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Life Sketches of Ellen G. White

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    The Training of Colporteurs

    Encouraged by her assurance that special help would be given those who would persevere in faith, a number of young men were persuaded to make another effort to do self-supporting work in the sale of literature, but they pointed out that they must be furnished with a better supply of salable books.LS 285.4

    Elder J. G. Matteson testified that he had made every effort to encourage and train colporteurs, and that they had succeeded in selling the periodicals and smaller books; but the returns were not sufficient to support them properly, and he was in great perplexity to know what could be done to bring better results. He said that, with the encouragement received from Mrs. White, he was resolved to try once more.LS 285.5

    Accordingly, during the winter of 1885-86 special efforts were made in Scandinavia to educate and train colporteurs. Training schools were held in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. The school in Stockholm continued four months. Twenty persons were in attendance. Six hours in the middle of the day they spent in canvassing; the mornings and evenings were spent in study. The sales of books and tracts in Scandinavia in 1886 amounted to $5,386, and subscriptions to periodicals to $3,146.LS 286.1

    Years afterward, Elder Matteson declared that in his efforts in behalf of the colporteur work soon after his return from the Basel conference, he was so fully convinced that his workers must live on a very meager income, that he persuaded each one to keep a strict cash account, and to let him examine this account once a week, and advise economies. Soon the scale was turned, for the colporteurs were spending less and earning more, and a number earned enough to support themselves without drawing anything from the conference treasury. [Note.—The earnest endeavors put forth to establish the canvassing work on a substantial basis in Scandinavia, bore early fruit. At the 1889 General Conference, Elder O. A. Olsen was able to report fifty canvassers in Scandinavia, who were having good success. (See 1889 Church and Sabbath School Bulletin, 4.) The book sales for 1889 amounted to about $10,000, and in later years these figures were swelled to upwards of $20,000. During the 1891 General Conference, the general agent for Scandinavia declared: “The canvassers are supporting themselves, and besides this, are helping to support the cause by their gifts. Several hundred kroner have come into the treasury of the Swedish conference through the donations of our canvassers, and I presume this is also true of Norway and Denmark.... The more our canvassers sell, the more they can sell.... Many have already accepted the truth by reading our publications.” (Church and Sabbath School Bulletin, 1891, 84.)]LS 286.2

    In central Europe the canvassing work waited for books and for a teacher and leader. The “Life of Christ,” which was proving to be a popular book in the Scandinavian countries, was translated into German and French, and was ready for the people early in 1887.LS 287.1

    Elder L. R. Conradi had come from America early in 1886, and having visited the churches and companies of Sabbath keepers in Germany, Russia, and Switzerland, he reported that one of the most urgent needs of the European fields was books on present truth, carried to the homes of the people by consecrated and well trained colporteurs. He saw clearly that our literature must be used to carry the advent message to the multitudes of Europe, and that because the mission funds would not make it possible to pay even a small salary to colporteurs, an effort must be made to inaugurate in central Europe what had been begun in Scandinavia,—the education of colporteurs to sell the literature and live upon their commission, without salary. He also saw that our young men needed employment of a character that would educate and train them to become efficient workers in the cause of Christ.LS 287.2

    Beginning at Basel, Elder Conradi gathered a group of six or eight young people, and began to train them for success. He declared that the people needed the saving truths in our books; that Mrs. White said that with well trained effort these books could be sold; that Elder Matteson had proved this true; and that he and his young associates must find the way. They studied their book until they were enthusiastic about its great truths, and then as they went out under his encouragement and instruction, they met with success.LS 287.3

    [Note.—At the General Conference of 1887 it was stated: “The publishing work at Basel has steadily increased. From the very first, it was evident that our publications must act a leading part in the Central European field. The denominational books, tracts, and periodicals issued in various languages are having a powerful influence for good wherever they are circulated.” (S. D. A. Year book, The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, 120.)

    So prospered were the workers for the larger books and for the periodicals published at the Imprimerie Polyglotte, that in 1889 Elder O. A. Olsen was able to report a substantial gain in its operation. “The publishing house at Basel ... has done a good business the past year,” He declared to the delegates assembled at the 1889 General Conference. “The annual report shows a gain of $1,559.55 for the year. When we consider the fact that this office has never before been self-sustaining, this report is very encouraging. The aggressive work of the Central European conference this year has been largely in the direction of Germany.” (General Conference Daily Bulletin, 1889, 3.)]

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