Oliver Smith Biography, Iowa Preacher - Pioneer Practices

Practices of a Pioneer


The man bristled in the doorway, as Oliver handed him a gospel tract. "I've been religious all of my life," he said, "and if others can make it to heaven, I'm sure that I will too."

Oliver pointed to a decorative handkerchief which protruded from the lapel pocket on his suit. "See this handkerchief," he said, "it reminds me of people just like you." The man stared in surprise as Oliver pulled it slowly from his pocket. What had outwardly appeared to be a clean, neatly pressed handkerchief, was suddenly transformed into nothing more than a dirty old sock! Then drawing from the illustration, Oliver proceeded to tell his own testimony, how that once he had been a religious farmer, who discovered that there was nothing clean within, only "wounds and bruises and putrifying sores" (Isaiah 1: 6).

Another man scoffed when Oliver told him the Bible was a book inspired by God. "That book was only written by a bunch of men," he said.

Oliver reached into his shirt pocket and drew out an ink pen. "If I received a letter from my wife today, would I open it up and say an ink pen had written it?" Positioning the pen in his hand, he then moved it along in front of the man. "My Bible says that 'holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost' "(2 Peter 1:21). They were human instruments who, in their own way, wrote what God had inspired them to write."

In another home, a woman told Oliver that she believed the Bible, but couldn't say with assurance she was going to heaven. Lifting the first finger on each of his hands, Oliver held them apart and said, "Believing and everlasting life can never be separated." Then locking the two fingers together, he continued. "'He that hath the Son, hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life' (I John 5:12). The two are one and the same. You cannot truthfully believe on the Son without being a possesser of everlasting life. And you can never reach heaven without a time when you first believed the Sin.

Oliver became a master at using simple illustrations to clarify a point of Scripture. This proficiency was the result of constant gospel activity. Basic objects often became very important tools in his work.

When he encountered people who were trying to achieve heaven through strict adherence to the ten commandments, he would frequently refer to a mirror hanging some place in the home. "That mirror is just like these ten commandments," he would say. "It shows me that my face is dirty, but it has no power to clean it. If I pulled that mirror from the wall and used it to wash my face, you would think that I was crazy. Yet, people try to use the law for cleansing when the precious blood of Christ is all that will ever cleanse the sinner of his sin."

At one home, a farmer's wife proudly offered Oliver a dipper of cold water right from the well. Oliver drank a few swallows and said, "There's something wrong with this water." The woman's smiling countenance turned instantly to one of disappointment, and she asked what the problem might be.

"It just doesn't satisfy," he answered. "I drink a little and I'm thirsty for more. I can tell you of water that quenches one's thirst forever." Like the Samaritan woman by Jacob's well, the curious lady listened as Oliver quoted the words of the Lord Jesus. "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink (John 7: 37). Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst..."' (John 4:14).

In addition to these effective illustrations, Oliver used a number of other things to bring the truth of God before lost souls. He was innovative and like the Apostle Paul "became all things to all men that I might by all means save some" (I Cor. 9: 22).

The very cars which Oliver drove were testimonies to the Word of God. The side doors were covered with gospel messages printed in clear, bold type. Up front, usually on the visor, would be the words, "Gospel Car," while in the rear, warnings like "Eternity Ahead" would speak to those who followed. These cars often captured the attention of curious pedestrians. The sight of these cars entering one's driveway, brought either joy to the heart or anxiety and embarrassment. In town, neighbors would stand in their yards and gaze at the peculiar car parked out front.


Oliver with one of his many "Gospel Cars"

A brother from one assembly recalled a day when still unsaved. He was traveling a country highway and was approached from behind by another car. Looking into his rearview mirror, he noticed the words "Gospel Car" on it. The vehicle increased its speed and came along side of him, holding that position long enough for him to read the words of a large text on its side. The driver then passed him and reduced his speed, allowing the words on the back of the car to be plainly viewed. When the car continued at its slower pace, our brother attempted to reclaim his former position. As he circled by, the words of another Bible verse came into view. With absolutely no choice in the matter at all, he had witnessed a sermon from the four sides of a passing car.

In 1948, some Christians were traveling with Oliver to a conference in Blue River, Wisconsin. Entering the town of Oelwein, Iowa, they noticed an abundance of activity on the main street. A policeman stopped their car and rerouted them onto a side street because a parade was currently in progress. Without hesitating, Oliver told the officer that he wanted to be included in that parade. Somewhat perplexed, the officer flagged him on, and in short order the "Gospel Car" was motoring down the parade route with the other participants.

People lining the streets stared with mixed expressions at the spectacle passing by. Oliver reached down and brought out a full bag of Gospel tracts, which were individually tied to short sections of garden hose. While other entrants threw out pencils or candy, Oliver and his passengers tossed these out to the throng. People hurried to retrieve them. "Oliver couldn't have been happier," declared one who was with him. "This is what he lived for."

Oliver always traveled with an ample supply of tracts. He distributed them everywhere. After filling his gas tank at one station, he handed a tract to the attendant who stubbornly said, "I'm hardboiled, I won't take it!"

Oliver stomped his foot and looked directly into the man's eyes. "I'm hard-boiled too," he said. "Take it!" Sheepishly, the man accepted the tract.

While traveling by train, he once happened to sit near a nun from the Roman Catholic Church. He conversed a moment and handed her a tract. She shook her head stating she was a Catholic. "Do you have a Bible?" he asked . When she nodded affirmatively, Oliver responded, "Then read this. It agrees with the Bible." She took it and was later saved as a result.

Often Oliver stopped at the Waterloo landfill, combing the debris for discarded garden hose or tubes from old tires. After sectioning the hose, he would fasten tracts to each piece, wrapping them with the tire tubes or whatever else he could find. As he traveled down roadways, he would fling them out the car window, just as he had in the parade. He became quite accurate at this.

G. Albert Ramsay, author of Sowing Reaping in the Garden of the Gulf wrote of Oliver:

"... it amused me to see how, at a speed of over sixty m.p.h., he could hurl one of those and have it land right on the driveway to be picked up later This was a habit of his life and like David with his sling and stone, he was right on target."

As a driver, Oliver usually had one eye on the road and the other everywhere else. He rarely missed anything. Sometimes he would even read his Bible while he traveled. "I'm surprised he didn't have more accidents," said LaVelle. He always carried a rope and regularly used it to pull vehicles out of the mud or up from a ditch.

He loved to pick up hitchhikers, believing these were wonderful occasions to preach the gospel. Pearl repeatedly warned him of the dangers this presented, especially after a leading brother from Mason City was shot and killed by one in 1949. But he could never resist it, and God graciously preserved him and used him in it.

One hitchhiker told Oliver that he was an artist. Reaching into his pocket, Oliver pulled out a pencil and a tract saying, "Here, draw me a picture. I want to see if you're honest." Showing the tract to others later, he commented, "He proved that he was an artist all right."

In 1935, a man named Everett Richmond (later referred to as "Wooden Shoes" because of the shoes he was wearing) was hiking from Illinois across Iowa to visit a cousin in Parkersburg. In childhood someone had pulled a chair out from under him leaving him a cripple. It was the Lord's Day and Oliver was driving through Cedar Falls on his way to Stout. Spotting the man limping along, Oliver stopped to give him a ride. He explained that before he could take him to Parkersburg, he was going to stop a couple of hours in Stout for a meeting. Following the meeting, some of the brethren visited Mr. Richmond and he professed that morning through the words of John 3:16. In time he was baptized and added to the assembly at Stout. Six other hitchhikers were known to be saved through lifts from Oliver.

fraveling from one community to another, he considered each town a potential target for the gospel. One brother remembered passing through a town enroute to a conference and hearing Mr. Smith exclaim, "This would be a good place for a street meeting." He circled the block and pulled up alongside the curb. Together, they stood on the sidewalk and preached to people on the street.

In one town a large crowd was filing out of a movie theater, so Oliver with some fellow believers got out to preach. Noticing the sign above the theater, Oliver read the title of that night's film, "He Paid It All." "I know what my message will be," he said to the others.

In memory of Everett Richmond, Wyanet, Ill.

From a street corner some years ago,
I picked up a man; God planned it so.
For he was lost, and he seemed to know,
To heaven and home he 'd never go.

Unless from sin he 'd be forgiven,
According to God's word that's given,
A place in heaven he would never be,
From suffering and pain forever free.

Unless a man is saved from hell
He'll never in heaven with Jesus dwell.
When asked if he was saved from hell
He answered NO, and was answered well.

For he had never been born again,
And this must be to enter heaven.
He with me then to a meeting went,
Which proved to be a time well spent.

For to this meeting he went along,
Where saints praised God with word and song,
And there was made to know his need,
Of a Saviour Who for him did bleed.

For he was ready to hear the Word,
Which opens eyes to see the Lord.
And as we read in God's dear Book,
It's to the Lord we need to look.

The entrance of the Word gives light,
Without which none receive their sight.
So by faith in Him who died for him
He believed the Word John 3 :16.

So on his way he went along,
Praising the Lord in word and song,
Seeking to tell some others who may
Wish to know Christ who is the way

To heaven and home for eternity,
With Him who died to set us free
That all who on Him now believe
In Christ eternal life receive.
-Oliver Smith
Oliver's diary, which spans a period of 38 years, is filled with entries about street meetings. An interesting example of this is a trip to Washington in 1927.

Aug 3: To Kimball S.D. In auto camp all night. Had street meeting.
Had a good hearing.
4: From Kimball to Rapid City. Sang a few songs in park.

7: Stay in Buffalo till noon - Drove to Ten Sleep (Wyoming). Sang couple of songs in park and on street.
14: Traveled from Camp Armstrong in Idaho to Washington. Had street meeting in front of hotel.
21: Broke bread in Tacoma. Had park meeting in Puyallup. Algona for tent meeting. Dr. Tischhauser and I took part.
28: Broke bread in Boise. Had couple of meetings.

Oliver had a remarkable way of winning entrance into the homes of strangers. Sometimes when he came to a door, he would crack it open a little and pitch his hat inside. With a yell, he would inquire if anyone was home. If someone appeared, he would ask for permission to step in and retrieve his hat, which to the utter amazement of strangers, was lying under a table or near a chair in their home. Quickiy, Oliver would put them at ease and direct the conversation to spiritual matters.

He became a specialist with sewing machines. Electric machines were rare in those days, so Oliver carried a supply of motors with him. He would look at a woman's machine, make some minor adjustments, then ask if she would like to have a motor on it. When the job was finished, most could hardly believe that they now possessed an electric sewing machine. "I'm having gospel meetings in a tent (or hall) down the road," he would suddenly say. "Would you be kind enough to come along some night?" Oliver once estimated that more than ten families were saved as a result of this work.

A host of other skills were developed and used by Oliver for the furtherance of the gospel. He became well known for his barbering ability, clipping the hair of young and old alike. One summer day he drove down a road and noticed a man and his wife sitting on chairs in front of their home. As he passed by, the thought occured to him that he should speak a word to them about their souls. He stopped his car and went back. Noticing that the man had rather long hair, he yelled from his car, "I do a little hair cutting. Would you like me to cut yours?" The couple looked at one another and then agreed to the offer. Quickly, Oliver pulled out his equipment and, while cutting the man's hair, told them of the Saviour and His love. Oliver believed that the man was eventually saved.

Oliver cutting hair.

Oliver also made Bible bags, repaired hymnbooks, fixed furniture, and even invented a flag for mailboxes, which farmers could see from a distance and know if they had any mail.

He painted a number of large Scripture texts which adorned the walls in many gospel halls. He also painted "Two Roads" charts and other dispensational charts used regularly in meetings. And he had a difficult time passing up a large rock or visible drainage tile without leaving some message of Scripture upon it. The following entries from his diary, help illustrate this point.

May 12, 1925:
Feb. 25, 1927:
Mar. 3, 1927:
Sept 8, 1928:
Paint rocks around Clayton in a.m.
Paint some signs along road to Allison.
Paint rocks north of town.
Drove to Hinckley, Mn. p.m.. Paint tile along
road side.


June 19,1940:
Oct. 12, 1940:
Aug 31, 1942:
May 29, 1943:
April 28, 1947:

Jan. 9, 1954:
Feb. 11, 1954:
Sept. 26, 1956:
Paint at least 3 bridge ends with texts.
Paint on bridges "Jesus Saves Sinners"
Paint "Jesus Saves Sinners" on a rock.
Paint text on bridge west of Wesley, Ia.
Paint Rom. 5: 6 on rock 4 miles north of
Painted 5 texts along highway in California.
Painted text on a rock near San Jacinto, Cal.
Painted text on cement wing east of Hitesville.