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"Let young men, and women, and children go to work in the name of Jesus. Let them unite together upon some plan and order of action. Cannot you form a band of workers, and have set times to pray together and ask the Lord to give you His grace, and put forth united action? You should consult with men who love and fear God, and who have experience in the work, that under the movings of the Spirit of God, you may form plans and develop methods by which you may work in earnest and for certain results."
On June 11, 1894, Luther Warren organized the first of the so-called Sunshine Bands, at Alexandria, S. Dak. It proved a success, and was soon followed by others in that conference. Aug. 30, 1896, a convention of Sunshine Bands was held at Bridgewater, S. Dak., attended by delegates from Alexandria, Parker, Sioux Falls, and Montrose. Bands were organized in Battle Creek the following year, and in May, 1899, a monthly journal bearing the title Sunshine was started, and continued for nearly a year.
The good work done by these bands began to attract general attention in the denomination, and the Ohio Conference, at a State meeting held at Mount Vernon in April, 1899, passed a resolution favoring the further development of the idea. At the camp-meeting held the following August, State officers were chosen for a young people's organization, the members of which were known as Christian Volunteers. They signed the following declaration:
"Recognizing the preciousness of God's gift to me, I volunteer for service for Him anywhere in the wide world that His Spirit may lead, and in any form of service that He may direct.”—“ Missionary Volunteers and Their Work," by Matilda Erickson, p. 15.
In Iowa, Della Wallace, the tract society secretary, encouraged the movement, and societies were formed at Sigourney, Des Moines, and a number of other places.
The first action of the General Conference was taken at its session of 1901. The resolution ran:
"We approve the movement to organize young people's societies for more effectual missionary service; and we recommend that a committee of nine or more representative persons be appointed to form a plan of organization, and report it to this Conference for consideration."— Id., p. 17.
This committee was duly appointed. It brought in a report encouraging the formation of societies for the young people, asking the conferences to connect the work with the Sabbath school or missionary department, and requesting from the General Conference the appointment of a committee to give further study to the matter, and push forward the work. The com
mittee also advised the opening of a department in the Instructor to be devoted to the advancement of these societies.
The general oversight of the work was provided for at a meeting of the General Conference Committee held in May, 1901, when it was decided to connect it with the Sabbath School Department of the General Conference, then located at Minneapolis, Minn., Mrs. L. Flora Plummer being the secretary.
The department committee, after due deliberation, decided upon a very simple form of organization. It adopted as a motto. the words of Paul, " For the Love of Christ Constraineth Us," and took for the aim of the movement, "The Advent Message to All the World in This Generation." The pledge read:
"Loving the Lord Jesus, and desiring to be of service in His cause, I associate myself with the Young People's Society, to take an active part in its work, and by the grace of Christ, to do what I can to help others, and to send the gospel of the kingdom to all peoples, at home and abroad."Early History of the Seventh-day Adventist Young People's Work," by Mrs. L. Flora Plummer, p. 11.
The following suggestions concerning the details of the organization were sent out for the guidance of the local societies: "NAME: Young People's Society of Seventh-day Adventists.
"OBJECT: Association for Bible study and mutual encouragement in every good work.
"MEMBERS: Young people who love Jesus and desire to engage in active service in His cause, may be members. Membership implies the duty of faithfulness in all that tends to promote the object of the society.
"MANAGEMENT: The church and Sabbath school officers shall form an advisory Committee to act with the officers elected by the Young People's Society, in arranging for the meetings and work of the society."
The officers were to be a leader, an assistant leader, a secretary, and a treasurer.
When the Sabbath school secretary began to develop the work, only three out of fifty conferences had a young people's secretary. The other conferences being slow to appoint officers, the department decided to consider the Sabbath school secretaries as serving in both capacities until separate secretaries should be appointed. Progress began to be made, though slowly at first. The camp-meetings of 1902 showed that the Young People's Society was becoming a growing factor in the denominational work, and was already wielding an influence for good.
Printed helps in the way of programs for meetings and for other purposes were supplied. The Youth's Instructor bearing date of June 27, 1901, contained the first department devoted to the young people's work, the lessons being based on "Steps to
Christ." Beginning with 1903, topical studies of the leading doctrines of the denomination were taken up, "The Great Controversy," "Early Writings," and "Rise and Progress" being used as helps. Later, studies were given on the life of Paul, on mission fields, and on "The Ministry of Healing."
At the General Conference held in Oakland, Calif., in the spring of 1903, the secretary gave a general report of the work. Various lines of missionary effort were being carried on. Books and papers were being sold, branch Sabbath schools conducted, cottage meetings and Bible readings held, jails visited, and contributions made to missions. The conference passed a resolution approving the efforts put forth, and requesting ministers and other workers to give the organization their hearty support.
In the autumn of the same year the Sabbath School and Young People's Department was moved to Washington, D. C., the work thus coming into direct touch with the General Conference management. Early in the following year suitable reporting blanks were provided, and a thirty-two-page manual containing extracts from Mrs. White's writings and other helpful material was published. From October, 1904, till June, 1905, the work was in the charge of Mrs. Flora L. Bland. At the end of this time Mrs. Plummer returned to her post. At the General Conference of 1905 the department was able to report that the work had practically doubled in the last two years.
An important advance step was taken at the General Conference Council held in Gland, Switzerland, in May, 1907, when the following recommendation was passed:
"WHEREAS, There are in our ranks many thousands of young people for whom the most earnest and vigorous efforts should be put forth to fully instruct them in the gospel of our Lord, and lead them to give themselves to the work of the third angel's message; and,
"WHEREAS, The special blessing of God has attended the efforts among our young people put forth under the fostering care of the Sabbath School Department, until it has grown to such an extent that it is difficult for this department to give this work the attention and help which it needs; therefore,
"Resolved, That in order that this work may be properly developed. and thus an army of workers properly trained for service, a special depart ment, with the necessary officers, be created, the same to be known as the Young People's Department of the General Conference."-" Early History of the Seventh-day Adventist Young People's Work," pp. 21, 22.
In carrying out this action of the Council, Prof. M. E. Kern, head of the department of history in Union College, was called to the position of chairman of the new department, and Miss Matilda Erickson (Mrs. E. E. Andross) was made secretary,
G. B. Thompson, Frederick Griggs, H. R. Salisbury, Mrs. L. Flora Plummer, Meade MacGuire, C. L. Benson, Mrs. Fannie D. Chase, and others being members of the advisory committee.
The department thus organized benefited greatly by the holding, in the summer of 1907, at Mount Vernon, Ohio, of the first General Conference Sabbath school and young people's convention. The meeting lasted
from July 10 to 21. The program had been planned with painstaking care, in order that all the most vital features of the work might receive attention. Very careful study was given to choosing a distinctive name for the organization, and although it seemed rather long, the name decided on was Young People's Society of Missionary Volunteers. This has been gradually shortened to simply Missionary Volunteer Society.
This convention gave the young people's work a great impetus throughout the country. It opened the eyes of the secretaries in attendance to the great possibilities that lay before
them; it gave them light on such subjects as the getting up of programs, the organizing of working bands, the duties of the various officers, and the need of regular reporting.
From this time the work 'made steady progress. The yearly Morning Watch Calendar, first issued in 1908, has become an institution, being used by old as well as young. The course of study in Bible doctrines, and denominational history, leading up to the Standard of Attainment, is year by year being taken by a larger number of young people, who are thus obtaining a practical knowledge of the denominational teaching. The reading courses, senior, junior, and primary, are likewise being followed by an ever-increasing number. In the Bible Year the young people and others are encouraged to read their Bibles through again and again.
In giving his report at the General Conference of 1922, the general secretary, M. E. Kern, made interesting comparisons showing the growth of the work in the seventeen years that
had elapsed since the organization handed in its first report at the end of the year 1904. The membership had increased from 2,182 in 1904 to 43,968 at the end of 1921. During this period the denomination increased 162 per cent, and the Missionary Volunteer membership, 1,900 per cent. Furthermore, the increase in missionary activities and in offerings to missions was even greater than in membership. The offerings reported in 1904 amounted to $332.33; for the year 1921 they were $223,000, an annual average gain of $1,309.09 for seventeen years.
During the World War a number of the young men in the army organized Missionary Volunteer Societies, and the results were often very gratifying. One young man in a government tuberculosis hospital gathered a group of five men for Bible study, and won every one of them to the truth. This society of six constituted a 100 per cent Missionary Volunteer Society: they all belonged to the prayer band, all observed the Morning Watch, and every member reported weekly.
Very fruitful work has been done in various churches in encouraging the young people to reach the Standard of Attainment, which indicates a measure of proficiency in the knowledge of Bible doctrines and denominational history. In one of the Eastern conferences a Missionary Volunteer leader, who was a Bible worker, organized a small Standard of Attainment class. which was increased in size by inviting non-Adventist acquaintances to join. Out of those members of this band who had previously known nothing whatever of our work, five accepted the message, two developed into Bible workers, two young men and two young ladies went away to one of our schools, and one young man who had been working in a milk house became a church school teacher.
Aside from its regular work, the Missionary Volunteer Department has carried on two special campaigns. In the year 1918-19 the Volunteers raised more than $30,000 toward the relief of Armenian orphans. A little later they busied themselves with gathering clothing for needy Adventists in Europe. Something over four hundred boxes of this clothing were shipped from New York, the ocean freight alone amounting to more than $4,000.
Another accomplishment of recent years has been the getting out of complete manuals for both the Junior and the Senior divisions of the society. Help from the home office is being supplied to the outlying fields. M. E. Kern, the general secretary, made an extended visit to Europe in the summer of 1920, to Australia and the South Seas in 1922-23, to South Amer