Crossing On Ice
It was midnight, Ellen White stood at the window, looking out into the darkness. She was hoping and praying that the rain would stop before it melted the snow.
The Whites had been holding meetings with a new company of Sabbath keepers in Round Grove Illinois. Now the meetings were over. The two preachers, Josiah Hart and Elon Everts, who had been giving Bible lectures there, had promised to take my grandparents on a trip to Waukon, Iowa. Preparations had been made to start the following day, but falling rain was fast melting the snow, making sleighing impossible.“It looks as though we shall have to give up the trip,” James said. And why not? Why make a two-hundred-mile journey by open sleigh in midwinter?
The reason was that Ellen had been shown in vision that the Adventists in Waukon needed help, and she must go to them as soon as possible.
About the time the Review moved from Rochester to Battle Creek, John Andrews’ father left his rocky farm in Maine and moved west. He wrote back to his friends, “Come and join us, land is cheap, and there is plenty of timber. You can build a home for yourselves and get a new start in life, and you can carry the Sabbath truth to the people here who have never heard it.” Before long there was an Adventist colony in Waukon.
Worn out with constant studying, writing and preaching, John Andrews gladly accepted an offer to come to Waukon and clerk in his uncle’s grocery. After his arrival he wrote for his friend John Loughborough to come. Loughborough was discouraged. For several years he had been preaching while trying to support himself and his wife on the slim offerings given him. This was his opportunity, he thought, to make a little money. He hurried to Waukon, bought a set of tools, and began earning regular wages as a carpenter.
That night in the Hart home Ellen slept fitfully. She was thinking how much these two young men were needed in God’s work. If only their faith could hold out a little longer! Men of means were accepting the message and beginning to support the Review office. Soon they would be able to help the young preachers. These two workers must be brought back.
Before retiring that night, Mr. Hart asked, “Sister White, what about the trip to Waukon?
“We shall go!” she answered.
“Yes,” he replied. “If the Lord works a miracle, we shall go.”
Many times during the night she stood at the window watching for the miracle to happen.
About daybreak snow began to fall, and it continued all day. This was the miracle they were praying for. By late afternoon there was sufficient snow for sleighing, and the group decided to start.
We are not told where they stopped that first night or whether they stopped at all. The following evening they reached a family of Adventists in Green Vale and spent the night with them. The next morning the roads were blocked by heavy snow drifts, and they were compelled to wait several days. Even when they did start, they had to stop often and dig through deep drifts.
At last they were only a few miles from the Mississippi River. At about four o’clock in the morning they heard the sound of rain on the roof of their hotel. At that time there was no bridge across the river. They would have to cross on the ice. And now rain was falling on the ice, making it soft and weak.
Before daybreak they were up and on their way, knowing that every hour of rainfall increased the danger of the crossing. The horses broke though the snow crust at almost every step. As they passed people on the way, Mr. Hart stopped and asked, “How about the river? Will the ice hold us up?” The responses gave little encouragement. “I wouldn’t try it for all the money in the world,” said one. And another, “They say one team broke through the ice, and the driver nearly lost his life.”
The travelers reached the riverbank. Standing up in the sleigh, Mr. Hart asked, “Is it on to Iowa, or back to Illinois? We have come to the Red Sea. Shall we cross?”
Without hesitation, Mrs. White answered, “Go forward, trusting in Israel’s God.”
Mr. Hart drove cautiously onto the ice, which was covered by a foot of water and melting snow. Everyone in the sleigh was praying.
The ice held!
As the sleigh ascended the opposite bank, a cheer went up from the men standing along the river’s edge. They had expected every moment to see the team break through. Praise ascended to God from those in the sleigh. Had they taken such a risk on their own responsibility, they could not have claimed the protection of heaven. But going at God’s bidding, they could trust him to keep them safe.
On Friday they stopped at a hotel to rest over the Sabbath. In the evening when they gathered in the parlor to sing hymns, the hotel guests came in and nearly filled the room. Mr. Everts hung up his chart and gave a Bible study. As the party was leaving, the hotel keeper said, “Stop again on your way home and hold another meeting with us.”
The weather turned bitterly cold. Riding in the open sleigh, the travelers watched the faces of their companions. Occasionally someone would exclaim, “I see a white spot on your cheek; you’d better rub it with snow.”
On the last day of the journey Ellen White wrote in a letter home: “Here we are, fourteen miles this side of Waukon. We are all quite well. Have had quite a tedious time thus far. Yesterday for miles there was no track. Our horses had to plow through snow, very deep, but on we came….
“Oh such a fare we have had on this journey! Last Monday we could get no decent food, and tasted not a morsel with the exception of a small apple from morn till night. We have most of the time kept very comfortable, but it is the bitterest cold weather we ever experienced.
Last night we slept in an
unfurnished chamber where there was an opening for the stovepipe, running through the top of the house, a large space, big enough for a couple of cats to jump out of.” The cold wind blew in through that large opening.
The company at Waukon were amazed to see their visitors. No one thought it possible for anyone to make the journey from Illinois in such weather. John Loughborough was working on a store building when he heard Brother Everts call, “Come down, John! Brother and Sister White and Brother Hart are here to see you.” He clambered down the ladder and stood beside the sleigh.
Looking at him, Mrs. White asked solemnly, “What doest thou here, Elijah?”
“I’m doing carpentry work with brother Mead,” John Loughborough answered.
Mrs. White’s voice was more solemn than before. “What doest thou here, Elijah?”
John dropped his head
A third time Mrs. White said, "What doest thou here, Elijah?” There was nothing John could say.
On the night before Christmas all the Adventist families in Waukon met in the Andrews home. For a week meetings were held every night. The group studied the message to the Laodicean church… They had thought that the rebuke it contained was only intended for the churches that had rejected the message of Jesus’ soon coming. But now they saw that they themselves were “lukewarm,” that they were “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”
They realized that many among them who had taught the truth very earnestly in times past were now forgetting to share their faith with their neighbors. When talking with other Waukon settlers, they had much to say about their farms and the houses they were building, but they said little about the glorious new earth and the mansions Jesus was building for them over there.
Now they remembered the old times when they had been on fire for God. Many wept aloud. Jesus saw how sad they were and sent them a message of cheer. In one of the evening meetings, Ellen White was given a vision. During which she slowly and solemnly repeated the words, “Return unto Me, and I will return unto you. I will heal your backslidings and love you freely. Tear down the rubbish from the door of your hearts and open the door, and I will come in and sup with you and you with Me.” The words reminded the repentant group that God still loved them, and everyone felt encouraged.
Mary Loughborough stood up and said, Brother and Sister white, I thought we had gotten where you could not find us; but I am glad you have come. I have sinned and have made my husband to sin. God forgive me! I clear away the rubbish. I open the door of my heart. Lord Jesus come in!”
One of the men confessed that at times there had been so much farm work that he had used the sacred Sabbath hours for weekday toil. Another said he had cut down his offerings because he had wanted more money to invest in land. One after another the members made wrongs right and asked forgiveness for unkind things they had said and done.
Mrs. Loughborough stepped to her husband’s side. ”John,” she said, “I complained because you were away preaching so much of the time and I was left at home alone. Forgive me! Go back, trusting in God, and do His work.”
“I have laid down my hammer and driven the last nail,” her husband answered.
John Andrews also renewed his promise to return to the special work to which God had called him.
The meeting continued till midnight. At ten o’clock in the morning, the Adventists met for seven more hours without even stopping for lunch.
During the meeting one brother prayed especially for his son, who had denied any faith in the Bible. The father’s prayer was answered. A short time afterward, as that young man was traveling by steamer along the Mississippi, he was detained at a place called Rock Island. He went ashore. With nothing else to do, he began to think seriously. Was there really a God? How could he know? Then he heard a voice speaking in real words that he could hear with his ears, “Believe the Bible, it is the Word of God.” At once he answered aloud, “Yes Lord I will.”
Back at the ship he knelt in his cabin and gave his heart to God. After that he returned home and helped with the farming, at the same time giving Bible lectures and holding studies with his neighbors. Later he became a fulltime minister. That young man was George I. Butler, who for many years was the president of the General Conference.
When the Waukon company waved good-bye to their visitors from Illinois, tears were falling. Every one of them had pledged to make God first in all things. Never again would they allow the “cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches” to hide his face from them.
John Loughborough returned with the Whites, forsaking his carpentry work with its good wages and not knowing what lay before him. He was willing to go anywhere and do anything for Christ.
Starting with the others on the two-hundred-mile journey through storm and cold, he was thinking not about himself, but Mary, his wife. Bravely she must now face the hardships of pioneer life without his companionship and help. During the remainder of the winter he spent much time visiting scattered believers. In a few months Mary joined him. For a time they traveled and worked with Elder and Mrs. White. During the summers Elder Loughborough would go out with a tent, conducting evangelistic meetings in new places.
John Andrew remained in Waukon until he had regained his health. Then he came back into God’s work. Never again did any difficulties cause either of these men to leave the gospel service.
As the sleigh sped homeward over the snow, Elder White said, “I feel many times repaid for facing the prairie wind and storms.” His companions drew their overcoats closer around them and tucked in their lap robes. Truly, God had blessed them. His love warmed their hearts.