J.N. Andrews: The Ablest Man In Our Ranks

In April 1864 M.B Czechowski set sail for Europe, determined to preach the three angels messages there. He methods though somewhat unconventional were largely successful and soon there were small groups of Seventh-Day Adventist believers gathering to worship in Italy, Romania, and Switzerland.

Ten years later the work in Europe was desperately in need of a missionary from the General Conference to support it. In 1871 Ellen White had received a vision calling for the advancement of foreign missions by the newly minted denomination. Two years later in 1873, James White began to champion broader plans for spreading Adventism across the seas. He suggested that Elder J.N. Andrews be sent to support and help the work in Europe.

In the summer of 1874, the General Conference voted to send J.N. Andrews to Europe as soon as was practicable. Andrews would become the first missionary sent out by the General Conference to a foreign field.

A month after the General Conference’s call Elder Andrews set sail for Europe accompanied by his two children, Charles and Mary. His wife had died and Andrews had no desire to remarry despite Ellen White counseling him to the contrary. Writing about the deployment of Andrews to the European field Ellen White commented that the General Conference was sending the European brethren “the ablest man in our ranks”

Indeed Andrews was extremely qualified to take up the work he had been assigned to do. He was a scholar and a brilliant linguist, had served as Editor of the Review and Herald and as General Conference president from 1867-1869. The European mission field could not have been in better hands.

Working Hard In Difficult Conditions

After a brief stop in England and Scotland Andrews and his family arrived in Neuchatel, Switzerland where they lived for two years. As soon as they arrived in Switzerland the Andrews family hit the ground running. Charles who was sixteen at the time learned the printing business from the ground up while learning to speak French and German. Mary, on the other hand, soaked up French like a sponge and was soon proofreading her father’s new paper “Les Signes des Temps”.  Mary’s French was so proficient that she began to pick up grammatical errors made by native French-speaking workers at the paper.

After their time in Neuchatel, the Andrews family moved to Basel which was home to the best printing press in Switzerland at that time. It was in Basel that the first copy of Les Signes des Temps came off the press, ready for circulation. The work soon began to absorb all of their time and John Andrews worked long hours. The family struggled without the help of a wife and mother to hold down the fort on the home front. Andrews was determined to cut down his living expenses to a bare minimum to ensure that every penny that could be diverted back to the work of the gospel was spared.

This meant that they cut corners with their diet and living conditions. Soon they were malnourished and living in unsanitary quarters. But help was on the way and arrived in the form of new workers who arrived from America to help John Andrews with the work. Elder and Mrs. William Ings and Miss Maud Sisley first docked in London and were taken to Basel by John Andrews himself.

Mrs. Ings took over the management of the Andrews home and under her guidance, their living conditions steadily improved.

The Long Dark Valley

In 1878 Elder Andrews prepared to return to America to attend the General Conference session and he decided to take Mary with him. She had been unwell for some time and Andrews suspected that she had contracted tuberculosis. Arriving in Battle Creek, Mary was presented to Dr. John Kellogg who confirmed their worst fears. She was dying of consumption. Despite Kellogg’s warnings Andrews would not leave his daughter’s side and tenderly cared for her until she died in November of 1878.

Grief-stricken he buried his beloved Mary, then only seventeen years old, beside her mother and baby sister, in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York. Separated by an Ocean  John and Charles did not have the luxury of grieving together but twenty-one-year-old Charles wrote to encouragingly to his father “Our separation will be but short and then, if faithful, we shall meet our loved ones. So, Pa, don’t feel discouraged. We pray much for you”

Ellen White wrote “The Lord loves you, my dear brother, He loves you”

Prostate with grief Andrews spent another year in America before leaving for Europe. Docking in Glasgow he caught the train to London and experienced fever and chills along the way. He managed to get himself to the home of his long-time friend John Loughborough where they nursed him for three months before he was well enough to return to Basel.

Andrews never fully recovered from his illness and was diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis. He had lost one lung and the other was almost completely gone. There was nothing the doctors could do for him. In 1883 a bedridden Andrews wrote these words to Ellen White “I am a mere skeleton and have not attempted to put on my clothes for weeks. However, I can say that my feet are on the Rock of Ages and that the Lord holds me by my right hand.”

Shortly after he passed peacefully to his rest and was buried in an unmarked grave in Switzerland. He had asked his brother-in-law and close friend Uriah Smith to refrain from publishing a eulogy for him in the Review and Smith reluctantly acquiesced.

John Andrews was not just the ablest man among the ranks of Seventh-Day Adventists, he was also one of the most consecrated and mission focused. His life is a testimony to stay faithful and focused on the task at hand no matter the cost.

Further Reading

  • Maxwell, C.M. (1976) – Tell It To The World – The Story of Seventh-Day Adventists
  • Schawrz, R.W. and Greenleaf, F. (1979) – Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (Revised Edition)
  • Robinson, V.E. (2004) – J.N. Andrews: Flame For The Lord
  • Collins, N.J. (2005) – Heartwarming Stories of Adventist Pioneers (Book 1)
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)

Recommended Listening 

  • Pathways to the Pioneers (1998) – Volume 13 Episode 1 – J.N. Andrews: First Missionary