Oliver Smith Biography, Iowa Preacher - Stout

Stout

The tent appeared tall and sharp as the summer sun made its gradual descent in the western sky over Stout, Iowa. Directly behind the tent, a solitary figure stood with his hands folded and his eyes aimed heavenward. While the canvas flapped gently in the warm evening breeze, a voice was heard-the heartfelt utterances of a man pleading earnestly with his God. A tremendous weight of responsibility was pressing in upon him. Oh, that God would open his mouth and give him the words to speak. "Who is sufficient for these things?" (2 Cor. 2:16).

And then they came. By foot, on horseback, in buggies and cars. A steady stream of curious people, some 350 in all. They sat on flat wooden benches waiting anxiously for the meeting to start. Some were perplexed by the arrival of this new spectacle and wondered what its real purpose was.

The uncertainty ended, however, when the plain dressed preacher rose and fervently asked for God's blessing upon the meeting. He preached passionately that night, and the Spirit of God moved in a marked way. Tears fell as he tenderly told of the Saviour's seven cries from Calvary. The beginning of a marvelous work was at hand, and souls were being stirred.
 
Oliver Smith had arrived here from Jesup, where all through the hot summer of 1922 he had labored side by side with the esteemed preacher, John Blair. Encouraged by four brethren from the Waterloo assembly, he decided to pitch his tent in Stout. People poured into the tent nightly, prompting Oliver to frequently record "tent full" in his diary.

A week and a half into the series, "a break in the ranks of the enemy came," when a young farmer named Joe Schuck and his wife Ella were saved. After that, souls were being reached almost daily, and the whole community was astir.

Local denominational groups became alarmed. Two congregations hired new ministers, hoping to curb the rapid decline in attendance. On a later occasion, a Lutheran minister stood like a sentry and blocked Oliver's entrance into a rural cemetery. The funeral procession could proceed only if Oliver agreed to remain outside the gate.

Unruffled, Oliver stood on the dirt road and preached the Word of God, adding to those who barred his way; "You may keep me out of here, but you cannot keep me out of heaven! When he finished his message, others gently carried the body into the cemetery and lowered it to the grave. These tactics by local clergymen often backfired and sparked a greater interest in the new preacher and in the message he proclaimed.

The meetings progressed into October and were then moved to an abandoned Methodist Church. During the winter months, horses were stabled in a barn behind the building, and an old stove kept the meeting room warm. Some nights were very frigid and snow made traveling treacherous, but people continued to come, and the Lord continued to bless.

Oliver spent long hours visiting in homes around Stout. He was frequently seated at kitchen tables, sipping cups of hot tea (consumed in large quantities, since it was a very popular beverage in most homes), setting before them the truths of Scripture. He would encourage them to attend the meetings, but primarily sought to create within them a desire to be saved.

On one visit, he spotted a man lying under a car repairing a problem. Kneeling down, he asked the man, "Do you believe that a person should mind his own business?"

Startled, the man grinned and said he did not mind Oliver's curiosity. Oliver then crawled under further and said, "Well my business is to preach the gospel, and I'd like to be faithful in it."

Spring arrived, followed quickly by summer, and still the meetings went on. Visiting preachers or local brethren would often help in the preaching. Some men even spoke to the crowds in German, because many had a better understanding of that language.

Oliver baptizing along the West Fork River near Parkersburg
 
In May, Oliver held his first baptism near Stout. Sixteen people went under the waters in obedience to the Lord. One month later, fifteen more were baptized. It was estimated that nearly three thousand people were present to witness one of these gatherings.

There was great joy among these new believers, even though some were enduring bitter persecution from neighbors, family, and friends. When the meetings came to a close in late July, nearly one hundred souls were rejoicing in the knowledge of sins forgiven. On July 29, 1923, thirty of these individuals gathered in the old Methodist hall to break bread. In the afternoon another baptism was convened, followed by a gospel meeting at night.

 

Anna Yost being baptized near Hitesville, circa 1926.

 

Betty Swieter obeying the Lord.

For the next three months Oliver labored in a tent at Parkersburg, only seven miles from Stout. Many from the Stout area attended and a number of souls were saved there. It had been fourteen months since Oliver entered the town of Stout with his gospel tent and the Lord had answered the prayers of this humble servant in a remarkable way. By 1929, one hundred ten people were in fellowship in the Stout assembly.