no longer go on. The old health problems had returned and his body simply did not want to continue. One evening, on the way home, he crawled to the White family’s gate. He was so exhausted that they barely recognized him. He ate a little and then slept like a log. He was burned out, so he had to stay there for three months to recover.
He was not paid for his exhausting activity, nor rewarded with any benefits, nor turned into a star.
Quieter years followed, in which Andrews married and had two children. At the same time, he devoted himself more seriously to research—the activity that seemed to be his favourite. That was the period when he wrote his best-known work, The History of the Sabbath and the First Day of the Week. The book was very well received. James White understood that the subject deserved more detailed research, which Andrews, with his limited financial resources, could not do alone.
Therefore, James appealed to the readers of his newspaper to donate $20 each to get Andrews a bookcase. Surprised by such a gift, John immediately began working on the second edition of the book, which would long be considered the best synthesis in the history of keeping the Sabbath from the apostles up to that time.
After 1859, Andrews returned to the life of a travelling evangelist. But his exhaustion persuaded his collaborators to consider a way in which those who preached the gospel could be supported by the contributions of the faithful. They did not find anyone more capable, so Andrews was also appointed chairman of the committee that was to study the roots and implications of this idea in biblical practice.
A lifetime of dedication
Judging by the spirit of sacrifice already demonstrated by John, it is no wonder that when Seventh-day Adventists were looking for someone to send as a missionary to Europe, Andrews stepped forward and offered to go. So he left. It was not easy: his wife, Angeline, had died on February 17, 1872; he was not in an enviable state of health, and had many fields of study which he would have liked to explore at his leisure.
However, he felt that his passion for the Word required him to bring the light of Scripture back to where the Protestant Reformation had begun.
Shortly after arriving in Europe, more precisely in Switzerland, he managed to produce the first French-language magazine, Les Signes des Temps (The Signs of the Times). His daughter, Mary, who inherited his intellectual abilities, grew to be able to correct French texts better than many native speakers. The news of the truths preached by Andrews covered many states in Europe, but Andrews paid for this missionary calling with his daughter’s life, and finally, with his own. Tuberculosis, the disease that was wreaking havoc in Europe, ended their lives prematurely.
In 1883, in his last moments of life, he donated $500, almost his entire earthly wealth, to the European Mission. Charles remained in Switzerland and continued his printing work. Andrews’ efforts were not in vain. Millions of Europeans and people around the world have read his articles or books, and have been inspired by his devotion and blessed by his understanding of Scripture.
Many forgotten truths have been brought to light, many hopes have been reborn, and many dreams have come true, all because Andrews and his family decided to cross the ocean against the current. After all, isn’t that how all true success stories are written?