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Join the Gold Rush – Be a Tentmaker

Scott Griswold


Gold was discovered in California on January 24, 1848. James Marshall found it at Sutter Mill. Threehundred thousand people flooded those beautiful hills. San Francisco boomed from 200 people to 36,000 in just six years. And California became the 31st state of the United States of America.

A man named Kellogg was watching from the East. Merritt Kellogg. He was the older stepbrother of the famous John Harvey Kellogg. Merritt saw gold in California too— but his gold was people who needed the gospel. If they were saved they would be treasure in heaven for Jesus. So he headed west on an ox cart with his wife. Merritt wasn’t a preacher. No one sent him and he had no salary. But he was a carpenter like his Master, Jesus. He could build some of those houses springing up in San Francisco.

Merritt Kellogg did more than swing a hammer. He shared the gospel with those around him. One day he met B.G. St. John. He was a 49er, no, not a football player, one of the 49ers who had made and lost a fortune in gold mining. When he learned that he was living right at the end of earth’s history, he decided to get himself ready for the streets of gold. He was the first to be baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist in California.

So the gold-miner and carpenter teamed up to hold some evangelistic meetings. They got permission to use a room at the courthouse. They preached about the Second Coming and the Sabbath. Fourteen people accepted these truths and the first Seventh-day Adventist church in California was born.

Kellogg and St. John were tentmakers, just like Paul in the Bible. They worked with their hands and didn’t receive offerings from anybody. Do you remember what Paul said after he along with Aquila and Priscilla, had made a bunch of tents? It’s in Acts 20:34-35.

“You yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:34-35).

That’s what it means to be truly self-supporting. It’s just ordinary members serving Jesus at their workplaces and in their spare time.

5But things got a little busy for Merritt Kellogg. He thought California could use some paid ministers too. He and St. John gathered some gold and sent about $130 worth to the General Conference. Unfortunately, the GC wrote back that they couldn’t spare anyone. The needs were so great but Merritt felt he just wasn’t qualified to help like he should. So he sold his house in California and headed back east to get some medical training. He’d learned about the importance of the healing ministry through Ellen White’s writings and enrolled at Dr. Trall’s Medical College in New Jersey. In just a few months they gave him a diploma as a physician and surgeon. But before he would head back to the west coast, he determined to plead with the General Conference for a missionary to California to help him out.

Two evangelists took up the call. Loughborough and Bordeau headed west, but Merritt didn’t sit back just because there were now paid ministers. He helped a lot with health talks and medical care. In fact, during a smallpox epidemic he used water treatments and good healthy eating to help the people. Ten out of 11 that he treated survived and everybody was really impressed, since typically, one out of three would die. I really think we’re all going to see the incredible value of using natural remedies and healthy living as superbugs and other problems come our way at the end of time.

Back to the land of the gold rush. Food was cheap, but renting homes and meeting halls was really expensive in San Francisco, so the work moved northward toward Petaluma, Santa Rosa, and Healdsburg. Soon there were five churches. I grew up near there and I’ve been to those churches.

In the summer of 1877 Merritt was asked to run the new San Francisco hydrotherapy center. His pay? Room and board. Next step for this tentmaker? He caught the vision to make a health resort in the countryside. Ellen White visited the property Merritt was looking at and greatly encouraged him to go for it. That’s how what we know now as the St. Helena Hospital near Pacific Union College got its start.

The carpenter/doctor/administrator had his hands full now. But God wasn’t done. In 1893 the church sent him out as a medical missionary to the South Pacific. He rode on the famous Pitcairn to Tahiti, Fiji, and other islands. He settled down in Western Samoa to build a sanitarium just off the beach and later went on to help establish work in Tonga. What a life! Won’t it be fun to see the jewels in Merritt’s crown that he casts at Jesus’ feet in the New Jerusalem along with all those he reached?

So what do you think? Do you want to join the gold rush? Go find some precious metal for Jesus? I don’t know what you do to make a living, but I know you can use it for God. You can witness to your coworkers and your customers. You can use your free time to preach or serve soup at a homeless shelter. Those people right around you are your responsibility and privilege.

But would you also prayerfully consider going West, off to some frontier, some country that won’t let people in on a missionary visa but would welcome a quality worker in your field?

If the love of Jesus in Merritt Kellogg has stirred your heart enough to seriously consider this, I invite you to study in Ellen White’s writings what it means to be a truly selfsupporting missionary through your own career. I encourage you to check out two websites where you’ll meet people who are ready to train you and empower you for Tentmaker action.

The first is Total Employment by Adventist Mission at the General Conference. You can learn all about it at

The second is Adventist Frontier Mission’s They will help you find that job overseas in a country that desperately needs committed followers of Jesus doing their regular career to the best of their ability and quietly shining for Jesus.

What do you say? If we all sew some tents, serve Jesus with whatever’s in our hands, we’ll surely find heaps of gold.