Evangelist Maria Woodworth-Etter was born in New Lisbon, Ohio in 1844. Born into a poor family with an alcoholic father who died when Maria was just eleven years old, her father’s death left her mother with 8 children to support. With so many mouths to feed, Maria had to leave home and work for others at a young age. She felt the call to preach shortly after her conversion experience at 13 years of age. Several years later, in 1863, at the age of 19, Maria married a farmer named Mr. Philo Woodworth and started a family. She ended up burying 5 of her 6 children. All during these years of heartache and hardship the call to preach never left Maria.
She struggled with the call because at that time, women ministers were almost unheard of. No matter how many excuses she gave God as to why she couldn't preach, the desire never left her. Finally, her moment of truth came. Feeling unqualified to work for God, Maria asked the Lord to qualify her for the ministry. Here is her experience in her own words, "I asked God to give me the power He gave the Galilean Fishermen - to anoint me for service. I came like a child asking for bread. I looked for it. God did not disappoint me.
The power of the Holy Ghost came down as a cloud. It was brighter than the sun. I was covered and wrapped up in it. My body was light as the air. It seemed that heaven came down. I was baptized with the Holy Ghost and fire and power which has never left me. There was liquid fire, and the angels were all around in the fire and glory.” After this experience Maria began her supernatural ministry. From almost the beginning, her ministry was marked by people being slain in the Spirit and manifestations of the glory of God. Another phenomena that manifested in her meetings was people would fall into trances for hours and even days at a time, similar to what happened in the early frontier meetings. She was soon dubbed the "Trance Evangelist," though she believed the experience was the baptism in the Holy Spirit or "receiving the power." Unusual manifestations of the power of God including healing (which many did not believe in during that time), miracles, signs, wonders and visions were common happenings as she ministered. Her meetings became front page news as she went from place to place and revival broke out everywhere she went. Her meetings were so well attended in one city that when the circus came to town there were so few attendees that they had to move onto another place. By 1894 she had gone coast to coast at least three times. During an 1883 meeting in Fairview, Ohio, Maria wrote that the people confessed sin and "prayed for a baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire." Fifteen people came to the altar screaming for mercy and fell over in trances. Even at that early date, Maria called it "the Pentecostal power," adding that "these outpourings of the Holy Ghost were always followed by hundreds coming to Christ." By 1885 she had developed a theology that included salvation, holiness, the baptism in the Holy Spirit, healing, and the imminent return of Christ. Maria’s ministry was one of the few of its day that emphasized the baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues (this being almost 20 years before the Azusa Street revival) and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. She records in her book, A Diary of Signs & Wonders that at meetings in St. Louis, Mo in 1890 that “many were baptized in the Holy Ghost and received many gifts; all gifts were manifested by the Holy Ghost. Many received gifts of healing; the casting out of devils; some of miracles; of visions; of the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands; some received the gift of new tongues and spake very intelligently. He gave them to know what they were speaking.” Maria believed that “The power which was given to the apostles in their day had never been taken from the church. The trouble was, the churches had sunk to the level of the world and were without the unlimited faith that will heal the sick and make the lame to walk. She prayed for the return of the old days and more faith in Christ among the people." In 1902, Maria married Samuel Etter whom was a great help to her and the ministry. During the early days of the 1906 Pentecostal Movement, Maria initially kept her distance. It wasn't until about 1912 that she became involved with the Movement because of what she felt was false teaching in the Movement. In her opinion, some of the people went to extremes on speaking in tongues, and others wanted the Holy Spirit to work their way, not His. She said her rule was simple: "Let the Holy Ghost work in any way that agrees with the Word of God." However, she did believe that the Pentecostal movement was the greatest thing to happen to the church since the Day of Pentecost. Without a doubt, her 19th-century campaigns helped prepare the way for the 20th-century outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The role Maria played between 1912 and her death in 1924 is unique, providing a veteran "name" evangelist for the young Movement. Pentecostals called for her from all over the country. Others around the world read her books that reported high-powered meetings, remarkable conversions, healings, and a great number of church plantings. In addition, Maria used books to publish her sermons. A great number of people in the early years of the Pentecostal movement looked at Maria as a saint. Historian Carl Brumback said she "looked just like your grandmother, but who exercised tremendous spiritual authority over sin, disease, and demons." In 1918, after 38 years of traveling ministry, Maria opened Etter Tabernacle in Indianapolis, Indiana where people could come and receive healing and experience the power of God. By this time Maria was 74 years old. Maria passed away 6 years later on September 16th, 1924 at the age of 80. Many said of her that her ministry was the greatest they had ever seen or heard of since the Book of Acts. Through her books and writings, her ministry is still challenging people all over the world to go for God and give Him their all. Her life and ministry is an example of what God can do with someone who dares to believe Him and take Him at His word.