BOOK REVIEW: A Man Called Oliver (Reprinted 2023)
by Michael J. Penfold
Available again after 30 years, A Man Called Oliver (Paperback), tells the story of the American evangelist Oliver Smith. Unknown, yet well-known.
Born in 1883 in Hudson, south of Waterloo, Iowa, USA, Oliver Smith grew up in a Christian family. As a youth he became a member of a Baptist Church, but without being born again. He ceased attending church in his teens.
As a young married farmer with a milk round he was spared service in World War 1. He heard Billy Sunday preach in Waterloo, and thereafter promised to join his wife Pearl’s church. He was baptised a total of three times, became active in Sunday School and sang in the choir, but had still never been awakened to his need of salvation.
All of that changed when new neighbours moved in next door. Mr and Mrs Charles Herman were saved people. Oliver noticed they were different. They told him he needed to be born again and his soul became troubled. His Pastor tried to settle him back down, but nothing could give him rest. On Jan 30th 1913 he left his work and went to the barn, where he knelt in prayer till the early hours. He finally fell asleep, only to awake with hell and judgment on his mind. He opened the booklet that Charles Herman had given him – Safety Certainty and Enjoyment by George Cutting – and through the truth of the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, Oliver found peace and rest.
What a change was immediately evident. The Bible became his most treasured possession. He began witnessing to everyone he knew and met. He got baptised and then Pearl was saved. Both were in an assembly of Christians meeting in a Gospel Hall in Iowa. Oliver threw himself into gospel work and saw 13 of his own hired men saved. Challenged that anyone could plant corn but few could preach Christ, Oliver Smith went forth full time as an evangelist in 1920.
His was a tireless zeal and a passionate love for the souls of men and women. He would pitch a Gospel Tent and sleep in it nightly for weeks on end preaching the gospel. He preached often in the open air. He gave out countless gospel tracts. He painted his cars with texts, and saw a number of hitchhikers saved. He saw an assembly planted in Garnavillo, Iowa. Then amid opposition, he preached for a year in Stout. 100 souls were saved. At a large baptism 3,000 were in attendance. The Stout assembly started with 30 believers breaking bread on July 29th 1923. By 1929, there were 110 in fellowship.
Oliver then moved to Aplington and saw another 35 souls saved. He would do anything to get people to meetings. He would mend sewing machines, milk cows, thresh oats or pick corn. Six of his converts became full time evangelists. Next to Hitesville, where many were saved and 2,000 attended a baptism. 55 broke bread on Oct 30th 1927 for the first time. Oliver pressed on with a constant round of conferences, Hall building, text painting, gospel meetings, weddings and funerals.
Next to Aredale. After 2 years of work, 35 were baptised and 20 later broke bread for the first time on Sept 24th 1933. 1934 was the year of the great depression, yet 3 more assemblies were formed, in Cylinder, Hampton and Mason City. The advent of World War 2 brought much sorrow. Many of his young converts went off to War. Oliver took 140 funerals in 6 years. In 1945 he teamed up with Paul Elliot continued labouring in the gospel. In 1963 in Cedar Falls and another assembly were established.
He turned 77 in 1960. His health began to deteriorate. A car crash badly shook him. On Sunday May 1st he broke bread for the last time, in Aredale. It was discovered that he had cancer, and he died on died 31st May 1960. 700 attended his funeral in Waterloo, Iowa, and laid to rest the body of a mighty servant of the Lord who left an indelible mark for eternity on the hearts of thousands.
We highly recommend this book. Its contents will challenge you to greater service for the Lord.
You can hear Oliver Smith preaching at gospelhallaudio.org/sermon-speaker/oliver-smith/
To obtain a copy of the reprint, please email the author Steve Walvatne at email@example.com
Here are some of the many colourised photos from the book: