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5-15-15 Historic book sheds light on Adventism's roots
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La Sierra’s H.M.S. Richards Library opens for research
by Larry Becker, La Sierra University

 

 
Voice of Truth newsletter of October 10, 1844. Click here for more readable size view
 
 

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) When La Sierra University archivist Tony Zbaraschuk first looked inside the large, gray-green book with a worn cover and yellowed pages, he couldn’t quite believe what he saw.
 
The hardcover volume, which he originally thought might be an old accounting ledger, contained nearly three years of weekly newsletters called “The Voice of Truth” published in Rochester, N.Y. between October 1844 and June 1847. But it was the date on the first newsletter, Oct. 10, 1844, that captured his attention.
 
“I looked at it and my jaw dropped,” said Zbaraschuk. “A date early in October 1844? Wow.”
 
The newsletters, a part of the 10,000-volume collection at La Sierra’s H.M.S. Richards Library, contain numerous letters and editorials by individuals caught up in the Millerite movement. They served as a primary means of communication for the Christian sect led by Baptist preacher William Miller. The evangelist, along with Samuel Snow and others predicted the soon return or advent of Jesus Christ on specific days based on their interpretation of prophecy in the Book of Daniel and Judaic calendars.

The first newsletter in the aged book Zbaraschuk opened was published just 12 days prior to the most significant of these predicted dates, Oct. 22, 1844. On this day, approximately 100,000 Christians waited with great hope and expectation for the return of Jesus and the establishment of his kingdom on Earth, in many cases getting rid of all their possessions in preparation.
 

 
  Voice of Truth notice of store closure "in honor of the King of Kings;" Click here for more readable size view
 

One notice (right) re-published in the Voice of Truth during the days leading up to the anticipated advent reads, “I.T. Hough, tailor and draper, Fifth Street, below Market, Philadelphia. Has closed his store, and placed the following inscription on his shutters: “This Shop is closed in honor of the King of Kings, who will appear about the 23rd of October. Get ready, friends to crown him Lord of all.”
 
Oct. 22, 1844 became infamously known as the Great Disappointment and is a part of Seventh-day Adventist denominational history. While many discouraged individuals left the movement, others eventually branched out and formed their own groups including one that birthed the Seventh-day Adventist Church which officially formed in 1863. The biblical prophecies were studied anew and many realized the events depicted in the Book of Daniel described the start of Jesus’ work of atonement for humanity’s sins rather than of Christ’s return to Earth on a specific day.
 
Voice of Truth editor and publisher Joseph Marsh in a Nov. 7, 1844 issue wrote, “We have been mistaken in a belief to which we thought ourselves conducted by the word and Spirit, and Providence of God. …We have an unwavering trust that He will cause our disappointment and trial to work together for our good.”
 
On Sat., April 18, during Homecoming weekend, the La Sierra University H.M.S. Richards Divinity School held a dedication ceremony in the La Sierra University Church, officially opening the library, a division of the school, to historians, pastors, students and other researchers. The library is now open Mondays, from 1 – 7 p.m. for onsite study. The historic newsletter volume, which Zbaraschuk carefully handles while wearing white cotton archivist’s gloves, is now available for other researchers to peruse, once they don the gloves.
 

 
Jan. 15, 1844 letter from Millerite leader William Miller. Click here for more readable size view
 
 

Richards was a Seventh-day Adventist pioneer radio evangelist and founder of the international religious radio program, Voice of Prophecy. During the early 2000s, the Richards family contributed the family patriarch’s 10,000-volume personal library along with hundreds of letters, sermon and broadcast scripts and photos to La Sierra University, the alma mater of the four Richards children. Zbaraschuk and library volunteer Connie Lorenz have been painstakingly sorting, cataloging and scanning the library’s contents.
 
Richards began his sermon broadcasts on KNX-AM radio in Los Angeles in 1929. By 1942 the program had become one of the first religious radio shows to air nationwide. By 1980, the Voice of Prophecy operated on a $6 million budget and was aired on 700 stations around the world. The program eventually aired on more than 1,000 stations in dozens of languages, and offered Bible courses in some 80 languages through more than 125 correspondence schools. It operates today out of its studio and offices in Loveland, Colo.
 
Richards, a voracious reader, collected books from various bookstores and dealers on topics that spanned many subjects. He strongly advised pastors to broaden their reading repertoire. He was such an avid reader himself he was known to arrange a driver to transport him to speaking engagements and broadcasts so that he could bring stacks of books and read in the back of the car as he traveled. He frequently lent books to others from his substantial collection.
 
Also stored in the library are hundreds of Richards’ hand-written sermon notes and his letters exchanged with denominational leadership as well as with other high-profile evangelists of the day, including Billy Graham.
 

 
  Title page of historic volume of Voice of Truth newsletters. Click here for more readable size view.
 

The Voice of Truth newsletter volume was discovered in early summer 2014, in a storage unit in Riverside where the Richards family stacked boxes of books and belongings removed from their renowned forebear’s home in Glendale. The Voice of Truth newsletters had been given as a gift to Richards in 1973 by “Mr. and Mrs. Howard Webb of Huntington Park in memory of my father, William Treichel who was elder in the Oswego New York Church,” a hand-written inscription on a title page states.
 
The 19th century letters submitted to Voice of Truth by residents of New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and other northeastern enclaves also open a window into the lifestyle and culture of the day.
 
“It was how people would communicate, especially if they were too poor to travel,” or had to attend a family farm or business, Zbaraschuk said. “People were trying to understand what happened and this is how they carried out their discussions.”
 
Of all the historic artifacts in the Richards library, the newsletter volume is among the most significant because of its insights into the very roots of Seventh-day Adventist history. “This is a physical connection to our pioneers,” Zbaraschuk said. “It gives a sense of connection one does not get from a reprint. There may be things here we haven’t previously known about the Adventist movement.”
 
 
About La Sierra University
La Sierra University, a Seventh-day Adventist institution nationally acclaimed for its diverse campus and its service to others, offers a transformational experience that lasts a lifetime.
 
U.S. News & World Report for six years named La Sierra University the most racially diverse university in the western United States. In December 2008 the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching included La Sierra on its 2008 Community Engagement Classification lists consisting of 119 colleges and universities around the United States. La Sierra University achieved re-classification status in 2015. In 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 the Corporation for National and Community Service announced La Sierra’s inclusion in the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll awards. The awards include the prestigious 2013 Presidential Award, the highest honor a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning, and civic engagement. The awards recognize La Sierra’s students for providing thousands of hours of service including international economic development projects by La Sierra’s World Cup-winning Enactus team, and community projects through La Sierra’s campus-wide, Service-Learning program.
 
The Seventh-day Adventist denomination established La Sierra University in 1922 on acreage formerly part of the Rancho La Sierra Mexican land grant. Today the institution provides more than 120 bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees for approximately 2,500 students. Programs are offered in the Tom and Vi Zapara School of Business, the School of Education, the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School, the College of Arts and Sciences and in the Evening Adult Degree Program.
 
“To Seek, To Know, and To Serve” is the key to the mission that drives La Sierra University, with all areas of campus encouraging students to develop a deeper relationship with God.

 

North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists
12501 Old Columbia Pike
Silver Spring, MD 20904-6600 USA
Telephone: 301-680-6400
Fax: 301-680-6464
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