Harold Finch often spent his time in primary school drawing designs of spaceships. Given that his early years were during the Great Depression, before the giant leap for mankind, it seems that Finch was a visionary even at that tender age. At least until a teacher’s stern reprimand interrupted his vision: “Harold, get back down to earth and quit your daydreaming!”
The youngest of three children, Finch was born in Kansas City to a family ruled by an unloving and selfish father. His father worked for the US Postal Service, while his mother, Finch says, had to “work very hard doing household chores without operable washing machines and refrigerators.” The family was not well-to-do and Finch can recall times when he had to walk to school in deep snow during winter with holes in his shoes!
Despite the obstacles and inadequate footwear, Finch continued going to school. “I had a loving mother who encouraged me to use my God-given brain to become exceptional in my studies and career,” he says. “My aunt went to grade school in the same classroom as Walt Disney. One day, when I was about 10 years old, she told me that Walt was just like the other ornery boys and that I was a lot like him.”
Most of all, however, Finch, now 82, has a resumé that includes NASA space scientist, college pioneer, business founder and owner, international speaker and corporate trainer, film producer and missionary. He attributes his success to God’s inspiration and guidance.
To the moon and back
“My grandmother died when I was 10 years old,” Finch says, commenting on the defining moment when he came to believe there is a God. “Her pastor came to talk to my family about the funeral plans. Thankfully, he recognised that my siblings and I had only a superficial knowledge of the Bible and of God and no understanding of our eternal lostness and the need for a Saviour.
“The pastor introduced Jesus and God’s plan of salvation to us. And the Holy Spirit touched me in a mighty and unforgettable way. The three of us, each weeping, prayed to receive God’s free gift of eternal life.” He says that “that moment trumps all of my earthly achievements a million times over.”
One of those earthly achievements was being one of NASA’s pioneering scientists who developed a method to keep astronauts safe from the vast temperature swings in outer space. This discovery, known as the barbecue roll, was made famous by Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 and enabled humans to land safely on the moon.
“It was an amazing time in the life of America,” Finch says of his time at NASA. “The quest to have a manned lunar landing united a population that had been divided by economic, racial and military issues. We were on the cutting edge of science. I had recently received a master’s degree in engineering and at that time there were no space science programs. But everyone else was in the same boat, and with our God-given creativity and knowledge of the basic sciences, we were collectively able to solve every challenge. Every day was so exciting! Going to work was like searching for another piece in a giant puzzle that no-one had ever before assembled.”
Seeking God’s plan
After NASA, Finch developed an academic program for a community college and served as its interim chief administrator. His entrepreneurial spirit eventually led him to cofound two very successful businesses. One was Padgett- Thompson, a management-training firm, and the other was Cottage Care, Inc, which centralised operations for business franchisors. Both businesses earned him the prestigious Inc 500 Award, which recognises the nation’s fastest growing private businesses.
However, in spite of all of his achievements, Finch remains humble and reliant on God. “It is far better to seek and follow God’s plan for my life rather than my plans, which are limited to my mortal knowledge and understanding. My life’s success has also taught me that God is always in control, even during the difficult times. With hindsight, I thank God that He didn’t always answer my prayers the way I wanted them to be answered!” he says.
Today, Finch speaks to thousands of university students and people of all professions about the secrets of earthly success—and he always ends with the gospel, which he says is the key to eternal success.
“When an institution rejects God, it’s deprived of His protection, power, guidance and leadership,” he says. The three keys presented during his seminars can give great success during life’s short time on earth, but the only key that can give us everlasting and infinite success is Jesus Christ. That key to life eternal is a free gift from God, ready for us to accept or reject.
Finch’s love for God led him to do volunteer work in India and Venezuela, where he helped in orphanages—something he says made a huge impact on his life.
“Saying goodbye to a special little friend, Provowaddy, who had virtually nothing except a love for Jesus, broke my heart and confirmed my calling to missions,” he says. “It also led to the decision to sell our business interests so that my wife, Peggy, and I could devote our resources and the last third of our lives in giving back to society and serving the Lord.”
Finch’s time working in the orphanages led to his philosophy that every human being—even orphans rejected by their own parents—has the potential to achieve anything. This philosophy in turn led to his latest business venture, the film Unlimited, as a way to get this message out. The film tells the story of Simon Orwell, a brilliant student whose choices led to a series of wrong turns. He was being hunted by a Mexican drug cartel when he took shelter in an orphanage, and there he met Finch, the orphanage’s leader. Finch introduced him to God’s grace and power and told him that with God’s help he had a huge potential for success.
Finch firmly believes the Bible verse that says that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) because, he says, “I have personally experienced the power of believing that all things are possible. Frankly, the four words that I just love to hear are, ‘You can’t do that!’ I’ve heard them often before undertaking something ‘impossible,’ and I love to prove the nasayers wrong!”
One of the boys Finch met in India 30 years ago was told he was low caste and could not get a public education or a real job. “But the boy believed me, not them,” Finch says, “and today Joseph Jillella is a college graduate who runs the orphanage I volunteered at, along with several other successful ministries.” Today, Finch is retired, but he continues to “speak to any group of people who will listen.” He especially loves speaking to young people with the objective of inspiring them to achieve more—and to experience the loving grace of God.
Finch says that anyone who wants to attain extraordinary success must have a passion about becoming successful, and the three keys are:
- to be a visionary;
- to become goal-directed;
- to never compromise integrity and honesty.
And there’s a bonus key: Jesus Christ.
Science and God according to Finch
People often say that science and faith don’t mix. But Finch says that “the issue isn’t God versus science. It’s God and science. I marvel at God’s fingerunprints all over science. As a practising space scientist on the cutting edge, it was easy for me to agree with Albert Einstein who said, ‘The more I study science, the more I believe in God.’ ”
Finch believes that authors Geisler and Turek nailed it with their book largely based on science, history and archaeology, titled, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. “For my movie, Unlimited,” he says, “there’s an eye-opening dialogue between an unbelieving engineering whiz kid, Simon, and me, that’s played by Fred Thompson. In this poignant vignette, ‘Harold’ explains to Simon that it takes faith to be a scientist. He backs up his assertion with the laws of gravity and electron hyper velocity that defy scientific explanation. Simon is left speechless, and that’s what happens to any true and honest scientist when he studies the amazing design, precision and wonders of God’s creation.
“My friend, astronaut Jim Irwin, who drove the lunar buggy on Apollo 15, attempted to describe to me in human words the spectacular majesty of the heavens from the perfect clarity of space. He told me that to his knowledge, every astronaut who had been to the moon was either already a believer when he went there or became a believer during his time there. The first American in space, John Glenn, described his view of the galaxies: ‘To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible.’”