Ernestine “Teenie” Finley, usually a behind-the-scenes stalwart for her evangelist husband, Mark, is stepping out of her typical role to take center stage for a five-week evangelistic campaign to be held this fall in Portland, Maine. Adventist Review news editor Sandra Blackmer talked with Teenie about her plans, her hopes, and her fears.
SB: You’re leaving your comfort zone to be the main speaker for a series of evangelistic meetings. Your husband’s the well-known evangelist; you’ve been the support person behind the scenes. But now you’re changing roles. Why?
TF: My comfort zone is definitely helping Mark to prepare for evangelistic meetings, as well as teaching lay Bible instructors. That’s the type of work I’ve done for more than 25 years. After the Adventist Church’s first satellite evangelistic meetings were held in 1995 and 1996, I realized we could use videos in evangelistic meetings and have good results. As I was teaching this to laypeople, the Lord impressed me that if I were helping others to learn how to conduct video evangelistic series, I should conduct one myself. I thought, Well, that won’t be so difficult because Mark is doing the preaching. All I have to do is the prework.
So I teamed up with a pastor in Florida and a Bible worker friend from Romania. We did all the preparation needed for a series of meetings, just as if Mark were there in person—but he actually preached via video. To my surprise the meetings were a success. Fifty-four people were baptized as a result of that video evangelistic series.
It was several years later that the Lord impressed me that I should have my own evangelistic meetings and do the preaching.
Where and when will your upcoming evangelistic series be held?
In Portland, Maine—which has a population of about 230,000 in the Greater Portland area—beginning September 28 and running for five weeks until November 3. The meetings will be held in a University of Southern Maine auditorium that seats about 500 people. This will be a strictly local event—not a satellite event.
The pastor of the Portland Adventist Church, Greg Carter, and his members are really excited about the meetings. They are committed to outreach and evangelism.
Is this your first evangelistic series?
No. The first series I preached in was held in Apopka, Florida, in 2002. The Lord blessed powerfully—37 people were baptized.
Just a few days before the meetings began, I got scared. I called Mark and told him that I couldn’t do this—I was too nervous to preach. He said, “Honey, it’s all right; calm down. You’ll be just fine. I know you can do this because you’ve been preaching to me for 30 years.” I started laughing, but I was still scared.
I felt inadequate, and out of my comfort zone. But with Mark’s encouragement and many more hours of additional preparation, I decided to step out in faith and do it. Once I walked out on the stage, it was as if Jesus were standing right there next to me. It was an incredible experience.
I then began to realize that if God used an inadequate, weak vessel such as I once to bring people to Him, maybe I needed to launch out into the deep again and go back to the city where I was born—Portland, Maine—and hold evangelistic meetings.
I prayed, “Lord, if this is Your will, You’ve got to open the door.” Soon after, the Portland church pastor, Greg Carter, said to me, “I would love for you to have an evangelistic series here in Portland.” The pastor’s invitation confirmed my conviction that God was leading.
Why Portland, Maine? Because it’s your hometown?
Partly because the Adventist Church has strong historical roots in Portland, and partly because of my own roots in that area.
I didn’t grow up as a Seventh-day Adventist. But my grandfather was a Seventh-day Adventist, and he was praying for us. He sent a number of colporteurs to visit my mom. A man we called Brother Colburn came to our home and sold my mom a Bible and introduced us to the Voice of Prophecy Bible study lessons. I took the junior Bible course.
At the time, we lived next door to a Pentecostal pastor and his wife, who had eight children. They were all so loving, so kind. They often invited my sister and me to their house, and also to church. Even though I had completed the Voice of Prophecy Bible lessons and occasionally went to church when I visited my Adventist grandfather, there was no Seventh-day Adventist church in our town. My sister and I attended the Pentecostal church for almost three years.
One evening during a young people’s meeting the Pentecostal pastor asked if there was anyone who wanted to give their heart to the Lord. I stood, and several other young people stood as well. The pastor announced a baptism for the next week. I was 13 years old at the time.
That Saturday night I went to bed fully expecting to be baptized into the Pentecostal Church the next day. But I had a very vivid dream. I saw Jesus returning to earth—the Second Coming—and a voice said to me in my dream, “You need to find a Sabbathkeeping church.”
I woke up startled and told my sister about the dream. I said, “I believe we need to find a Sabbathkeeping church, but where is one?” So although my sister and a number of my friends were baptized that Sunday, I was not.
It was just about this time that my family moved from Millinocket, Maine, to Portland. After the move, I looked in the phone book and found the address for the local Adventist conference office. I walked the few miles to the office and asked if there was a Sabbathkeeping church in town. They directed me to the White Memorial Adventist Church.
The reception I received at that church was wonderful, not only from the adults but also the youth. Eventually, with financial support from the church, I was able to attend the local church school. I later attended South Lancaster Academy in Massachusetts, and then Atlantic Union College. I was baptized into the Adventist Church when
I was in college. So Portland, Maine, is very dear to me.
Is North America accepting of a female evangelist?
I am convinced God has gifted both men and women to share His last-day message with the world. I long to use the gifts of the Spirit in my own life to witness for Jesus. For me not to do this would be disobedience to God. I believe many in North America appreciate the refreshing perspectives a woman brings to evangelism. And when you think about it, a prophet of God, a woman, preached very powerfully in the same place where I’m going back to preach. The message was powerfully presented by Ellen White in Portland in the mid-1800s, and it’s exciting for me to think that I have the privilege of going back to where the Adventist message began and again spread the gospel.
And it won’t be just me. I have many volunteers helping me, not only from the Portland area but from other areas of North America as well.
I understand youth are also involved. In what way?
They are helping with preparation work: distributing literature, visiting people in their homes, and, along with health professionals, preparing health programs such as cooking schools, nutrition classes, and health expos.
What about follow-up?
We are putting in place a strong follow-up program that will include weekly Bible study meetings, small-group meetings, and spiritual nurture of new members. After the meetings are over, I want these new believers’ experience only to deepen with Christ and with the Adventist Church. I don’t want to just have a series of meetings so we can say we had evangelistic meetings. That’s not the purpose. The purpose is to win souls and to be able to see a stronger church by the time we leave.
Are you looking for more volunteers?
Yes. We can still use anybody who is willing to help. People with the gifts of hospitality, visitation, health ministry. People to serve as prayer warriors, ushers, and hosts. They will, however, need to provide their own housing. If anyone is interested in helping—or making a donation—they can contact the Center for Global Evangelism at the General Conference.*
What is the most important thing you would like our readers to know about this event?
The kind of thing that we want to happen in Portland can happen in any city in North America if we will just lean on the power of the Holy Spirit, humble ourselves, and give the credit to God. And that’s what I want Adventist Review readers to know—that God is eagerly waiting to give us the power of the Holy Spirit when we dedicate ourselves totally to Him.
*To contact the Center for Global Evangelism, call 301-680-6619.