Oliver Smith Biography, Iowa Preacher - Hitesville


From Aplington, Oliver moved north about seven miles to an abandoned country church building. The area was known as Hitesville, after J.C. Hites whose family laid claim to the land in 1855. The United Brethren group had constructed the building in 1891 and were using it sparingly when Oliver and brethren from Aplington and Kesley obtained permission to use it.

The series opened near the end of March, 1926. Much like the previous effort at Stout, it was soon evident that God was at work and going to move in a marvelous way. While the meetings progressed, Oliver penned the following entries into his diary:

March 29: Visit around in p.m. Good crowd. The Lord seems to give help. Looking for some to get saved soon.

April 23: Good meeting. Not as many out, but a number seemed  troubled.

April 25: Record crowd in meeting.

April 28: Fair crowd. Much joy in preaching.

May 16: Record breaking crowd in evening.

May 23: Had baptism in the p.m. Twenty-one baptized. About 1500 witnesses. Full house in Hitesville.

June 18: Sick in bed nearly all day, but had the largest crowd ever in Hitesville.

June 27: Broke bread at Stout. Fifteen obeyed the Lord in baptism - eight men, seven women. 2000 attended, counted 450 cars.

July 18: Very large crowd at Hitesville. God seems very near. Souls went home broken up.

With help from local brethren and visiting preachers, Oliver continued at Hitesville for nearly a year. The Lord blessed the good seed sown, and, one by one, souls were saved. Some were reached at home, some at work and others while sitting in the meeting. Stories of conversion filtered throughout the rural region and interest began to mount.

A local mechanic named Walter Eltjes attended meetings and was stirred by the message he heard. For years he had sought satisfaction in the empty pursuits of time, but was left with only an aching void in his soul. Captivated by Oliver's sincerity and the reality of what he was preaching, Walter began to seek after God's salvation. On the twenty-sixth of May, while he stood in the doorway of his garage, deeply burdened about his sins, he lifted his gaze from self to Calvary and realized for the first time that the Lord Jesus had paid it all. A definite change transpired in his life, and twenty years later he sold his business and ventured out full time into the Lord's work. In 1951, he succumbed to heart trouble at the early age of 53. Eight hundred people attended his funeral at Hitesville. One of the speakers that day was Oliver Smith, his father in the faith.

Very near the day of Mr. Eltjes' conversion, another young man was just beginning to attend the meetings on a regular basis. He was a professional wrestler, in line to become the lightweight champion of the United States. The first time he heard Oliver preach he went home upset and told a fellow companion that he felt like straightening Mr. Smith out. But, the arrows of conviction had penetrated his soul, and for the next three weeEs he struggled to find peace with God. On the sixteenth of June, as he walked out of the meeting, Oliver directed Chauncey Yost to two verses in John 3: "The Father loveth the Son and hath given all things into His hands. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (vv. 35, 36). Chauncey read the verses carefully and suddenly exclaimed, "I see, I see, I see!" He had discovered that the source of eternal life was in a Person - the Lord Jesus Christ.

Overnight his passion for sport, with its cherished fame and self-glorification, vanished. He now considered it only worthless stubble, a hindrance to his enjoyment of Christ. He turned from physical confrontation to spiritual, humbly confronting sinners in the way, and faithfully warning them of eternal loss. He lived in view of heavenly honor and finished his course with joy. "I wouldn't have given up wrestling for the world," Chauncey once remarked, "but I gave it up for the Lord."

Similar changes of heart and ambition occured almost daily throughout the meetings. Hundreds from the neighborhood came out to witness the public confession of their faith. Some of the largest baptisms ever held in Iowa were convened at this time. Over two thousand people lined both shores of the West Fork River to watch the event. Often, Oliver would stand on a barrel in the middle of the stream and preach the gospel to the curious throng. "No one could preach better in the open air," remembered one Christian. "Oliver's voice would carry for a great distance, and his words were clearly understood."

After obeying the Lord in baptism, many young believers showed a great desire to continue in Scriptural paths. Oliver spent long hours among them teaching the principles of assembly truth. On Sunday, October 30, 1927, Oliver and his wife Pearl gathered with some fifty-five believers at Hitesville and remembered the Lord together for the first time. A week later, Mr. Archie Stewart and Mr. Sam Hamilton visited and spent the day with them.

As 1927 wound to a close, Oliver preached the gospel for a short season in the hall at Waterloo. One night a young barber from Aplington named Paul Elliott attended the meeting with his girl friend Bena. Paul had listened to Oliver several times at Hitesville and developed a desire to have what other Christians had. However, when invited to Waterloo by Bena's brother George, Paul hesitated because of a prior commitment to play basketball. As he weighed the matter, a solemn thought passed through his mind, "If I drop dead on the floor or get killed on the road tonight, I will be in hell!" Fearing that God might cut him off, he cancelled his ballgame and went to the meeting.

Oliver Smith and George Uhlenhopp

As Oliver spoke on Romans 3, the message struck a chord in Paul's heart. "I used to think, 'Why doesn't God save me?' "he said later. "But that night I thought to myself, 'What must God think of me?'"

They visited in Oliver's home after the meeting, and Paul later left very troubled in soul. As he got ready for bed he thought to himself, "If God doesn't save me, I'll just have to go to Hell."


Paul Elliott and Oliver Smith

Paul Elliott and Oliver near Rockford, IA, 1947

Lying in bed he remembered some of the things he had heard that evening. Then the words of John 3: 16 came before him. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him..." He stopped right there. At about 4 a.m. that winter morning, he realized that he was a part of the "whosoever" and that Christ had died for him. Six months later Bena was saved; and eight months after that the two were united in marriage. From the start they showed a real interest in gospel activity. Following his service in World War II, Paul left the barber shop and went full time into the work of the Lord.