The work of God in Northern Iowa began as the result of God working through two different men. One of the earliest gospel pioneers to come to the state of Iowa was John Blair, a man sent by God. He came to the area of Dunkerton, not only to fulfill his duty to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), but, also, because of his love and compassion for his dear sister. He desired for her the greatest blessing on earth for man, the salvation of her soul. He came from Northern Ireland to spread the gospel.
John Blair was brought up in a religious home, trusting in a strict life and good works to take him ultimately to heaven. He was unaware of the need of the new birth until he heard the plain gospel presented in meetings held by James Campbell and William Matthews. He was greatly disturbed by the discovery that he was a lost, guilty sinner, finding all his efforts to obtain salvation by good works and prayer to be in vain. At last, on the morning of July 12, 1880, while reading Romans 5:6, “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly,” he was saved. Taking God at His word, he found Christ as his Savior. So great was his conviction that, in his preaching in later years, he stressed mans lost condition by nature and the need of definite personal faith in the finished work of Christ.
Because of his concern for his sisters spiritual condition, he came to Iowa on November 30, 1891. He held gospel meetings in a home, and later in a neighborhood school at Dunkerton, where some, including his sister, were saved. Following further efforts in the gospel, some of the new believers were baptized, were gathered together for fellowship and the breaking of bread in remembrance of the Lords death, and prayers.
It was in 1893 that they first met in Tom Dunkertons home. A number of believers lived in Waterloo and commuted to Dunkerton every Lords Day with horse and buggy, a distance of over 15 miles. Because of the great distance, in 1898 a small assembly of believers was gathered for the first time in Waterloo. Around the year 1922, when the Waterloo Gospel Hall was built, the believers in Dunkerton merged with the Waterloo believers. Due to the blessing in gospel work in the years 1972, 73, and 75 by a number of different brethren at Dunkerton, a desire for a definite testimony was re-established. On February 15, 1976, the assembly began to function with a number sitting down to break bread in remembrance of the Lord.
The other man used by God to bring the gospel to this area was Charles Hoehler. In the late 1890s, God moved this young man to leave his home in Germany and come to the United States. He came to North Dakota and found work on a farm. It was not a mere coincidence that the farmer who gave him a job was a Christian. Day after day, as Charles Hoehler washed his hands and face at the washstand, he read the verse which hung above the washstand. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all nations that forget God” (Ps 9:17). It didnt bother him at first. Eventually, though, the Holy Spirit convicted him that he was one of the wicked, a sinner who had forgotten God. Soon he was saved by Gods grace, washed in the blood of the Lamb.
He continued working, saving his wages from the summer months. One winter he came to the Dubuque area, where he looked for a place to hold gospel meetings. While walking along the road one day, he was offered a ride in a bobsled by a farmer who happened along. He inquired of the farmer if he knew of a place that he could have to conduct some gospel meetings. The farmer was the director of one of the rural schools, and he gave him permission to use the school building. Among those living in that area who went to the meetings and were saved were Mr. and Mrs. Charles Herman and Mr. and Mrs. John Haltmeyer. A few years later, the Hermans and the Haltmeyers both moved from the Dubuque area to farms just two or three miles from Manchester. Their farms were just a mile apart, and near a brick country schoolhouse. It was in this building that the gospel was first preached in the early 1900s by different evangelists who came through the area. Souls were reached by God and saved. As a result of blessing in salvation in these early years, a group of thirteen believers gathered for the first time in a home on Lords Day, May 9, 1920, to remember the Lord. This was the beginning of the testimony at Manchester. Due to the Lords blessing in gospel efforts near Marion, those living in the area and in Cedar Rapids, who were in fellowship in Manchester, began having a gospel meeting on Sunday night and a prayer meeting during the week. In time, there were enough Christians to form an assembly. This was in March of 1962.
In 1911, the Hermans moved to Waterloo, where they lived on a small ten-acre farm, adjoining the dairy farm of Oliver Smith. Mr. Herman was a very special person to Mr. Smith. He spoke often to Mr. Smith about Gods way of salvation and about his own security and sureness of being saved. Mr. Smith watched this man very closely, as he was “different” and his honesty and kindness were most impressive. Due to the testimony of this dear man, and his presentation of the gospel, God began to work in the heart of Mr. Smith. On January 31, 1913, while 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. Seven years later, Mr. Smith sold his farm, and from then on devoted his time to the preaching of the gospel in which he had been actively involved since God had reached and saved him. This humble man, Gods man for Gods time, became a great soul winner. As a result of the labors of these men and others, fifteen assemblies of Gods people, (including the four named previously) gathered unto the Peerless Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, were established. Most remain to this day. From among these, God has raised up laborers to carry on His work. These include Walter Eltjes, Louis Brandt, Henry Wahls, Paul Elliot, Leonard DeBuhr, Eric McCullough, Robert Orr, Roy Weber, Joel Portman, and Allan Christopher-son. Some of these have gone home to heaven and we do pray that God will raise others to fill the vacancies. We marvel at Gods great plan of salvation and humbly thank Him that we were ever included. One day we will see the complete results of His work, and as we are all gathered around our blessed Savior, well declare that He is WORTHY OF ALL!
“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt 28:19-20).