NEW ORLEANS – Laurita Miller told the story of Lottie Moon's call to China by portraying the missions trailblazer in chapel at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Miller gave NOBTS students a vivid picture of Moon's lifetime of service to God. She started with Moon's call and the story of her first trip to China, recounting how other missionaries en route to China broke down in tears as they set sail. Moon saw the journey in a different light.
“I could only think with joy that my most cherished purpose was about to be fulfilled,” Miller portrayed Moon as saying. “And in going … to serve my Lord in north China, I was simply going home, home to the center of what I knew God's will to be for my life.”
Miller, of Birmingham, Ala., also portrays Ann Judson, William Carey's sister, and women of the Bible including Mary Magdalene, Jesus' mother Mary, Elizabeth, Priscilla, Sarah, Deborah, the woman caught in adultery and the woman at the well. Miller's parents were missionaries to Hawaii and later to Macau.
“The most asked-for thing I do next to Lottie Moon is a monologue on the life of Mary,” Miller said. “The name of the monologue is 'Just one of God's servants.' It's a 20-minute interesting take on the life of Mary.”
Miller depicted Moon's first few years in Dengzhou, China, as “a kind of training period.”
Moon mastered the language and some of the dialects native to north China thanks in part to the help of a language student. Moon also faced some harsh treatment from the people in Dengzhou, which she later tied to the American style of dress she maintained while there.
Moon spent her first days in China serving alongside her sister, Edmonia. Unfortunately, illness forced Edmonia to return to the United States a short time later, with Moon accompanying her. Moon said family and friends urged her to remain in the States.
Photo by Boyd Guy
Laurita Miller portrays missionary icon Lottie Moon during chapel at New Orleans Seminary.
“But you see my friends, it was God that called me to China, and a calling is not a little thing. A calling is not to be shelved because others don't agree with your calling, or they're afraid for your safety, or they want you to come and be their, or whatever,” Miller said in her role as Lottie Moon. “So I chose to return to China at my own expense, knowing that I was completely dependent on my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for my sustenance and my direction.”
During those early years, Moon and other female missionaries became convinced that only women could reach Chinese women with the gospel. A gradual shift from school teaching to direct evangelism and church planting ensued. It was during this time that Moon began her letter-writing campaign as she encouraged Baptist women in the United States to organize for the sake of international missions.
Around 1885, Moon moved to P'ingtu, China, to begin more aggressive evangelistic work. There, she exchanged her American dress for indigenous clothes and experienced an immediate impact.
“For the very first time, I put on Chinese clothing. Do you know … the adults began bowing to me and would speak to me by my name. And the children – Oh! – the children began following me home,” Miller said in her portrayal.
Moon also saw a huge breakthrough in support from the States during her years in P'ingtu. In 1887, eight new missionaries joined her. And in 1888, Southern Baptist women formed the Woman's Missionary Union and soon organized the first Baptist Christmas offering for foreign missions. The $3,200 collected paid the passage of three women to relieve Moon in north China.
“And of course, I couldn't leave. Someone had to train those women. Someone had to take care of those women” was Moon's response as voiced by Miller.
Except for a brief furlough in 1890, Moon remained in the field despite war, famine and extreme poverty. Her faithfulness paid off. During her service in China, there were thousands of converts.
By 1909, “we had a trained indigenous Chinese ministry in north China,” Miller, as Moon, said.
But by 1912, Moon herself experienced the mental and physical fatigue that haunted so many other missionaries in that time who journeyed to China. Late in the year, the decision was made to send Moon back to Virginia because of her failing health.
“They took my little bag of bones – there was 50 pounds left of me I am told – and took me to the ship and tucked me in a warm berth,” she said. “When the ship docked in Kobe, Japan, on Christmas Eve of 1912, Jesus came to meet the ship, and He took me home with Him.”
Miller used Moon's persona to challenge students in ministry.
“God carves out places for each one of His children to serve Him. For me, it was China. For you, you will soon know. God asks us to serve Him. We are to commit ourselves to Him, and He expects commitment. He expects devotion. He expects sacrifice – at all costs.”
In an interview apart from her chapel portrayal, Miller said she has known the story of Lottie Moon from a very early age.
“In GAs growing up, we studied about missions and I learned about Lottie Moon,” Miller said. “She's always been something of an icon in our family because of her great mission work.”
Miller attended Samford University in Birmingham, where she majored in theater and psychology. Eventually, she began writing and presenting “biblical monologues” and later portraying missionaries.
“Back probably in the late '70s or early '80s, I started portraying Lottie Moon to support our Christmas offering in whatever church I was in,” she said.
Miller said she also has a close personal connection to Lottie Moon. While serving in Macau, Miller's parents traveled to north China in search of Moon's church and home, which they found. To her knowledge, they were the first modern missionaries to visit Moon's place of ministry.
“It was quite a feat in that day and age for my parents to make that journey, really without a visa,” Miller said.
Miller portrays Lottie Moon for WMU and, four times a year, for the International Mission Board for every new group of missionaries commissioned to serve overseas. She also travels to churches, mostly in the South and Midwest, to give her Lottie Moon monologues.
Miller said the message and story of Moon's conviction, obedience and sacrifice is just as relevant today as it was 100 years ago.
“Lottie Moon was the epitome of Christian sacrifice. I know that, in this day and age, we do have missionaries around the world whose lives are at stake. But most of us here at home live very content, complacent lives,” Miller said. “We have a world to win to Christ. He's the only answer. I think it's important we do everything we can to inspire one another to make the sacrifices necessary to spread the gospel.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Frank Michael McCormack writes for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.)