Ellen White stood quietly in front of the icy window watching the rain pelt down on the snow-crusted ground. It had been raining for 24 hours and much of the snow that had made for good sleighing was beginning to melt into the ground and give way to icy sleet. She was anxious. Her mind went back to the conversations she had had that afternoon with her husband and others regarding the journey they were about to undertake. She knew they must go. She hadn’t been directly instructed to go but the burden to do so lay heavy on her heart. The vision she had seen and the instructions she had been given concerning the state of the Sabbath-keeping families in Iowa pressed against her heart.
“We must go” she murmured to herself, her eyes intently taking in the icy rain.
The ground had been perfect for sleighing just 24 hours ago and they had made arrangements to travel to Waukon in a horse-drawn sleigh but then the rain had started.
Freezing. Pelting. Incessant.
Her husband had been inclined to abandon the journey altogether but she couldn’t bring herself to do that. Her mind had closed around the situation in Iowa like a steel trap that refused to be pried open.
Josiah Hart had watched the rain with her that afternoon and turning to her had asked “Sister White? What about Waukon?”
To which she had firmly replied “we will go”
“Yes” Josiah had agreed still eyeing the rain “if the Lord works a miracle”
Standing at the window Ellen kept watching the rain. Dawn was just beginning to break over the eastern horizon, lighting up the sky with a palette of pink and purple when Ellen noticed a change in the incessant patter of rain. Instead of the steady thrum of water, she was greeted with the silent steady flow of thick fat snowflakes.
Ellen’s heart skipped a beat. It was snowing and that meant they could go to Iowa!
In 1852 James White wrote an article in the Review and Herald suggesting that some of the New England brethren should consider moving west to Iowa. The work there was sparse and the rich farmland would afford the perfect opportunity for ministers to labor among the people there while supporting themselves. Ellen White commented that where there was one convert in the east there would be as many as 20 in the west.
Three families banded together and decided to make the move. They were the Andrews family, the Cyprian Stevens family and J.N. Loughborough and his wife. In total 30 Sabbath keeping Adventists relocated to the small town of Waukon, Iowa.
However, the challenging circumstances on the sparsely populated frontier led the small group to forget their original purpose in moving to Iowa and they were soon completely engrossed in primarily making a living instead of focusing on engaging in the work God had called them to do. Both Andrews and Loughborough were able and talented ministers and their absence from the work was deeply felt.
Ellen White received a vision regarding the spiritual condition of the believers in Iowa and though she was not expressly directed to visit them she felt a deep burden in her heart to do so.
As the rain turned into a steady snowfall the Whites made preparations to leave for Waukon, accompanied by Elon Evert and Josiah Hart, Adventist brethren who were then living in Round Grove, Illinois. They left at 5 pm that evening and stopped along the way at Greenvale, IL to conduct a series of meetings. At Greenvale they were delayed a week by a severe snow storm and when they finally were able to continue their journey it started to rain.
They pushed on through the rain, arriving at the Mississippi River. By then the ice was mostly made up of snow and covered by about a foot of water. Everyone they asked discouraged them from crossing the river. When they came to the banks of the river Josiah Hart turned to the White’s and asked “Is it to Iowa or back to Illinois? We have come to the red sea, shall we cross?”
To which Ellen White promptly responded “Go forward, trusting in Israel’s God” They made it across the river safely, praising God for his mercy when they reached the opposite bank. They continued to Waukon. When they got there Elon Everts left the rest of the party in the sleigh and ventured out to look for familiar faces.
He found John Loughborough doing some carpentry work in a shop and asked if he knew a man by the name of Hosea Mead, to which Loughborough responded “I do, here’s right here working with me”
At the mention of his name Hosea Mead immediately recognized the voice as belonging to Elon Everts and both men came down to greet the Whites and Josiah Hart in the sleigh.
When Ellen White saw John Loughborough she dispensed with all pleasantries and asked him a single question three times; “What doest thou here Elijah?”
Needless to say, Loughborough was thoroughly embarrassed and had no idea how to respond.
That night a meeting was held and many of the believers were greatly encouraged and challenged by the messages that James and Ellen White had for them. Both J.N. Loughborough and J.N. Andrews renewed their commitments to God and His service.
Loughborough said “I have laid up my hammer and driven my last nail”
Loughborough and his wife returned to Michigan with the White’s while the Andrews family stayed in Waukon two years longer. Both Loughborough and Andrews went on to become powerful workers in the Seventh-Day Adventist church. Andrews was the first Adventist missionary abroad and Loughborough pioneered the work in California and spent several years establishing the work in the United Kingdom.
The experience at Waukon begs the question what might the church have lost if the White’s had not made that memorable trip to Waukon in the dead of a miserable winter?