The right book at the right time can indeed save a life. If you’re a colporteur, you probably already know this. I know it too, because it happened to me.
A midlife crisis
By the summer of 1998, I had achieved all the world says will make us happy and successful in life. Yet I just wanted to die. I felt my life had no purpose, no point to it all. I was asking myself, “Who am I and why am I here?” But I had no answers.
My state of mind was similar to that of the Preacher who wrote, ” I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.” (Ecc. 1:14, NKJV).
My despair made no sense to any rational observer. By age 33, I had traveled the world, earned my way through college and law school. As a licensed attorney in three states, I was also sworn in as a member of the bar for the U.S. Supreme Court. I had a great job working as a legal journalist in Washington, D.C., writing for several print and online publications. I had a close circle of family and friends, a house, a car, a fiancé and two cats. What more could a girl want?
I had no idea. Truly, even I could not understand why—despite my achievements – that summer I felt depressed, hopeless, empty, questioning the meaning of life. But instead of putting a gun to my head or swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills (I had thoughts of suicide), I did what many people do in the summertime – I went on vacation.
The turning point
My fiancé and I enjoyed a relaxing weekend at a friend’s lake house, fishing and canoeing, roasting marshmallows and watching beautiful sunsets; on our way home I was bemoaning my painful sunburn. I was still depressed, but at least I had been distracted for a bit.
Then it happened – a drunk driver hit us head on, flipped our car on its side into a ditch, and the front of the car crushed up against my legs. I forgot all about my sunburn as I was pried out of the car by rescuers and rushed by ambulance to the nearest hospital.
After a life-threatening accident, dying now became the last thing I wanted to do. I believe the enemy was trying to kill me but, as He so often does, God used that evil for His purposes to save me instead.
I lay bedridden for weeks thereafter, unable to walk unaided due to my injuries. But due to the accident, I wanted to connect to God like I never had before. Although I studied world religions in college, I lived most of my adult life rejecting all organized religions. So I said a simple prayer, asking God for help in picking a Christian denomination that would teach me the truth about Jesus.
The work of a colporteur
Shortly thereafter, my fiancé brought home a book he found on top of a pile of trash as his crew cleaned out a 100-year-old house to be remodeled. He said he felt “impressed” to bring it to me even though he knew nothing about it. The book was called America in Prophecy, (also known as The Great Controversy), by E.G. White, with a 1988 copyright.
As I read it, the book truly astonished me! It logically and beautifully laid out the history of Biblical truths–lost over time—gradually restored through a series of religious movements. And in doing so, God showed me two Biblical standards by which I could find and test a new church – the doctrines on the state of the dead and the seventh-day Sabbath.
From my college class, I knew the Seventh-day Adventist church was Christian, yet would worship on Saturday. So in my search for a church family, I turned to another helpful book—the Yellow Pages. I quickly found an Adventist church located five minutes from my house, and made plans to attend the following week.
Finding a church home
When I walked in, a tiny elderly lady greeted me with a hug and a warm welcome. I sat in the back row and listened to the hymns. A visiting preacher talked about casting our burdens on the Lord. Hearing this timely message, tears streamed down my face; several members turned around in curiosity.
After the service, I dashed out down a hallway, embarrassed about crying. Due to remodeling that cut off my escape, I ended up trapped in a coat closet waiting for the foyer to empty out. Another woman stopped by and invited me to stay for lunch.
While eating, someone asked what brought me to their local church. I enthusiastically described the book I read and recommended it to them. Several people chuckled. “Yes, we know that book well,” one man explained. “It was written by a woman more than 150 years ago. She was one of the founders of this church and a modern-day prophet.”
I was speechless with shock! I never imagine that book was written by anyone associated with the SDA church, much less a founder, a prophet, and a preacher, despite being a woman in that era with no formal education.
That revelation was a sign that I was in the right place at the right time. An evangelism series taught by Pastor Dwight Nelson started that night on the truth about the Sabbath, a topic of keen interest to me. Those teachings led me to yet another book—the Bible.
The spiritual journey begins
As I read the Bible and Ellen White’s other inspired writings to illuminate its truth, I gave my heart to Jesus early on. After a year of spiritual growth, I was baptized in 1999.
In 2000 at the General Conference session in Toronto, I met church members from every nation. I thrilled at the diversity, the joy and enthusiasm, the love for Jesus exhibited by them all.
Within a short time, I started to change as Jesus infiltrated my heart, mind, and soul. And my life changed in very unexpected directions. For example, I soon gave up my cushy job and found myself strapped in the cargo section of a UNICEF plane flying into southern Sudan during a civil war, headed there to help write a $50 million education grant proposal while living in a mud hut with a grass roof, a pit latrine, no running water and very little food. But that (like many others) is another story for another time.
A book can indeed save a life
So who are we and why are we here? The Preacher sums it up after much contemplation: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all.” (Ecc. 12: 13) As I first learned 20 years ago, we are children of God who, after being saved ourselves, are then called to be involved in His work of saving other people while the great controversy between good and evil plays out.
We do well to remember it’s often the painful events in people’s lives that draw them to Christ for help and healing — a car wreck, a midlife crisis, depression, divorce, the death of a loved one, chronic illness, loss of a job, alienation from family, domestic violence, sexual abuse, or simply loneliness.
I like to imagine how that unknown colporteur brought a copy of The Great Controversy in 1988 to someone in their historic home. Knowing its truth and power, I believe that he or she somehow saved someone’s life at that time with that book. I do know God continued to magnify its impact by reaching me 10 years later, to save my life in 1998.
As believers, with the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, we must use every tool at our disposal to help facilitate that process so people can ultimately be saved and enter into a new life of deeper meaning and lasting purpose. For the work of literature evangelism, a book can be the beginning of someone’s spiritual journey toward salvation, as it was for me.
And by telling my story for the past 20 years to many people in a variety of settings, that copy of The Great Controversy from an unknown colporteur continues to expand its circles of influence to reach even more people for Jesus.
Anne Woodworth, lives in the Washington, D.C., area and works as a fundraiser and project designer in international development to help vulnerable and marginalized people in low-income countries get access to improved health, education and sustainable livelihoods.