The River Boat
Do you like to go to camp meeting? Would you like to go to camp meeting by boat? A riverboat? The White family traveled about a hundred miles by riverboat as they went to the camp meeting in Minnesota in 1870. They did not go alone. There were other Adventist families making ten people in the group. In the White family there were Elder White and Sister White and Willie, who was fifteen.
They reached the Mississippi River at Dubuque, Iowa, early on a Wednesday morning in June and there they were to transfer to a river boat. They were to travel all day and all night on the riverboat. The next morning, they were to be met and taken to the Minnesota camp ground. What a pleasant day was before them!
When they got to the river, there was the boat and they hurried up the gangplank. The boat was due to leave at nine o’clock. It was a beautiful sunny day. The captain pulled the whistle. “Toooooooooooot, tooooooooooooooot!” And the engines started to run. “Chug, chug, chug, chug!” And the paddle wheels on the sides of the boat began to turn with a “Splash, splash, splash, splash!” And the boat with its one hundred passengers pulled away from the wharf.
Now many of the passengers remained on deck, especially Elder White and Willie and others of the Adventist group. Sister White did not. She would have liked to stay up on deck, but there were so many things that had been shown to her in vision that she must write out. She felt that she must use this quiet day of traveling in writing. The stewardess found a quiet place where Sister White could write. She had her pens and pencils and paper. So she spent most of the day writing, writing, writing.
But up on deck, what a glorious day it was and what a wonderful time the people had! The sky was clear and blue. The sun was bright and warm. They moved up to the front of the boat and Elder White and the boys watched the boat cut through the water as it made its way up the river.
As they looked up the river, they saw something. It was on the river, but it wasn’t a boat. It was broad and flat and long. There were some men on it, and they wondered what this was. They watched it until it came closer and closer and closer. When it came near the boat, they could see just what it was. It was a raft made out of lumber.
In the forests way up the river, the big trees had been cut and then were dragged to the riverbank. There at a sawmill, the logs had been cut into lumber. Then this lumber was tied together with great chains and ropes. With several men on this lumber raft, they would float it down the river to the cities where they could sell the lumber. It was a cheap way of shipping the lumber. There would be one or two men at the back with boards which had been made into a sort of rudder to guide the lumber raft as it made its slow journey down the river in the current.
The passengers were very much interested in this lumber raft. They thought the men had been very ingenious to devise such a means of transporting lumber. They were interested in the little shanty built on the raft as a place to cook. As they were watching intently as the lumber raft went by the boat, the men on the raft put their hands to their mouths so that their voices would carry and then they shouted, “Papers! Papers! We want papers;” They had been several days on the raft, and the men wanted something to read. As one of the men dove off the raft into the river and swam toward the river boat, the folks on the boat took their newspapers and twisted them a bit and then threw them out towards the raft. They were soon picked up and the man swam back to the raft. Then the man laid them out on the lumber raft to dry. As they saw the raft passing down the river behind them, the papers were getting dry and soon the men would have something to read.
This gave Elder White an idea. Perhaps they would meet another lumber raft. Why shouldn’t they give them papers and tracts telling them about Jesus’ coming again. Here was an opportunity for missionary work. “Willie,” he called, “come here!”
Fifteen-year-old Willie went to his father’s side. He said, “Down in our stateroom, in my bag, there are some copies of the Review and Herald and the Youth’s Instructor and some tracts. I want you to get some of those papers and bring them here.”
While Willie was getting the papers, Brother White was thinking about how he could arrange these papers so as to get them onto the raft without their getting wet. When Willie came with the papers, he laid them down on the bench near the railing of the boat, and then Elder White sent him again, this time to the kitchen of the boat to get some string. And he said, “I want you to go to the engine room and get some pieces of coal, solid pieces.”
So Willie did as he was told. He got some string at the kitchen and he got some pieces of coal at the engine room and he brought them to his father.
And so Elder White took some of the papers and a tract or two and he rolled them tightly around the piece of coal. Then he took a piece of string and tied it tight around the papers to hold them firmly with the coal inside. He laid the little package down. He got another one ready, He got another one ready. Why do you suppose he tied the pieces of coal inside the papers? Why, of course, it was so that when he threw the papers with the piece of coal inside, it would carry them over onto the raft.
Then Elder White and Willie wondered, would there be another lumber raft? He had no way of knowing, but anyway, after a little time of watching, sure enough, there was one. They watched it come down the river towards them. Their boat was going chug-chug-chug-chug up the river, and the paddle-wheels were going splash-splash-splash-splash. Would the lumber raft come close enough? Would he be able to reach them by throwing the papers with the coal? He watched and trembled a bit, wondering just how it would work out. And others were watching him too. The lumber raft came closer, closer, closer. Now it was right beside the boat. It wasn’t too far away either. James White took a piece of coal with a paper and he gave it a throw: [Throw one of the papers with a stone or coal.] And he got another one, and he gave it a throw. Willie took one and he gave it a throw, and they all landed on the lumber raft. They saw the men scrambling over the lumber to get the papers. Then they saw them standing on the lumber, reading the Review and the Instructor and the tracts. Elder White said in his heart, “That’s good missionary work;” It was a good way to share their faith.
So they got some more ready, and two or three times that day, they met the lumber rafts and Elder White and Willie threw the papers over for the men to read. Our early Adventists were always watching for ways in which to tell others the message of Jesus’ coming soon. We too can find many ways if we watch.
As the sun was going down in the west, the Adventists gathered at the front of the boat. They were watching as it cut its way up through the water. Someone began to sing a hymn, and all the Adventists joined in singing. Then they heard clapping and tapping of feet and voices saying, “Give us some more;” “Try that again:” As they looked around here was a large group of the passengers who had gathered to hear the Adventists sing the hymns of Jesus’ coming soon. The Adventists sang another hymn.
Then one of the men on the boat, a business man, came to Elder White and said, “Mr. White, it is rumored about the boat that Mrs. White is a public speaker. The passengers are requesting that she speak to them this evening in the ladies’ cabin, if she will consent.”
Tell me, boys and girls, how did the passengers on this boat know that Sister White spoke to large audiences? Ah, I tell you that in her day, she was well known as a public speaker, and the people always liked to hear her speak.
So Elder White said, “I’ll see.” He went down to where Sister White was writing. He said, “Ellen, the passengers have asked if you would speak to them this evening.” They talked it over. Would it be appropriate? What would be the subject?
Then she said, “Yes, if they would like to have me talk to them, I will do so.”
So the passengers were told that in a few minutes, Mrs. White would speak to them in the ladies’ cabin. And for about an hour that night, Sister White spoke to the passengers about the love of God and of how nature testifies of this.
Then at nine o’clock, it was time to go to bed. So Elder and Mrs. White and their children went to their cabin for the night. But before they got into bed, they did something. What do you think they did? Yes, of course they did. They got down on their knees and had worship togetherand they asked God to send His angels to watch over them as they traveled through the hours of the night. Then they climbed into their berths and they went to sleep. As they went to sleep, all they could hear was the “chug-chug-chug-chug” of the engines and the “splash-splash-splash-splash” of the paddle wheels, and they went fast asleep.
And then in the middle of the night, there was a terrible CRASH!! The boat shook from end to end. Everyone was awake and they wondered what had happened. And then all was quiet, and all they could hear was the “chug-chug-chug-chug” of the engines and the “splash-splash-splash-splash” of the paddle wheels. Then all of a sudden they heard a terrible grating noise— “Br-r-r-r-r-ttttttttttt!!” Then all was quiet again. All they could hear was the “chug-chug-chug-chug” of the engines and the “splash-splash-splash-splash” of the paddle wheels, and they went fast asleep again.
In the morning, the passengers went to the captain. They said, “Captain, what happened in the night? What caused that terrible crash and all that noise?”
The captain said, “It could have been very serious. As we were plowing up the river in the middle of the night, we came to a bend in the river. Just as we came to the bend in the river, we met a lumber raft right in the middle of the river and there was no time for us to turn out and no time for the lumber raft to turn out, and we hit the lumber raft right in the middle, broke the chains, split the lumber raft in two, and as the lumber went by our boat, some of it got mixed up with the paddle wheels and that is what made that terrible grating noise.”
We just hope, don’t we, that the men on the raft were not right at the point where the boat hit the raft. But God sent his angel messengers to watch over Elder and Mrs. White and their children as they were on their way to camp meeting that night. I am so glad that God sends his angel messengers to watch over us. Sometimes we know when the angels have taken care of us; many times we don’t know. But we can always ask the Lord to send His angels to watch over us, and we know that the Lord loves us and He hears our prayers and He sends His angels to be near those who serve Him.
So the Whites went to campmeeting. They found a way to share their faith on the way and God sent His angels to watch over them as they traveled through the night.
Arthur L. White