By the time the Pentecostal movement was born in 1906 Maria, in her early sixties, already had two decades of Pentecostal ministry under her belt!Maria Woodworth-Etter has been called the ‘Mother of Pentecost’ because her dynamic Holy Ghost ministry pre-dated the Pentecostal outpouring by twenty years. Soon after her call to preach she began to see conversions, signs and wonders following her ministry – destined to continue in power for over 50 years!
Maria’s early life was plagued with tragedies. Her father died of sunstroke when she was 11 years old leaving her mother with eight children to provide for. She married at 16 but fought a continual battle with ill-health, losing five of her six children. During her sickness she had visions of children in heaven and the lost suffering in hell. She promised God, that if He would heal her, she would serve Him completely. She asked God for same apostolic power He gave the disciples and was gloriously baptized in the Holy Spirit. “It felt like liquid fire, and there were angels all around.”
Despite her personal struggles with ‘women in ministry’ and the prevailent hostile attitudes to female preachers, she felt compelled by God to accept the invitation to preach in the United Brethren in Christ (Friends) in 1876 and later associated with the Methodist Holiness church.
Though simply evangelistic in the early days she was unusually successful and in 1885 supernatural signs began to accompany her ministry. Her ministry resurrected dead churches, brought salvation to thousands of unconverted and encouraged believers to seek a deeper walk with God.
She described an 1883 meeting in Fairview, Ohio: “I felt impressed God was going to restore love and harmony in the church..… All present came to the altar, made a full consecration, and prayed for a baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire. That night it came. Fifteen same to the altar screaming for mercy. Men and women fell and lay like dead. I felt it was the work of God, but did not know how to explain it or what to say. I was a little frightened . . . after lying for two hours all, one after another, sprang to their feet as quick as a flash with shining faces and shouted all over the house. I had never seen such bright conversions or such shouting….The ministers and old saints wept and praised the Lord …..they said it was the Pentecost power, that the Lord was visiting them in great mercy and power …..(they) experienced visions of heaven and hell, collapsed on the floor as if they’d been shot or had died.” Subsequently, thousands were healed of a wide variety of sicknesses and diseases and many believers, even ministers, received mighty baptisms of the Holy Spirit. She soon became a national phenomenon.
In 1889, she purchased a tent that could seat eight thousand people and set it up in Oakland, California. “The power of God was over all the congregation; and around in the city of Oakland. The Holy Ghost would fall on the people while we were preaching. The multitude would be held still, like as though death was in their midst. Many of the most intelligent and best dressed men would fall back in their seats, with their hands held up to God. being held under the mighty power of God. Men and women fell, all over the tent, like trees in a storm; some would have visions of God. Most all of them came out shouting the praises of God.”
She declared that if 19th-century believers would meet God’s conditions, as the 120 did on the Day of Pentecost, they would have the same results. “A mighty revival would break out that would shake the world, and thousands of souls would be saved. The displays of God’s power on the Day of Pentecost were only a sample of what God designed should follow through the ages. Instead of looking back to Pentecost, let us always be expecting it to come, especially in these days.”
Initially she had grave concerns about the burgeoning Pentecostal movement, mainly because of some unbalanced teaching and reported extremism. Soon she came to believe it was an authentic move of the Holy Spirit and was enthusiastically welcomed within its ranks. She became both a model and a mentor for the fledgling movement. This association elicited another wave of revival between 1912 and her death in 1924 as she ministered throughout the country and her books were read across the world.
In 1918, she built Etter Tabernacle as her home church base and affiliated with the Assemblies of God. In her closing years she still ministered with a powerful anointing despite struggling with gastritis and dropsy. On occasion she would be carried to the podium, preach with extraordinary power, then be carried home again!
Her health continued to decline and she died on September 16, 1924. She is buried in a grave in Indianapolis next to her daughter and son-in-law. Her inscription reads “Thou showest unto thousands lovingkindness.”
Without doubt Maria Woodworth-Etter was an amazing woman blessed with an astonishing ministry. Rev. Stanley Smith - one of the famous “Cambridge Seven” and for many years a worker with “The China Inland Mission” wrote this about her autobiography:
“I cannot let this opportunity go by without again bringing to the notice of my readers, ‘Acts of the Holy Ghost,’ or ‘Life and Experiences of Mrs. M. B. Woodworth-Etter.’ It is a book I value next to the Bible. In special seasons of waiting on God I have found it helpful to have the New Testament on one side of me and Mrs. Etter’s book on the other; this latter is a present-day record of ‘the Acts’ multiplied.
Mrs. Etter is a woman who has had a ministry of healing since 1885, her call as an evangelist being some years previous to this. I venture to think that this ministry is unparalleled in the history of the Church, for which I give all the glory to the Lord Jesus Christ, as Mrs. Etter would, I know, wish me to do. This ministry should be made known, for the glory of the Triune God and the good of believers.”
We agree and pray that such an anointing will rest upon God’s end-time people so that ‘this Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world before the end comes!’ Matthew 24:14
Bibliography: Various quotes from Woodworth-Etter’s books, Articles by Wayne Warner, Richard Riss and others.