Oliver Smith Biography, Iowa Preacher - The Early Years

The Early Years

The year was 1883. Thousands of Europeans were flooding intoAmerica, the Civil War was still a vivid memory, and in New York, one of the most remarkable feats in engineering history was being unveiled, the Brooklyn Bridge. Against the backdrop of these times, an infant son was born into the home of Eli Smith near the rural community of Hudson, just south of Waterloo, Iowa. His parents named him Oliver Oliver Garfield Smith, not realizing the endearment that name would later have to many a soul in Iowa and beyond. Though born, as he often said, 'just a poor lost sinner like everybody else," he was destined to become a great soul winner, one who diligently sought to "preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named" (Rom. 15: 20, R.V.). But thirty years were to pass before Oliver Smith would come to know the Saviour.

Oliver was raised in a home considered to be Christian in nature. Along with his brothers Elmer, Joe and Lloyd, and sisters Lucy and Chloe, he was taken faithfully to services at a local Baptist Church. Though a mischievous child, he frequently had thoughts about death and questions as to what lay beyond the grave. These musings troubled his young mind, and often he wished that he had never been born.
 
 


The Eli Smith Family. Back row (l-r): Oliver, Lucy, Joe, Chloe. Second row: Anna, Elmer, Eli. Front row: Lloyd.
 

 

On one occasion he gazed from a farm field and witnessed a number of men removing bodies from an old cemetery. He watched as they carefully loaded the remains onto a wagon for transport to another burial site. One body was that of a young girl who had died thirty years before. "She had been so young," he thought. "Where was she now?"

As a member of the church, he was baptized and told that if he were good he would go to heaven, and if he were not good he would go to a "bad place." Hell was mentioned very little. In later years he wrote, "From my earliest teaching I was misled; first by a deceitful heart (Jer. 17: 9) with which I was born, then by parents who had a way that seemed right, but that would have ended in eternal death, and then by blind leaders of the blind as we read in Matthew 15: 14."

As time passed, he realized more and more, that he was not the good Christian boy he ought to be. Thus, he lost interest in church and finally quit attending.

After the family farm was sold, they moved north to Waterloo. Oliver decided to try the Baptist Sunday School there and strove again to live up to his Christian profession. However, doubts continued to plague him. Even though he kept assuring himself that nobody was perfect and that he had as good a chance of heaven as anybody else, peace of mind eluded him. "Becoming discouraged," he said, "of being what some would call a hypocrite, I quit going to church meetings and took up the self-gratifying life, going in for the pleasures of the world that never can satisfy the heart of a man who must die and meet God."

 

 


Pearl Flickinger and Oliver Smith shortly before marriage

 


While in this frame of mind, Oliver began to keep company with a young woman named Pearl Flickinger, who was a sister to Bertha, the wife of Oliver's brother Joe. During this courtship, Joe was suddenly stricken with a ruptured appendix and died. Oliver was visibly shaken by his brother's untimely death. As he was buried, Oliver bowed his head in misery while Bertha fell in anguish beside the open grave. "I wonder," she cried, "if Joe can see how broken my heart is today?" A few months later in childbirth, complications ensued and Bertha went into eternity. The already sorrowing family was grief stricken again. Six weeks later the saga continued as Joe and Bertha's newborn child fitfully breathed its last. In less than six months, this young family with all of its hopes and dreams was gone. Oliver often visited the freshly dug graves, and through the despair and sadness which tugged at his heart, he wondered where their souls had gone and where his would one day be.
  

 

Oliver with his prize herdsire, Manko


But time passed, and Oliver and Pearl were married, setting off on dreams of their own. They purchased a farm south of Waterloo and plunged into the daily tasks of farm life. Becoming farmers of some merit, they farmed 320 acres of land and bred shorthorn cattle. They also operated a large dairy route, delivering milk to nearly 200 people in Waterloo. Needless to say, these and other activities kept Oliver very busy. Long days were spent working the fields and tending the cattle side by side with his hired men.

During these early years on the farm, three daughters were born into their home - Ruth, Helene, and LaVelle. Many happy days were spent together, and the business of farming prospered.

One day, word reached Oliver that the well known evangelist Billy Sunday was coming to Waterloo to preach. He decided to attend these meetings. He listened to Mr. Sunday intently and made a decision that he was going to go home and tell Pearl that he would become a Christian in her church. "I really meant it," he said nearly 48 years later. "But was I a Christian? No. And I have lived in Waterloo all of my life and I have never run across one man or woman that I could truly have fellowship with, that got saved in Billy Sunday's meetings."

Oliver joined Pearl's church and was baptized again - once in the Name of the Father, once in the Name of the Son, and once in the Name of the Holy Ghost. He became active in the Sunday School and sang in the choir. Many times in the choir, he would join with the others and sing, "Is my name written there, on the page white and fair? In the Book of Thy Kingdom, is my name written there?" Little attention was paid to these and other solemn words, and he proceeded on with life, fooled by the deceitfulness of sin. But the eye of God was upon him, and Oliver's false sense of security was soon to be shattered.