Adventists’ concern for the development and indoctrination of their children provided the rationale for the work of the Education Depart-merit, the Home Commission, and many of the activities of the Sabbath School. It also led in 1907 to the formation of a special department dedicated entirely to sponsoring youth activities—the Young People’s Missionary Volunteer Department. There had been sporadic and uncoor- dinated attempts at sponsoring special youth organizations ever since Luther Warren and Harry Fenner began their young people’s missionary band in Hazelton, Michigan, in 1879. Meade MacGuire had formed a similar group in Antigo, Wisconsin, in 1891.
Several years later Ellen White appealed to Adventist youth through the columns of the Signs of the Times. “Young men and young women,” she wrote, “cannot you form companies, and as soldiers of Christ, enlist in the work, putting all your tact and skill and talent into the Master’s service, that you may save souls from ruin?” Mrs. White advocated the formation of Adventist youth groups, patterned somewhat after the Christian En- deavor Societies then popular among Evangelical Protestants. Even be- fore Ellen White’s appeals were published, A. G. Daniells had learned of her concern and in 1892 organized a young people’s society in Adelaide, Australia. The next year a similar group was begun at Union College by history professor M. E. Kern. Up in the Dakotas Luther Warren, now a vigorous young evangelist, organized sunshine bands in several churches. The bands adopted “Not I” as their password, First Corinthians 10:31 as their motto, and expressed their purpose simply: “Do something for somebody every day.” Active missionary endeavor, grounded on per- sonal and group Bible study, became their hallmark.24
The first conference-wide youth organization was created at the Ohio camp meeting in 1899. The Ohio youth called themselves “Christian Volunteers.” The next year young German Adventists established a simi- lar organization. It seemed time to coordinate this work on a worldwide scale. Consequently the General Conference Committee in 1901 asked the infant Sabbath School Department to foster the development of young people’s societies and coordinate their activities. At the General Confer- ence session two years later Mrs. Plummer reported 186 active youth societies with a membership of 3478.
By 1907 the General Conference leaders recognized that the youth work had grown to the place where a special department could properly be established. Meeting in Gland, Switzerland, that spring, they created a General Conference “Young People’s Department” and invited M. E. Kern to direct it. Kern carried this responsibility for the next twenty-three years, developing a wide variety of programs to prepare Adventist youth to be active and efficient Christian witnesses.
What had been begun at Gland was organized and solidified later that year at a special Sabbath School and Young People’s convention held in Mt. Vernon, Ohio. One of the actions at this convention expanded the youth organization’s official title to “Seventh-day Adventist Young People’s Society of Missionary Volunteers.” Delegates to the Mt. Vernon
convention spelled out three major aims for the new department: the development in youth of a solid devotional life, missionary endeavor, and educational activities. In other actions they adopted an aim, motto, and pledge for the new society, recognized The Youth’s Instructor as its official magazine, called for the establishment of departments with full- time leaders in the local conferences, and provided for an annual Week of Prayer specifically for youth.25
The next several years were busy ones as Kern sought to implement the plans outlined at Mt. Vernon. One of his first projects was to prepare copy for a Morning Watch Calendar for 1908. This consisted of a special text to be the subject of a brief daily meditation and prayer period. To further the society’s educational goals, Kern chose a small group of books which all members were encouraged to read during the year. The Missionary Vol- unteer Reading Course had been born. Another educational activity con- sisted in the preparation of two special series of lessons—one in basic Bible doctrines, the other in Seventh-day Adventist history. When a member completed these and passed an examination in each area, he was awarded a special “standard of attainment” certificate. Kern also launched a special column in The Youth’s Instructor that contained suggestions for weekly Missionary Volunteer programs for local societies. In 1914 this feature was transferred to the Church Officers’ Gazette, where it continued until the MV Program Kit was begun in 1951.
The Missionary Volunteer program proved so successful that in 1909 General Conference delegates called for the development of a similar program adapted to the needs of the younger children in the church. In the next few years Junior Missionary Volunteer Societies began to appear, with their own programs, reading course, and junior level of the standard of attainment.
As the years passed, new programs were added to further the basic spiritual and educational development of the church’s youth. In 1915 the Bible Year was inaugurated. This called for reading the entire Bible through in one year’s time with approximately equal daily reading as- signments to facilitate this objective. Nor was the encouragement of missionary activities forgotten. Some society meetings were devoted to methods of personal evangelism; members were encouraged to give away or sell Adventist literature, to aid the needy by performing useful services, and to hold Bible studies with interested contacts. In Australia Missionary Volunteers raised $10,000 to purchase a mission schooner, the Melanesia; Scandinavian Missionary Volunteers sponsored a missionary to work among the Lapps of the Far North. During World War I the Missionary Volunteer Department gave special help to hundreds of Adventist young men called into millitary service, providing camp pastors to visit them and literature, including a special edition of Steps to Christ, for their devo- tional use.26
The 1920s were eventful years in a rapidly expanding program for the Junior Missionary Volunteers. In widely scattered parts of the United States interested youth leaders organized a variety of social and recrea- tional activities loosely patterned after those of the Boy and Girl Scouts. These included handicrafts, nature lore, camping, and hiking, and culmi- nated in 1922 in the development of the Junior Missionary Volunteer progressive classes. By demonstrating increasing levels of proficiency in a variety of physical, mental, spiritual, and social skills boys and girls might become progressively a Friend, Companion, and Comrade (changed after World War II to Guide). Five years later the Missionary Volunteer honors program, recognizing special proficiency in a wide variety of arts, crafts, nature study, and recreational skills, was begun.
A year earlier, in the summer of 1926, sixteen junior boys and five senior counselors participated in the first Missionary summer camp, at Town Line Lake in Michigan. The next year a camp was also conducted for the girls. For ten dollars junior boys and girls could enjoy ten days of recrea- tional and craft activities, intermixed with a variety of spiritual features. In fact, Arthur Spalding, an enthusiastic supporter of the camping plan, referred to the summer camps as “the denomination’s camp meeting expressed in terms of Junior psychology.” By the end of the decade the Missionary Volunteer Department had developed a youth leadership course that culminated in the successful participants’ being recognized as “Master Comrades” (later changed to Master Guides).
In spite of the increased emphasis on recreational and social activities, the basic goal of missionary endeavor was not forgotten. As M. E. Kern completed his long period of youth leadership in 1930, he proudly told delegates to that year’s General Conference session that approximately 24 percent of the church’s membership were Missionary Volunteers, and that this group was responsible for nearly 30 percent of the reported missionary activities of the church. 27
Spalding, Origin and History of Seventh-day Adventists, 4 vols. (1962), III: 200-204.
23. General Conference Bulletin, May 21, 1913, pp. 70-72; April 4, 1918, pp. 57-59; May 16, 1922, pp.
73-76; June 10, 1926, pp. 25-29.
24. N. Krum, The MV Story (1963), pp. 9-20.
25. Krum, pp. 20-39.
26. Krum, pp. 39-51; General Conference Bulletin, April 7, 1918, pp. 86-88.
27. Krum, pp. 52-60; General Conference Bulletin, June 4, 1930, pp. 90-93; S.D.A. Encyclopedia, pp. 821, 822.