From College Boxer to Indigenous Missionary
In 1945, Bob Finley was invited to speak at a Youth for Christ rally in Chicago. YFC president, Torrey Johnson, wanted a nationally known Christian athlete to speak at the rally, but they were few and far between at that time.
Finley had just graduated from the University of Virginia, where he was student body president, captain of the boxing team, and NCAA inter-collegiate boxing champion in the middleweight division. Boxing was the major indoor collegiate sport in those days, just as basketball is today.
Recordings of his speech were broadcast all over the continent, and invitations for Finley to speak at YFC rallies all across the United States and Canada began pouring in.
Johnson and YFC vice president, Bob Cook, enlisted Finley to be a field evangelist with the organization, along with Billy Graham. This duo was sent all across the country to speak at youth rallies, churches, public schools, seminaries, colleges, and Bible institutes.
On weekdays, Finley worked with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship as an evangelist to university students. He had a special interest in foreign students, and tried to win them to Christ on every campus. More than 10,000 young people stood in his meetings to indicate their decision to go out as missionaries.
Bob Finley preached to crowds of 10,000 daily in Seoul in 1950.
In 1948, Finley found himself in China, preaching the gospel to crowds of more than 15,000, fulfilling the missionary desire the Lord had placed in his heart. His progress was interrupted, however, when the communists took over China the following year and Finley was forced to leave.
Not one to give up easily, he headed to Korea. Along with Bob Pierce, who later started World Vision, Finley became the principal evangelist in a great evangelical awakening there.
Yet communism infiltrated the Korean peninsula in 1950, and all foreign missionaries were expelled. Finley still persisted, remaining in Asia as an itinerant evangelist. With support provided by Billy Graham, he conducted great crusades in major Asian cities and ministered to groups of Christian university students in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India and the Philippines.
Billy Graham worked closely with Bob in early days of Youth for Christ and sponsored him as a missionary to China in 1948.
Soon after his return to the United States, Bob Finley was a commencement speaker at Houghton College (N.Y.). Following his address, Dr. Stephen Paine, president of the college, presented him with an honorary doctorate degree.
In 1953, with encouragement and assistance from Navigators founder, Dawson Trotman, Finley started International Students, Inc. (ISI) to reach foreign university and college students all over the United States and Canada. He also started a division of ISI to provide financial assistance for indigenous ministries in poorer countries, especially those led by men of God whom he had known as foreign students in America. In 1972, that division was spun off as Christian Aid Mission, with Finley serving as president. Since then, Bob Finley has presided over the growth of Christian Aid, the premiere and foremost supporter of indigenous missions worldwide.