A Missionary Family for the Northwest Isaac and Adelia Van Horn

A small group of Seventh-day Adventists formed in the Walla Walla Valley in the late 1860s. Because they were nearly 1,000 miles from the nearest Adventist church or minister, they soon wrote the headquarters of the young denomination requesting a pastor. With limited finances and a shortage of pastors, the leaders could not justify sending a minister to this remote and lightly populated frontier. So the request was ignored for five long years.

Finally, in 1874, the General Conference sent a young missionary family, Isaac and Adelia Van Horn, to Walla Walla. At the time, Walla Walla was the largest town in the Washington Territory with a population of around 2,000. Isaac started by holding evangelistic meetings in his 60-foot tent that resulted in the organization of the Northwest’s first congregation. Seven months after the Van Horn’s arrival, Adelia gave birth to a boy. It was the couple’s first child.

During his first two years, Van Horn conducted evangelistic meetings in the small towns around Walla Walla, organized three churches and developed a recent convert (Alonzo T. Jones) into an assistant. Then he relocated his family to the more populated Willamette Valley in western Oregon where he and Jones started by holding meetings in Oregon City. Next they moved the tent to Salem where they were able to organize a small church.

In the 1850s, Portland emerged as the Pacific Northwest’s trade and transportation center and developed during the frontier period into the region’s only city. So in 1877, Van Horn and Jones focused their attention on this important city of nearly 15,000 inhabitants by conducting evangelistic meetings on both sides of the Willamette River. Unfortunately, the meetings met with only limited success. It was not until 1882 that Charles Boyd was able to organize a small church in Portland.

This same year John Loughborough, president of the California Conference, along with Van Horn and Jones traveled to Walla Walla where the five churches and 200 members in the Northwest were organized as the North Pacific Conference. The next summer Loughborough along with Ellen G. White attended the region’s first camp meeting in Salem. White especially enjoyed spending time with Adelia who had lived in the White’s home for a number of years and assisted White with her writings.

Soon after the 1878 camp meeting, White sent a letter to the Van Horns. She described how Adelia was expecting too much from her husband; and Isaac was giving little attention to the work of the conference including evangelism, stewardship education and administration. Unfortunately, they did not respond to the message. Instead Isaac spent most of the next year building a house for his family in Beaverton.

When Ellen G. White and Stephen Haskell came to the Northwest camp meetings in 1880, they were shocked. At the Milton camp meeting, White called both Van Horn and Jones into her tent. In a letter to her husband (May 20, 1880), White wrote, “I then bore to them a most pointed testimony and charged the state of the churches upon the course Elder Van Horn had pursued in doing nothing.... It was a weeping and confessing time. There was a humbling of soul before God.”

The next summer the Van Horns were transferred to California and then Michigan. Van Horn spent the rest of his ministry serving as a pastor and administrator in the states east of the Mississippi River.