Evangelist Maria Woodworth-Etter

January 5, 2016 9:28 am Published by Comments Off on Evangelist Maria Woodworth-Etter

Maria Woodworth-Etter was an anointed American woman preacher when it was not normal for women to preach. She was an itinerant evangelist who traveled and held meetings in churches, tents and public buildings. She witnessed many supernatural signs, wonders and miracles in her ministry. People would fall into trances, see visions, and collapse on the floor as if they had fainted. Thousands were healed of different sicknesses and diseases while many others received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This article examines Maria’s amazing ministry.

Maria was born on 22 July 1844 in Lisbon, Ohio. Her parents, Samuel and Matilda Underwood, had eight children. Her parents were not Christians and she was, therefore, not brought up as a Christian. It was not until 1854 when her parents became members of the Disciples Church.

Her father died in 1857 of sunstroke. Her mother was left with eight children to support all by herself and her family spiraled into poverty. Her mother and the children who were old enough had to work to support the family. Maria could not attend school since her mother needed her to work. She cried herself to sleep at night while living and working away from home.

Conversion and Call to the Ministry

When Maria was eight years old, her older sisters were converted at a Methodist Church meeting. Maria also wanted to be saved but she was denied the opportunity because children of her age were considered too young to be saved. It was not until 1857 when she became a born-again Christian at the age of 13.

After she was converted, she heard God’s voice telling her to go to the highways and hedges and gather the lost sheep. This was confusing because almost all denominations did not allow women to preach. She also had never heard of a woman preacher. Nevertheless, she went to as many church meetings as she could each week. Her desire for an education also intensified. She rationalized that with an education and a husband, she might be accepted for mission work.

In 1863, she married Philo Woodworth but she soon found out, to her disappointment, that he was not interested in spreading the gospel. He was instead interested in farming. Maria’s hopes of answering God’s call on her life remained unfulfilled.

Maria and her husband had six children but all died within a few years except one. Their two sons died at a very young age while another son and their second daughter died when they were seven years old. Their other daughter lived for only four months before she died. Only Elizabeth, their oldest daughter, who survived into adulthood. Maria herself struggled with poor health and thought she would die.

Persistent Call to Preach

Maria’s life was consumed by a relentless call to preach the gospel. This was a big dilemma because women were not allowed to preach. Women were also not allowed to vote in those days. It seemed impossible that she could answer God’s call on her life to preach the gospel. She could not see how she was going to overcome all the obstacles in her way. Moreover, she was fearful of talking in front of people. Above all, her husband would not allow her to preach. Even her oldest daughter was also against it. She was overwhelmed with the impossibility of it all. But the struggle continued.

Many times, she sensed God telling her that she should be out there preaching the gospel to sinners. Sometimes she had visions of many people in front of her, all in tears, as she preached to them. But rationalism would jolt her back to reality to validate the insanity of a woman answering such a call. She even thought of committing suicide.

Maria read the Bible and realized that God had used women as preachers, prophets and leaders. She also read from the book of Prophet Joel that God had promised to pour out his Holy Spirit on both men and women in the last days. But she still felt inadequate, ill-equipped and ill-prepared to be of any useful service to the Lord. In spite of this, she had no peace as she felt the need to call sinners to repentance.

The fact that she was uneducated also tormented her. How could she preach what she did not know? She told the Lord that she could not preach unless she had a good course of study in the Bible. God answered her in a vision. There appeared upon the wall a large open Bible and the verses stood out in raised letters. When she looked, she could understand it all. Jesus told her that many people were dying and going to hell and there was no time to waste. Then Jesus told her to go and he would be with her.

One night, Maria had a vision. Angels came into her room and took her over the prairies, lakes, forests, and rivers to the West where she saw a long, wide field of sheaves of wheat. As the view unfolded, she began to preach and saw the sheaves fall to the ground. Then Jesus informed her that just as the wheat sheaves fell to the ground, people would fall to the ground as she preached. Maria yielded and asked the Lord to anoint her for the ministry.

Open Door

Maria began to preach in 1879 when she was 35 years old. She preached her first sermon in the home of her husband’s family. She shook as she stood to preach for the first time in her life. When she stood up, a scripture came to her mind and she began to speak about it. To her surprise, words tumbled out of her mouth faster than she could speak them. Her audience was in tears. Her life would never be the same again.

Thereafter, she was invited to speak at a Quakers’ meeting. When she got up to speak, she had a vision of hell. She also saw many people who did not realize they were in danger of going to hell. She told the people to repent and be saved.

Thereupon, she was invited to go on a mission trip with a Quaker missionary couple but her husband refused to let her go. It was also when Maria was associated with the Quakers that she was baptized with the Holy Spirit.

Maria started preaching in her local area and saw many conversions. The power of God would fall and sinners would run to the front in repentance. She began preaching to small groups in her community and churches began to invite her to speak to their congregations. Wherever she preached, the audience would be deeply convicted and fall to the floor weeping.

It was not until she preached at a church in Ohio that the meaning of her vision about the sheaves of wheat became clear. People fell into trances, a phenomenon that would manifest in her ministry throughout and confound the wise and the educated people of her day. Men and women ran to the altar screaming for mercy. They fell down and lay there like dead people. After lying on the floor for some time, they sprang to their feet shouting praises to God.

From then henceforth, her ministry would be marked by similar manifestations with many people being saved while others were miraculously healed of their diseases and sicknesses. At every meeting she held, there was a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Maria began to receive many invitations to preach. That was why she and her husband decided to start a traveling ministry. Maria traveled extensively and preached wherever God called her – especially in the Midwest.

She later felt that God was calling her to pray for the sick. She at first resisted on the grounds that it would distract her from her evangelistic call. Jesus assured her that if she prayed for the sick, she would see many more people saved. She agreed and began to pray for the sick. Her meetings were characterized by supernatural healings, visions and trances.

That was why Maria came to be known as the “Trance Evangelist.” She herself believed that people who went through the trances received the baptism in the Holy Spirit. She referred to the experience as the “Pentecostal power.” She preached that the strong manifestations of the Holy Spirit were nothing new; they were something the church had lost.

By 1885, she had developed a theology that included salvation, holiness, baptism in the Holy Spirit, healing, and the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Some of her meetings were attended by over 25,000 people and she preached to them without a public address system. In 1890, she was licensed and ordained to preach by the Church of God, Indiana.

Opposition and Persecution

As the news spread about her and the “unusual” manifestations at her meetings, reporters flocked to her meetings from everywhere. Many of them were biased and hostile toward her and her ministry. They published their sensationalized manifestations in their newspapers and magazines and also quoted her disgruntled critics. This made her ministry highly controversial and it aroused persecution from Christians and non-Christians.

Two Doctors incited the authorities against her and she was arrested and charged with hypnotizing people. On another occasion, she was arrested in Framingham, Massachusetts, for claiming to heal people. But she was released when many people came forward with their healing testimonies in support of her claims.

In 1891, two psychiatrists from St Louis, Missouri, filed charges of insanity against her for claiming that she saw visions. They wanted the court to declare her insane and confine her to an asylum. On another occasion, she was arrested and charged with practicing medicine without a license because she prayed for the divine healing of the sick.

Some pastors would also hire thugs to disrupt her meetings. Even her own denomination, which had licensed and ordained her, was very critical of her ministry and wanted her to stop it. In 1900, she finally bowed to the pressure and gave up the license that the denomination had given her.

As Maria once confessed, she was always in great danger and she at times expected her detractors to shoot her. But she had made up her mind that she would never run away or compromise the gospel. She trusted in God and he always protected her and she was never hurt or harmed by her enemies. God would also deal with those who were bent on interrupting her services. Sometimes they froze in their tracks or fell to the ground and were powerless to do anything to her.

But in spite of the persecution, her ministry continued to grow. She bought a large tent that could accommodate 8,000 people. When she pitched her tent at a place, her meetings would go on for a long time, sometimes even for three months. She would also hold three meetings a day. Her ministry would also rent small tents for people who wanted to attend her meetings for many days.

Divorce and Remarriage

In January 1891, Maria divorced her husband for infidelity. Her critics and newspapers used her divorce as a basis of attacking her and her ministry. Her bitter and angry husband publicly slandered her character and also threatened to write a critical book about her ministry if she did not pay him alimony. Within a year after the divorce, he remarried but he died on 21 June 1891 of typhoid.

In 1902, Maria married Samuel Etter and hyphenated her last two names. Samuel was a strong believer in Jesus Christ and served wholeheartedly with her in the ministry for the rest of his life. Samuel became a vital part of Maria’s ministry in every capacity and the two co-labored for Christ until his death in 1914.

The strain of her husband’s illness and death, coupled with a grueling three meetings a day ministry schedule, made Maria ill with pneumonia in November 1914. At the age of 70, she felt close to death but God gave her a vision of himself as the conqueror of death and disease. He informed her that she had not yet finished her work. By the end of January 1915, she was once again back on the road ministering to people.

Pentecostal Movement

Maria is considered by many as the forerunner of the Pentecost Movement which began in 1906 on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. At first she stood aloof of what was  happening there but by 1912, she had reconciled with the movement. She considered the emergence of the Pentecostal movement as the greatest event in the church since the Day of Pentecost. There is no doubt that her ministry paved the way for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the 20th century.

Her Church

In 1918, God led her to start a church in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she spent most of the rest of her life preaching. She also used it as a conference center where she held meetings every now and then. It also became her base as she would travel from there to minister and preach in the mid-west.

Her Books

Maria also wrote several books that were highly inspirational and they sold many copies. Many of her books were translated and published in other languages such as French, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Arabic, Hindustani and Spanish. She also used her publications to circulate her sermons.


Maria died on 16 September 1924 when she was 80 years old. By then, she had ministered for 45 years and had witnessed thousands of conversions, healings, signs and wonders. That was in spite of stiff opposition, criticism and persecution from both Christians and non-Christians. This was the same Maria who was initially afraid to preach because she was uneducated and women were not allowed to preach then. But in spite of that, she heeded God’s call regardless of what people thought or said about her.

Her ministry demonstrates that without God, she could have achieved nothing. But since God was with her, that was why her ministry was a success and no one, including the devil, could stop her from achieving what God had called her to do.

Her ministry greatly influenced other great heroes of the faith. They included Smith Wigglesworth, Aimee Semple McPherson, John Alexander Dowie, John G. Lake, E.W. Kenyon, F.F. Bosworth and Kathryn Kuhlman.

Has God called you to do something and you are either afraid or procrastinating? Are you reasoning like Maria that you are uneducated, unprepared, not a good public speaker or you do not have the resources to do it? Some of the people God called in the Bible at first thought they were not capable to do what God had called them to do. Moses said he could not speak while Jeremiah said he was too young to be a prophet. But in spite of their excuses, God used them to glorify his name.

Remember that when God calls people to do something, he also equips them with everything they need for their ministries. God himself works through his people to accomplish his purpose here on earth. Just surrender yourself, like Maria did, and you will see what God will accomplish through you.

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