October 7, 2014

The Bob Finley I Remember

By Dee Stowe

Bob Finley with foreign students at Washington D.C. office.

In December 2013, I wrote a blog post, Power in a Name, about how God saved Bob Finley, my husband, and me from death in a house fire in 1978. One of the Christian Aid staff wanted to read more blog posts about “the good old days.” Except for Bob, now retired, and Cynthia Finley, now President of Christian Aid, I am the only person currently working for Christian Aid who also worked there in the 1970s.

In this post I want to share my impression of the Bob Finley I knew. Last year, the 60th anniversary of the origin of Christian Aid, I read several descriptions of him and somehow, as praiseworthy as they were, I felt something was missing in the tributes made to him - the essence of the man.

The thing I most want to convey is Bob´s energy. I remember how briskly he entered the suite of offices Christian Aid leased in Washington, D.C, in the early 1970s. And how quickly he moved all the time: from his office to the lunch area, from the lunch area to the large central room, from the printing area into my office; he practically ran. You could lose your breath just watching how fast he moved. He was so aware of his stewardship of God´s time and often reminded all of us young folks to also use our time well.

One of my favorite memories of “brisk” Bob is of one spring morning how he breezed with speed into the main office area with his arms filled to capacity with lilacs in full bloom. He was enchanted with the season, the new flowers in his yard, and the opportunity to share them with all the staff. We found vases and enjoyed the aroma all week, thanks to Bob´s youthful spirit.

In addition to his amazing energy and diverse personal qualities, Bob Finley was, at times, difficult to understand and, at times, seemed to be hard to “reason” with. I´m not just speaking for myself, but am thinking of the people who felt conflicted with Bob during the 1970s, 80s and beyond. It took a “tough” guy and Bob Finley was certainly tough. He was never a pleaser of man, but always sought to please God – and he was often greatly misunderstood.

Bob Finley with daughter, Deb Finley Arcieri, receiving native missionaries from Nepal at D.C. airport.

Bob was God´s man to develop and lead Christian Aid Mission for over half of a century. And in order to introduce a totally different paradigm on how to accomplish the Great Commission, and how to “do” foreign missions, God needed a man who wasn´t afraid to take the punches. In his determination to persuade “rich” Americans to use their missions money to support indigenous missionaries who were already there, already spoke the language and knew the culture, Bob Finley took punches from mission boards, leaders of denominations and Christian associations. And, perhaps most difficult, from Christian peers, fellow church members, brothers and sisters in the body of Christ; believers who were personal friends, but had not yet grasped the vision of the direction God was going with missions for the 21st century. We rarely saw him flinch, but I believe it must have hurt.

In addition to being a pioneer, Bob had a deeper personal relationship with the Lord Jesus than anyone I have known, even to this day. He knew God´s Word more completely than anyone I have known. He didn´t just memorize verses, chapters or books. He memorized the New Testament. He had unusual takes not only on missionary work, but also on prophecy. He never went with the common stream, but searched God´s Word for himself. He was not afraid to teach what he believed God had shown him.

Bob Finley and wife, Cynthia, with Christian Aid staff in 1988, including Leecy Barnett (far left) and Dorothy Sun (far right).

Bob spent time with God every morning before coming into the office. He once told me, “I prefer to see God´s face every morning before I see man´s face.” And when we would pray at staff meetings after lunch, we witnessed him sinking deeply into God´s presence as he prayed.

Bob felt the heavy burden of stewardship of the contributions sent in for the support of indigenous missionary work. He prayed over every detail of how donations would be used, used every paper cup twice, and ate every leftover. And he hoped other Christian Aid staff would do the same. He refused to allow operational expenses to devour funds that should be sent to establish a witness for every people, tongue, tribe and nation. Bob has maintained that posture to this day and continues to assure Mission partners that 100 percent of money given for indigenous mission work is used only to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Today, in his 90´s, Bob is the first to admit there was not always a balance in his personal life. His family had to do without him much of the time. But he purposely lived very close to where he worked so he could be home when called. He worked from early morning to late evening, totally focused on the work God had chosen him to perform.

His long hours did not prevent his daughters from loving him, however. His older daughter, Debbie, spent a year working at Christian Aid in the early ‘70s. She had graduated from Wheaton College and came to Washington to work for her father. When I asked her why she was there, she told me she felt God wanted her to give a year of her life to her father´s life´s work.

Bob Finley sometimes had “blind spots” when it came to understanding the thoughts and feelings of others, but now I believe this was because God had chosen a single-minded man to do the job. And by God´s grace, he did it.

Bob Finley and Cynthia Finley, now president of Christian Aid Mission.

Bob Finley was a pioneer. A fearless, tenacious man of vision; a pleaser of God, not man. He spoke up, perhaps stepping on toes stuck in the mud of the past. But he got the job done. What Old or New Testament prophet accomplished what seemed like the impossible (Moses) or didn´t mind what he looked like or did contrary to the main stream (John the Baptist) without stepping on a few toes? But Bob was and is a humble man, bold but humble and would ask forgiveness if he had unintentionally offended.

I love Bob. He was my early mentor – I had only been a believer two years when I went to work for him – and one of my first Bible teachers. He is the most extraordinary man of God I have ever known. Perhaps not the most liked man of God, but certainly the most extraordinary. When I started working for him and sitting under his teaching, I was like a tiny baby goose which broke out of its egg and saw Big Goose Bob and started trailing along behind him, an imprint created that has never waned.

One cannot walk around the Christian Aid Mission Headquarters in Charlottesville, Virginia; meet the diverse staff; see how it has been blessed; and not sense it is God-breathed. The work started with an old four-drawer file case holding the names of foreign students who met the Lord Jesus as Savior, returned to their countries and started missionary works to minister to their own people. The old file cabinet carted into the Christian Aid Mission offices, also carried the names of Americans who had caught the vision and who wanted to be a part of supporting the work.

Dr. Bob Finley still does consulting work from his home on Christian Aid Mission concerns. No one else has the depth of wisdom of what the Mission is all about and the broad perspective he has on missionary work all over the world. Christian Aid is God´s work and God will keep Bob here until God knows the work is safe in the hands of other faithful Christian Aid missionary workers at home. I thank God for every day he allows Bob Finley to stay here with us on the earth, advising, encouraging, and still taking the punches.

Stephen - posted October 15, 2014
What a mighty God we serve! Yes this is the greatest way, just to do the will of God, regardless of the minds of man. May God increase your Faith, and the provisions you serve the nations with. God Bless YOU!
Cary - posted October 15, 2014
Praise God for men like Bob Finley!!!
Joseph - posted October 10, 2014
I am really moved reading this story, of a man who fulfilled his purpose as preordained by God here on earth. Bob's life is an example that most of us should strive to copy. God bless Bob & his work here on earth. I pray that more Bobs would be raised around the earth!
Robin - posted October 8, 2014
Bob is my Uncle and this is a beautiful article of how he is in life. He visited our house often as I was growing up and I remember he and his brother Alan in those early days when he was forming his dream. Thanks for sharing.