Health ministry

McKenzie Cosaert research reveals changes in Ellen White’s approach to healthcare (2017 senior projects, part 3)

This six-part series highlights academic projects completed by Walla Walla University students during their senior year.

McKenzie Cosaert has used her senior history thesis project to focus on the health message of the Seventh-day Adventist church and how personal experiences influenced Ellen White’s ministry in health. Cosaert noted that in the early days of the Adventist church, White, one of the church founders, discouraged people from seeking medical help from doctors and instead encouraged reliance on faith and natural remedies for physical healing. Later, she placed more emphasis on seeking help from medical professionals and on personal health practices.

“In addition to examining White’s emphasis on faith healing and the personal experiences that led her away from this value,” Cosaert says, “I also examined the markers that indicated her shift towards relying a little more on outside help. Her 1863 vision on health, an article she published in Spiritual Gifts in 1864, six pamphlets she distributed in 1865, her correspondence from this period of time in her life, and her response to her husband’s stroke in 1865 demonstrate her heightened focus on the role people need to play in taking care of their health. Also, her support of the opening of an Adventist Health Institute revealed her willingness to turn to means in addition to prayer to help people recover their health.”

Leaning on the Supreme Healer
Cosaert found inspiration for the project from a story about the Whites’ experience with faith healing in 1849. The Whites had friends by the name of Penfield. Mrs. Penfield fell ill and was treated by two doctors with no success. Her husband called for the Whites and another couple, the Ralphs, to anoint and lay hands on her. While this was happening, White had a vision in which God told her that He was willing to heal the distressed but was also displeased that they would depend on mortal physicians for healing. Throughout the night and the next day, Mrs. Penfield recovered.

Cosaert explains that White never gave up on believing in faith healing; she just began to add more emphasis on the role that people have to play in maintaining their health. Her decision to rely more on medical professionals and personal health practices was influenced by more than just one event. In 1860, White’s youngest son died of illness. Three years later, her eldest son died of pneumonia. It was during this time that she began to focus more on each person’s responsibility to preserve their own health. In 1863 she received a vision from God telling her that “people must avail themselves of all the means God has given them to be healthy.” In 1865, James White, her husband, had a stroke. The two traveled to Dansville, New York, where James received hydropathic treatment at a facility there. After that experience, White had the idea to open a similar Adventist institution. So in 1866, the Western Health Reform Institute was opened in Battle Creek, Michigan.

The flexibility of grace
Cosaert spent last summer reading over the writings of White, which is when she discovered the story of the Penfields. For her project, Cosaert chose to focus on White’s early years of ministry when she promoted faith healing, along with the transition years, when White began to promote using additional means to prayer for healing. As resources for her paper, Cosaert used unpublished manuscripts, letters, autobiographies, and critical secondary sources.

“I do not believe that my research discredits Ellen White’s gift as a prophet,” says Cosaert. “Though she was a prophet, she was also very human—she could not help but be shaped and grow with personal experiences. She worked with the light God revealed to her over time: first in her emphasis on faith healing and then in her growing support of health reform. I respect her even more because she was able to grow and adapt to the changing circumstances around her.”

Cosaert graduated from Walla Walla University in June with majors in English and history. She plans to pursue a master’s degree in teaching and would like to teach high school or even aim for a doctorate in English and become a college professor.

Posted July 28, 2017

Photo of McKenzie Cosaert looking at the camera with a huge smile.
McKenzie Cosaert, 2017 WWU graduate with a majors in English and history, examined Ellen White’s views on faith healing and the experiences that shaped White’s perspectives on healthcare.
Photo of Ellen G. White and her family.
This family portrait of the Whites was taken around 1864, about the time White received the vision on health reform. Pictured are Ellen and James with their two surviving sons Willie (left) and James Edson (right). (Photo courtesy of the Ellen G. White Estate.)
Photo of the Battle Creek Sanitarium Health Reform Institiute located in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Pictured here in 1868 is the Battle Creek Sanitarium Health Reform Institute in Battle Creek, Michigan. (Photo courtesy of the Ellen G. White Estate.)