Posts Tagged ‘Evangelist’

Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul: therefor will I hope in him. (Lamentations 3:20-24)

Through all of the many afflictions in her life this verse remained one of Sarah Osborn’s favorites. Sarah maintained her faith in God through wars, poor health, the deaths of loved ones, and conflicts at her church. Today she has been all but forgotten, but Sarah Osborn deserves to be remembered for the part she played in the many lives of others in the eighteenth century. Hundreds of less fortunate people praised Sarah for her faith, courage, and humble service. Sarah believed that God used her suffering to draw her closer to Him and to be an example to others.

newport town commonSarah Haggar Wheaten Osborn was born in England in 1714. Her family moved to Boston in 1723. Later they settled in the famous fishing town of Newport, Rhode Island where Sarah lived for the rest of her life. Sarah fell in love with a fisherman, Samuel Wheaten and married him in 1731 when she was only seventeen years old. Her parents did not approve of her marriage. Sadly, Samuel died at sea less than a year later leaving Sarah to care for their baby son alone.

Sarah had been raised as a Congregationalist but she claims that she did not have a true, heartfelt relationship with God until her personal conversion in 1737. After listening to Nathaniel Clap preach on the sinfulness of human beings, she repented of her worldly lifestyle and turned to Christ. For the rest of her life Sarah would seek to please the Lord out of gratitude for her salvation.

The Great Awakening was spreading through New England at this time. Jonathan whitefieldEdwards, George Whitefield, and Gilbert Tennent delivered hell-fire sermons that caused people to examine their lives and see how far they had strayed from living godly lives. Thousands of people including Sarah made commitments to become more involved in church. She dedicated her life to helping the poor, the sick, and slaves and free blacks.

In 1742 when Sarah was twenty-eight years old she married Henry Osborn, a widower with three boys of his own. Now Sarah was the mother of four sons. Henry was fifty-seven years old and seemingly established in life. Sarah looked forward to being able to care for her family free of financial worries. But, within months Henry lost his fortune to poor investing and declared bankruptcy. It is not exactly clear why Henry was unable to work after this – poor health? – depression? – but Sarah became the breadwinner for the family. She felt a strong responsibility to stay out of debt.

Working as a teacher and a domestic servant for others Sarah was able to pay off the debts caused by Henry’s poor decisions and to feed the family. Later she opened a boarding school. The family was poor yet Sarah always managed somehow to share what little she had with others even less fortunate than herself.

Sarah wrote a memoir in 1743. She related how she had reached such a pinnacle of joy in her newfound salvation and marriage only to be plunged into the depths of despair when Henry lost their money. Writing the memoir helped her to come to grips with her feelings. By writing about God she felt closer to Him. She remained thankful to God for what blessings she had. She recalled with Jeremiah that God is her portion (Lamentations 3:24). She believed that knowing God is the most important thing. She hoped that her memoirs would inspire others to have hope when things went wrong. “Trust in the Lord and never despair of His mercy.”

Complete trust in God would be a challenge to Sarah in the years to come. In 1744 only one month before his twelfth birthday, Sarah’s only son Samuel died. Again Sarah turned to writing as she dealt with her sorrow. Sarah was tested as she wondered whether or not God had hidden His face from her. Through the pain of the loss Sarah came to accept God’s will for her. “I then arose from my dead child, and was quieted for the will of God was done, and my work was done as it respected my child.” Sarah later said that it was at this moment, incredible as it may sound, that God showed her His face. After she rose from her son’s deathbed she said, “God was pleased to give such evidence of his love that my mouth was filled with praises.”  As she would through all of her trials Sarah saw God’s hand in her life. She believed that He loved her and only brought sadness in her life to bring her closer to Him.

Over the next few years all three of Sarah’s stepsons would die either of illness or being killed during the French and Indian War (1756 – 1763). The war caused even more scarcity of food and provisions but Sarah managed to earn enough to keep herself and Henry and his grandchildren alive. She continued to give away any extra money she had to neighbors. All of this she did while suffering from chronic illness probably rheumatoid arthritis. She complained very little about her own pain. As always she glorified God no matter what the circumstances.

Sarah wrote, “May Gratitude ever glow in my breasts to God and them and as I have freely received in times of my distress so let me freely give as God enables and occasion offers. Lord ever open my hand and heart to the sick, poor, and needy and make me a blessing in my day.” She took in her grandchildren and other orphans.

slavery great awakeningIncredibly, even beyond this, while Sarah was busy working to care for her husband, her grandchildren and others she began to hold Bible studies in her home during the 1760’s. By January 1767, 525 people per week crowded into her home to pray, read the Bible, and be encouraged by Sarah. More than 70 slaves and free blacks would gather in her kitchen on Sunday nights and listen while she read the Bible to them. It was so crowded most of them stood shoulder to shoulder as Sarah told them the Good News that the Bible was written for each and every one of them not just white people.

Sarah herself had difficulty walking or even standing by now, but she said she never felt more alive in her life. She loved reading the Bible and singing hymns and praying. To make sure that more people could attend she arranged to have the meetings on different nights of the week. When the gathering included many adult men she asked Henry to pray in her stead.

A religious revival occurred at her house. It was controversial because Sarah was a woman. But what really hurt Sarah more was the ambivalence from church people because she had blacks coming to her home. Though evangelicals were paying lip service to emancipation and equality for slaves, the polite culture of Newport had difficulty with the idea that their slaves could be called “brothers and sisters in Christ”. Like so many they assumed that Africans were too ignorant or backward to understand the Gospel. Sarah believed that the Africans were equally children of God and should read and pray and worship God together with them.

By now Sarah was in her fifties. She was suffering with chronic pain. She was overloaded with work caring for others while maintaining a ministry in her home. But God still had nearly three more decades of service for Sarah.

Next week in Part 2 we will see how Sarah survived yet another war and church dissention. Sarah would become a spiritual leader of her church serving alongside the new pastor Samuel Hopkins. Together these two would begin the social reform in Newport beginning with the condemnation of slavery.













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maria woodworth-etterIn our continuing survey of nineteenth century American women evangelists we must not leave out Maria Woodworth Etter – The Grandmother of the Pentecostal Movement.

Maria was born to Samuel and Matilda Underwood on July 22, 1844 in Lisbon Ohio. Her parents were not religious which Maria deeply regretted. When she was twelve years old her father died of a severe case of sunstroke. Maria and her sister dropped out of school to help their mother raise the eight children in her family.

Maria desperately wanted to get an education. She had to content herself with reading her books in her kitchen. She would memorize Bible verses as she worked.

When she was thirteen years old Maria went to a Disciples of Christ church meeting. There she gave her heart to the Lord. At this time she also felt her initial call to evangelism. She did not understand this because, as she later related in her autobiography, the Disciples “did not believe that women had any right to work for Jesus. Had I told them my impression they would have made sport of me. I had never heard of women working in public except as missionaries, so I could see no openings – except, as I thought, if I ever married…”

A few years later she married Philo Harris Woodworth. Maria had six children, but five of them died while they were young. These deaths led to constant illness for Maria. During her long periods of convalescence she often had dreams of evangelizing. At one point when she was on the brink of death she promised God that if He would restore her to health she would then commit herself to the evangelistic work that He had called her to so many years before. At that moment she felt herself recovering from her illness. She then began to wonder how she could work for God by telling others about Jesus.

Not long after this her only remaining son Willie died leaving Maria and Philo with a single child, a teenage daughter, Elizabeth (Lizzie). Maria believed that all of these trials were preparation for her evangelistic ministry. Her acquaintance with grief and sorrow would give her the compassion she would need for lost sinners.

Other ministers began to encourage her to start her ministry. At first she was not sure. She said, “If I were a man I would love to work for Jesus.” These ministers assured her that she had work to do and that she should not be stopped because of her gender. Her husband Philo was not enthusiastic about her being an itinerant evangelist so she sought an opportunity to speak locally.

Maria got her first opportunity at a Friends’ meeting. When she got up to speak she was struck with a vision of hell and the danger for people who did not know their peril of damnation. She began to call for them to repent and follow God and be saved. Many cried out in repentance and came forward to receive Christ.

Wishing to obey her husband Maria held evangelistic meetings in nearby churches and communities. She received offers from several denominations to pastor one of their churches. These were local churches and the pay was good, but Maria was still determined to follow her call as an itinerant evangelist. She wanted to go wherever the Lord would lead her. When the farm failed, Maria and Philo moved to the Midwest.

Maria felt that God was urging her to pray for healing for people. She also believed that she had “the gift of healing, and of laying on of hands for the recovery of the sick.” She reported in her autobiography the stories of many hundreds of people who were healed and subsequently saved.

The numbers of people at her evangelistic meetings began to grow. Philo had agreed to accompany her but he soon began to cause trouble. He was making money on the side, which caused the media to ridicule her. He was also unfaithful in their marriage. Maria sued for divorce on the grounds of repeated adultery and divorce was granted in 1891. Philo died a little over a year later of typhoid fever.

A little over ten years later Maria married Samuel Etter. Samuel was the opposite of Philo. Maria said, “He takes the best care of me, in and out of the meetings. … He will pray and preach, and sing, and is very good around the altar…. The Lord knew what I needed and it was brought about by the Lord, through his love and care for me and the work.” They were happily married for twelve years. Samuel died in1914.

Parts of Maria’s ministry were controversial. Many did not believe that the miracles of healing were really happening at her meetings. Some believed that Maria was just being dramatic; some accused her of being a charlatan. But it is well documented that many thousands came forward and received spiritual and physical healing. While Maria faced some opposition for this, it was no more than any modern “healing evangelist” would encounter. There are doubters in every age.

A major controversy was the trances that Maria would fall into while preaching. She was sometimes in a rigid condition for 45 minutes to several hours. She could stand a long time with her face lifted skyward silently praying with tears streaming down her face over and over again for God to give repentance and salvation to the people. Maria’s trances were the subject of much debate and it was never determined for sure if they were genuine or not, but they sure drew the crowds. By the summer of 1885 the stories of her trances were well known. Maria had to increase the size of her gospel tents to accommodate the multitudes of people who would come from many miles away to hear her.

Maria enjoyed acclamation from many ministers of many different denominations. maria woodworth-etter 2Though she was originally reluctant to speak in public because she was a woman her call to evangelistic work was unmistakable. After having a further experience of dedication of her life to God she put her complete trust in Him. She was willing to go and speak the words that God would give her. Day and night her one desire was to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins and the story of the cross.

Maria has been called the Grandmother of the Pentecostal Movement. Thanks to her courage in following her call many received the witness of Christ. Many have been convicted of the power of the Holy Spirit. She did much to advance the role of women in ministry. Maria had a great influence on Aimee Semple McPherson, John G. Lake, F.F. Bosworth, and Kathryn Kuhlman.

For the last six years of her life from 1918 to her death in 1924 Maria worked at the church that she founded in Indianapolis. She used it as her headquarters and traveled from there to minister throughout the Midwest. This church stands today as a conference center known as Lakeview Christian Center.

She continued to speak up to her very last days. As she grew weaker she was carried to the pulpit in a chair. Finally she ministered from her bed, faithful to her calling to the end. On September 16, 1924 Maria fell into a deep sleep and went to the arms of her Savior at the age of eighty still proclaiming God’s love. Truly the epitaph on her grave reflects her life – “Thou showest unto thousands lovingkindness.”


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