I have been in great dangers; many times not knowing when I would be shot down, either in the pulpit, or going to and from meetings…But I said I would never run, nor compromise. The Lord would always put His mighty power on me, so that He took all fear away, and made me like a giant…If in any way they had tried to shoot, or kill me, He would have struck them dead, and I sometimes told them so.¹
Within a short time after Maria Woodworth-Etter responded to God’s call to “go out in the highways and hedges and gather in the lost sheep,”² and people were thronging to hear her speak with signs and wonders following. By 1885, without a public address system, crowds of over twenty-five thousand pressed in to hear her minister while hundreds fell to the ground under the power of God.³ Woodworth-Etter not only shook up denominational religion, she rocked the secular world with life-altering displays of God’s power.
Those who came to investigate, condemn, or harass her seemed most at risk of “falling out” in what was described as a trance-like state. Maria preached that these strong manifestations of the Spirit were “nothing new; they were just something the Church had lost.” 4 She was unwavering in her determination to break the strongholds that held people, communities, and whole cities in bondage. It seemed the more opposition she faced, the more she dug in her heels. Maria produced invincible strength through tenacious prayer that enabled her to take authority and minister with grace and power. She was known as a revivalist who could break towns open.
Maria Woodworth-Etter did not immediately heed the Lord’s call to evangelistic ministry in her life. As a single woman in the latter part of the nineteenth century, she felt the need to position herself by first obtaining an education and then marrying a missionary. Her well thought-out plans were interrupted when her father suddenly died in a farming accident and she was left with the burden of helping support her family. She met P.H. Woodworth upon his return from the Civil War, and after a brief courtship, they married and took up farming.
Over the course of time, P.H. and Maria became the parents of six children. Farming life proved difficult and they struggled with the demands of making a living and raising a family. Maria was frustrated that she couldn’t answer the call to ministry due to the demands of her life on the farm as a wife and mother of a growing family. She battled illness and disappointment that her husband did not share her desire for ministry. Then overwhelming tragedy struck as the Woodworth’s lost five of their six children to illness. P.H. never recovered from this loss and Maria did her best to support him while raising their only surviving daughter. Instead of growing bitter, Maria applied the Word of God to her heart.
She came to understand through her study of the Bible that God had used women as ministers, prophets, and leaders. From the prophecy of Joel she read that God would pour out his Spirit on both men and women. Still, she felt inadequate and ill-equipped to be of useful service to the Lord. She continued to study and later wrote, “The more I investigated, the more I found to condemn me.”5
Then Maria had a vision. Angels came into her room and took her to the West, over prairies, lakes, forests, and rivers where she saw a long, wide field of waving grain. As the view unfolded she began to preach and saw the grains begin to fall like sheaves. Then Jesus told her that, “just as the grain fell, so people would fall” as she preached.6 Finally, Maria yielded to the increasingly clear call and asked the Lord to anoint her for ministry.
And the Lord did. Shortly after she began ministering to small groups in her community, churches began inviting her to speak to their congregations. The result was always a deep conviction among the hearers as they fell to the floor weeping. Soon she was invited westward and began traveling extensively. It wasn’t long before she had held nine revivals, preached two hundred sermons, and started two churches with Sunday school memberships of over one hundred people. God honored Maria’s dedication and faithfulness restoring her heart and the years she had lost.
But it was not until she preached at a church in western Ohio that the meaning of her vision about the sheaves of wheat became clear. Here the people fell into what seemed like “trances”—an altered state which would come to profoundly mark her ministry and confound the wise of her day. “Fifteen came to the altar screaming for mercy. Men and women fell and lay like dead,” Maria recounted. “After laying on the floor for some time, they sprang to their feet shouting praises to God. The ministers and elder saints wept and praised the Lord for His ‘Pentecost Power’”7—and from that meeting on, her ministry would be marked by this particular manifestation with hundreds miraculously healed, and hundreds more coming to Christ.
At every meeting she held, there was a demonstration of the power of the Spirit. One reporter wrote, “Vehicles of all sorts began pouring into the city at an early hour—nothing short of a circus or a political rally ever before brought in so large a crowd.”8 Maria couldn’t answer all the invitations she received to minister, but the ones she did accept created a national stir that has never been silenced. The writings of then young F.F. Bosworth described the spectacular meetings that took place in Dallas, Texas, from July through December. As a result, Dallas became a hub of the Pentecostal revival.
Along with Maria’s ministry success came great pressures and severe persecution. It was during a controversial crusade in Oakland, California—where she had met with unusually challenging opposition—she decided to leave her unfaithful husband after his infidelity had been exposed. After twenty-six stormy years of marriage, they were divorced in January of 1891. In less than a year, P.H. remarried and publicly slandered Maria’s character. He died not long after on June 21, 1892, of Typhoid Fever.
God, however, continued to honor Maria. As she persistently sowed, labored, and reaped a momentous harvest for the Lord, God sent her a true friend and partner in Samuel Etter. Again her sorrow was turned to joy as the two were married in 1902. Samuel became a vital part of Maria’s ministry in every capacity and the two co-labored for Christ until his death twelve years later. Maria never wavered in her dedication to the healing and evangelistic ministry she was so powerfully called to. She seemed invincible in her ability to carry on in the face of tragedy and opposition. Her fame for miraculous healings and revival services grew, as did her critics. But God silenced them all.
She has been called the grandmother of the Pentecostal movement. None has done more than Maria Woodworth-Etter to shed light on the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, the role of women in ministry, and the power of miracle crusades to revive a nation. In addition, she brought insight on how to effectively administrate massive miracle crusades, build sustainable ministry centers and manage opposition in the public arena. Her commitment and dedication personally influenced such great heroes of the faith as Smith Wigglesworth, Aimee Semple McPherson, John Alexander Dowie, John G. Lake, E.W. Kenyon, F.F. Bosworth, and Kathryn Kuhlman.
Her legacy is evidenced by the ongoing ministry work of healing evangelists around the world. Though, for the last six years of her life, she confined herself to ministering from the Tabernacle she had erected in Indianapolis, ID, her healing anointing remained as powerful as ever. She continued to speak with power from the Word of God until her very last days. As she became weaker, she was carried in a chair to the pulpit, and finally ministered a touch of healing or a word of hope from her bed.
In 1924, at the age of eighty, Maria B. Woodworth-Etter fell into a deep sleep and went home to be with the Lord. Her passing was mourned by all whose lives she touched and was felt by the entire nation. She ministered God’s healing power with the last ounce of her strength, proclaiming God’s love with the last of her breath.