Golden Lampstands of Iowa - Garnavillo

The poet, William Cowper, has said,
"God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm."

A German immigrant, Charles Hoehler, was working on a North Dakota farm belonging to a Christian couple. In their home, over the washstand, they had placed a text, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all nations that forget God." Psalms 9:17. Charles read that text day after day as he washed his face and hands, but he did not feel that It applied to him, as he didn't classify himself as "wicked." However, the Spirit of God began dealing with him, and he was convicted of the fact that he was forgetting God. This conviction led to his salvation.
In the summer of 1895, Charles Hoehler, a young man in his late twenties, saved his wages and took a train to Dubuque, Iowa in the winter. At Dubuque he caught a bobsled ride with a man who was a rural school director in a community near Durango, northwest of Dubuque. He told the school director that his mission in coming was to locate a schoolhouse in the country, in which to preach the Gospel. The director said, "You can have our school to preach in." Here, the first Gospel meetings were held, and were fruitful. A German couple, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Herman, and Mrs. Herman's sister, Mrs. John Haltmeyer, were saved.
Mr. and Mrs. Herman moved to Waterloo in 1911, where they lived on a small ten-acre farm, adjoining the dairy farm of O.G. Smith. Mr. Herman was, to Mr. Smith, a very special person. He spoke often to Mr. Smith of God's way of salvation and of his own security and sureness of being saved. Mr. Smith watched this man very closely, as he was "different." His honesty and kindness, both to man and beast, was most
Mr. Herman was a bee keeper and was known as the Honey Man". He kept his cow in Mr. Smiths barn, and often at milk-
time, by lantern light, the two men read the Holy Scriptures together.
? Smith, although already having a profession of salvation, became deeply concerned about his own spiritual welfare. A few years before, Mr. Smith had gone down the so-called "sawdust trail" in Billy Sunday's meetings. About this time, he made a business trip by train. On his return trip he conversed with a highly respected Christian businessman from Waterloo, Mr. E.G. Matthews. Mr. Matthews asked him If he was saved. He replied, "Yes." When Mr. Matthews asked him when It happened, he had a ready answer, "In Billy Sunday's meeting." He could also tell him where it happened, as these meetings were held In Waterloo. Then, he was asked, "How were you saved?" This question was one he couldn't answer. It raised In his mind a question whether anyone really could know, here and now, that they
were saved. Could one be sure of it, or would one have to wait until after death to find out? Finally, he thought of calling Uncle Eli, a preacher, for he surely ought to know. Uncle Eli advised him that no one knew or could be sure in this life, and that the Judgment of the Great White Throne was the time one would find out. This set Mr. Smith's mind at ease for a short while. Yet, the Spirit of God kept dealing with him, and the question still appeared to be there. Again, he spoke to Mr. Herman about it. Mr. Herman, with his strong German accent, said, "Vell, let's see vot the Verd says." He opened the Word of God to I John 5:13 and John 10:27-28, which proved to him that he could know, here and now, that he was saved. With deep anxiety, he searched and continued to search, until January 31, 1913 when his search came to an end. At 3:00 a.m., in the front room, he was reading the booklet, "Safety, Certainty and Enjoyment." He read a question in it that said, "Dost thou believe on the Son of God? (John 9:35) His honest answer was, "No. If I did, I would have everlasting life." He saw, then and there, that he was a lost, helpless unbeliever. Instantly he realized that God said Christ had borne his sins on the cross. He ran to his bedroom, shook his wife to awaken her, and said, "Pearl, Pearl, I'm saved by Jesus' blood!"
Mr. Smith had been, in his days before conversion, a tobacco chewer. After God saved him, he took his plug out of his pocket and laid it on the barn windowsill. Walking past it one day, he picked it up and automatically was going to sink his teeth into it for another chew, when the thought crossed his mind, "Where will I spit?" He took the plug and gave it a toss into the hog lot. He often said later, "The hogs wouldn't even touch the filthy thing."
After conversion, Mr. Smith had another problem. He had been baptized by immersion in the church of his father's before conversion. Also, after marriage, he joined the church his wife belonged to, which required him to be immersed three times; one, in the Name of the Father; again, in the Name of the Son; and finally, in the Name of the Holy Ghost. Now, being saved, he was shown from the Word of God that baptism was only for those who were believers, and it was to follow conversion. Yet, he hesitated to take this step. Mr. Smith's wife, Pearl, was not too happy about her husband's becoming a Christian, and was somewhat against the Gospel. One day he asked Mr. Sam Keller, "Will you pray for my wife?" Mr. Keller answered, "You're asking God to do great things for you, and you won't go into three feet of water for Him." It wasn't long after this that Mr. Smith obeyed the Lord in baptism. As he was leaving to be baptised, Mrs. Smith told him, "When you get back, I won't be here." She didn't, however, fulfill her threat. The Lord touched her heart and softened it. Very shortly after this, Mrs. Oliver Smith was saved, as she trusted Christ as her Savior.
Seven years later, Mr. Smith sold his farm and from then on, devoted his time to the preaching of the Gospel. In 1916 Mr. Smith accidentally had his hand badly hurt in a corn sheller and was persuaded to take a little time off and go to Clayton, Iowa. This was a small village on the Mississippi River, about 6 miles from Garnavillo. At this time, he was privileged to have only two meetings as he was called home due to the scarlet fever that had struck, and his home was quarantined. Clayton was not forgotten, however, so at the close of December, and on into January of 1918, Mr. Smith and his hired farm hand, John Dahlgaard, preached in a school house there. The first week, five professed to be saved, with many more, before the meetings closed.
Among those saved at Clayton, was Henry Ramsey. He had first beard the Gospel in June of 1914, when John Bennet, of Hannibal, Missouri, preached in front of the saloon in Clayton. John Bennet was traveling the Mississippi River by boat and preached wherever he could gather a group to listen. He told his audience that he had eternal life, and that he could prove it by the Bible. While they were singing a closing hymn, Henry went to his home, nearby, and got his Bible. When the song was finished, he asked Mr. Bennet to prove his statement from Henry's own Bible. He turned to John 10:27-29, and had Henry read it aloud, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
And I give unto them eternal life: and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father which gave them me, is greater than all, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." God fixed those words in Henry Ramsey's mind so that he never forgot them. On January 1, 1918, Henry was at the schoolhouse for the Gospel meeting, and on the following night he was saved, as John Dahlgaard read with him, Roman 10:9.
A Christian assembly of believers gathered unto the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ was formed in Clayton in August of 1918. It continued until 1951. Some of the believers were called home by death; others moved away, until only brother Osthoff and a few sisters remained. Finally, illness prevented brother Osthoff from getting out to meetings, and it had to be discontinued. The few remaining were received into the Garnavillo assembly, a few miles away.
During the Clayton meetings, Susie Ricker was also among those saved. She had worked for Mrs. Fred Kramer at Garnavillo, and, though both were unsaved at the time, they had often discussed things concerning eternal life. Mrs. Kramer was not satisfied with her religion, but held to the idea that "Good works" were needed to merit eternal life. Her friend, Susie, knew something more was needed, as her grandmother had told her that one must be converted. Susie didn't know what that meant until she heard the Gospel so after her conversion, she wanted to tell Mrs. Kramer about it. When Mr. Smith heard from Susie of the concern of Mrs. Kramer, he borrowed a team of horses and a sled from John Dehn, and they, along with Esther Dehn, went to visit Mrs. Kramer, who showed a real interest. This interest led Mr. Smith to hold meetings, in June of 1919, in an unused church building, which is now a museum in Garnavillo. The first one saved at this time was Grandma Dehn, who was 82 years old. She could speak no English, and Mr. Smith could speak no German. He would point out verses for her to read in her German Bible. Finally, she dropped her Bible in her lap, and exclaimed in very broken English, "My God, vot have I found!" Immediately, she dropped to her knees in front of her rocker, and thanked God for saving her soul. Mrs. Kramer was the second one saved.
Mrs. Louis Brandt also found the Savior. She had been a very "devout" person, and had changed her religious connections after her marriage to coincide with her husband's belief. Both found that they were only building on "good works", and, actually, "all their righteousness were as filthy rags." They had no merits before God. It was over two years later, in 1922 that Mr. Brandt was saved. As he sat in a rocking chair in the living room, he asked, "But how am I going to know when I believe?" He was turned to John 4:46, and there read about the nobleman's son who was sick at Capernaum. It says, "The nobleman believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way." It dawned on Louis Brandt, right there, that the nobleman had nothing more than Jesus' word, yet he knew his son was healed, for Jesus had said so. John 5:24 came before him, and he realized that just to believe what Jesus said, is to have eternal life. Mr. Brandt, out of love to Christ, and due to the love and compassion of his heart for the lost souls of men, became active in the spreading of the Gospel. Often he, in company with others of the Lord's servants, held Gospel services in the northeastern part of Iowa, and southwest Wisconsin. Mr. Brandt was commended to the Lord's work in 1952. The Lord blessed his labors of love, and many were reached and saved through the faithful presentation of the word of God. Years later, as Mr. Brandt was inviting people to meetings in Edgewood, a man asked him, "Are you the people that cleaned up the 'holler' (the Graham Valley)?" Mr. Brandt replied, "No, but we preached Christ to those people, and the Lord cleaned up the Valley." Mr. Brandt was blessed with good health and was privileged and able to have Gospel meetings in his 92nd year, with God's blessing in salvation following.
On July 24, 1921, the Christians at Garnavillo broke bread, for the first time, in the old brick home on the Elmer Brandt farm. There were just six believers at this remembrance feast. For a time they gathered in various homes and would "read around" from God's Word. Then, one Lord's Day, Mr. Leask was visiting, and at the end of a chapter he said, "Maybe we ought to stop and see what we can get out of this." This led to ministry in Garnavillo. The brethren knew little of God's order. The Lord's Day after Louis Brandt was saved, another chair was set at the Lord's Table, and he remembered the Lord before he was baptized. This is not surprising, in view of the fact that these brethren had been in complete darkness as to salvation and the things that accompany salvation. To illustrate; on one occasion, Mr. S. Hamilton brought with him an older servant of the Lord, Mr. R.J. Dickson. After the meeting, Mr. Dickson told how long he had been saved, and one exclaimed, "Oh! Have people been saved that long?" To them, this was a new thing.

Soon the brethren cleaned up the unused West Side schoolhouse; intending to gather there. But, there was so much opposition (much of it from Mrs. Elmer Brandt's relatives), that they delayed gathering there until the spring of 1922. This building was a mile and a half west of Garnavillo. Here, they gathered until October 19, 1930, when they moved into the new Gospel Hall in Garnavillo. A building fund for this hall  had been started on May 8, 1924. With this fund, and a loan from of the brethren, this hall was fully paid for when built. The final payment on this loan was made in November of 1941. There were just in fellowship when the move to Garnavillo was made. Mr. Warke and Mr. Hamilton had Gospel meetings after the opening, and Leslie Patrick was saved on October 30th.

Prior to the move to Garnavillo, Mr. and Mrs. Dale Hyde were awakened in a street meeting at Osterdock. At this meeting, Mr. Smith stamped his foot so hard, he broke the platform that Louis Brandt had mounted on the bumper of his car. It appeared a very discouraging meeting, but it was used of the Lord. The Hydes were saved the following January. Mrs. Hyde related, "We were snow-bound for days in the terrible blizzard of 1929, but it was good that the Holy Spirit came down and saved us through faith in God's Word."

One day, as Mr. Smith was laboring in the Gospel at the little river town of Osterdock; he was walking along the road, and a man with a team and wagon overtook him. He asked if he might give him a ride, so Mr. Smith got up in the wagon with him. The man asked Mr. Smith where he was going, and he said, "I'm going to heaven." the man said, "You're going to hell." Of course, this was a beautiful chance to preach the gospel. The man was convicted, and that night Mr. Smith crawled in his little hut with him and slept on a straw tick and told him more of the Savior. This man was deeply convicted. He was a Russian, and his name was Bockinock. A short time later he trusted Christ. It was always a joy to hear Mr. Bockinock tell his story of conversion. One day, with axe over his shoulder, he was walking down into a ravine to cut wood. the way was hard, and the load of sin on his back was heavy. He sat down on a stump, and right there God revealed to him His Son as the Savior. He says, "I got up, and went up that hill light-footed, the burden gone and no effort at all."
The Christians at Garnavillo were diligent in the spread of the Gospel in regions around. It could be said of them, as of the Thessalonians, "For from you sounded out the Word of the Lord." In the early days, street meetings were held in various surrounding towns. At first, the brethren would sometimes go to the area surrounding a town on Saturday afternoon and Invite the people to the street meeting to be held there that evening.
The first Gospel effort in connection with the assembly took place in 1929. Mr. Oliver Smith and Mr. Charles Hoehler had meetings in a tent pitched north of Garnavillo, where the stockyards are now. Later, the tent was raised again, and Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Sam Keller preached the Gospel in August of that same year. To the final meeting of that series, Dale Hyde brought his sister, Mrs. Leslie Patrick. She had been seeking salvation for thirteen years, and found it on the 27th day of August, 1929.
There was a great movement of the Holy Spirit in the area in 1938. It began in March, when Mr. Lorne McBain came to hold a few meetings, having been invited to come to get acquainted with the saints at Garnavillo, before going home from a series of meetings in Beetown, Wisconsin. He finished the meetings there on March 15th, and, though tired, decided to come. As they were going home from the meeting, Mrs. Brandt admonished him by saying, "Stay for a little while, and don't leave after just a night or two." He did stay. Many connected with the Wirkler and Wahl families were convicted of having religion without Christ. Even former bitter enemies of the Gospel were reached and saved. Seven souls were saved during the first two weeks. God continued to work in the vicinity. Special Gospel meetings were held in the hall and later in tents. Four baptisms were held that year, in the Mississippi River, at Clayton, and at Guttenberg. More than thirty were baptized.
Henry Wahls and his wife, Gladys, were saved in 1938. Henry had desires like Andrew of old who sought his close relation, his brother, Peter, and brought him to Jesus. After one is saved by grace and realizes how good it all is, he wants to bring others to the Savior, so they may enjoy the wonders of that grace as well. Thus, Henry often joined Louis Brandt, and together they labored and rejoiced to see God blessing His Word, which they faithfully preached. In 1971 the assembly of believers cheerfully commended Mr. Wahls to the Lord's work. Besides ministering the Word to saint and sinner, Henry and Gladys also minister to the needs of the people by supplying them with Bibles, books, tracts, etc., from their basement Christian bookstore, all at very reasonable prices. This has been a great and appreciated service, which son, Dale, and his wife, Carol, are active in helping with now.
Joel Portman was married to Janet Guyer in June of 1967. For around seven years they lived in the state of Washington, where Joel taught in the University. Joel had an exercise in his heart to serve the Lord in a fuller way. In 1976 they came back to make their home at Garnavillo, where Janet was born and raised. Joel's growing and warm desire was seen by the brethren who, in November of 1982, commended him to the Lord's work.
In the early days of the assembly, visits by ministering brethren were few and usually brief. Naturally, Oliver Smith came often, and also encouraged others of the Lord's servants to come to Garnavillo. Some of those coming in early days were: Mr. William Grierson, Mr. William Warke, Mr. Steve Mick, Mr. Leonard Sheldrake, Mr. Fred Mehl, Mr. George Gould, Jr., Mr. Barr, Mr. Schwartz, Mr. Samuel Hamilton,Mr. Don Charles, also Mr. W.W. White. Mr. E.G. Matthews, of Waterloo, stopped in frequently when in the area on business. Charles Hoehler, the man who brought the gospel to these parts, visited at times, too. These all had a share in forming the character of the assembly by their ministry. Due to the exercise of these men and others there has been a building up of the assembly and continued blessing in the salvation of souls through the years.
There were few Bible Conferences in the vicinity in the early days. The first attended by some from Garnavillo was at Waterloo, July 1, 1923. Garnavillo held its first Conference on June 6th and 7th, 1936. A tent was pitched beside the Gospel Hall. The following year a windstorm almost took the tent down, and the Conference was moved to the Turner Hall. It was held there until the gymnasium became available, with cooking and dining facilities in the high school building, after it was built. This Conference has been an annual event for 48 years.
There are still series of Gospel meetings in Garnavillo from time to time, and strangers have been reached. Also, there has been fruit among the relatives of the Lord's people so that, now, the assembly includes some of the third and fourth generations.
As a result of the Lord's blessing in adding souls to the assembly, it became necessary to enlarge the hall in 1949. The end wall was removed, and thirty feet added to the building. It was reopened on January 15, 1950. Again, this remodeling was fully paid for when completed, with the aid of interest-free loans from some in fellowship. Again, in 1983, the hall was further enlarged and modernized, making it very commodious, a lovely lamp stand in Garnavillo.