Percy Tilson Magan

Percy Tilson Magan

by Alice R. Voorheis

Sixteen and a half year old Percy Tilson Magan stepped on to the shores of America alone. Sent from his home in Ireland by his father, he was to become an apprentice to a rancher in Nebraska who promised to make a successful cattleman out of him. But it was not a ranch that awaited Percy as he made his way from New York City to the miswestern plains, just a scrubby, broken-down farm on a lonely prairie near Red Cloud, Nebraska. Spurred on by his youthful exhuberance, he soon learned a few practical bits of farming knowledge - an experience that, in later years, he was sure made him more merciful to others coming along life's way.

After a year on the Nebraska farm, Percy received a letter from his father giving permission for him to cancel the apprenticeship contract and seek his fortune elsewhere in the growing country. He found employment in the home of an elderly family in Red Cloud and endeared himself to them so much so that the lady wrote a letter to Percy's mother in Ireland, praising his character, his industry and his thoughtfulness.

As the months passed, Percy made friends with a young couple who invited him to attend some tent meetings with them. Skeptically declining at first, he became interested when the young lady repeated the invitation with the words, "But this preacher tells how the Bible prophecies are fulfilled in the history of nations." For two weeks he attended every service, accepted the message preached and was baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist at age 18. In just two more weeks he became tent master and went to work giving Bible studies. That autumn he became a preacher in his own right, holding meetings in a country schoolhouse. Even though several persons were baptized, Percy realized he was not ready to become a full-time evangelist - he needed more education.

A teacher at the Lincoln mission school encouraged Percy to go to Battle Creek where he could, at the sanitarium, receive treatments for a persistent cough and also attend the college. Though he worked in the college laundry as well as operating the rope-controlled elevator at the Sanitarium, he did not have enough funds to pay his tuition so received assistance from a trust fund that had been established to help needy students. College subjects, particularly Bible and history, delighted Percy and he mastered them with ease.

In October of 1888, Percy attended the General Conference Session in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he met Ellen White for the first time, as she had been living in California when he first arrived in Battle Creek. Following the Minneapolis meeting Ellen White returnd to Battle Creek and, learning of Percy's experience and need for assistance, invited him to live in her home for a time.

The mother love of Mrs. White soon won Percy's heart and he listened as she explained Bible doctrines, including righteousness by faith, the history of the advent movement, the place of the Spirit of Prophecy among Adventists, the sanctuary service with the atonement being made by the precious blood of Jesus, and the importance of the three angels' messages of Revelation 14. He caught a vision of the work of the church in fulfilling the great commission given by Jesus, to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature."

When the General Conference voted to send S. N. Haskell on an around the world trip to seek out locations for mission stations, Ellen White suggested that Percy would make an excellent traveling companion and secretary for him. Haskell agreed and Percy quickly took a course in shorthand from a former court reporter and mastered typing as well. From then on, Magan's life was in constant motion. On his return to Battle Creek from his tour around the world, he became secretary of the Foreign Mission Board and head of the Bible and History department at the college. When he and Ed Southerland moved the school to Berrien Springs, Michigan, Magan became dean of Emmanuel Missionary College and shortly thereafter, cofounder of the Nashville Agricultural and Normal Institute later known as Madison College. He took the medical course in Nashville and soon after was elected dean of the College of Medical Evangelists in California, now known as Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he later served as president and was largely responsible for school's accreditation.

P. T. Magan, the Invincible Irishman, was God's man for the hour! It was time on God's time clock for the educational work of His last day's church to come of age. The doctrinal foundation of a well-developed theology was secure, the church was organized, the tithing system had been adopted, the ministers were on salary, the publishing work was full grown, the health work was making strides, and now it was time to focus on the education of the youth to prepare workers for all of these established fields of church work!

P. T. Magan knew the value of an education. He had sacrificed as a young man to prepare himself for a definite place in God's work. He relentlessly met challenge after challenge without giving in to discouragement. There were times, of course, when he was disappointed in the turn of events, but he had a refuge in prayer and in the power of his heavenly Father that kept him focused no matter what stumbling block seemed to get hurled in his pathwway, and there were plenty of them. He had studied the testimonies God had given to His church through His servant Ellen White and he followed that guidance throughout his long career in helping to establish a program for the education of the youth of the church. He truly was a pioneer in the field of Adventist Christian education and will long be remembered.