(EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s theme for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is “BE His heart, His hands, His voice” from Matthew 16:24-25. Each year’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions supplements Cooperative Program giving to support Southern Baptists’ 5,000 international missionaries’ initiatives in sharing the gospel. This year’s offering goal is $175 million. To find resources about the offering, go to www.imb.org/offering.)
RICHMOND, Va. – She died on board a ship 100 years ago Christmas Eve – sick, exhausted, brokenhearted over leaving her beloved Chinese friends in their time of suffering.
It was a bittersweet end to a long and fruitful life. But it wasn’t the end of Lottie Moon’s story. What is it about this woman that has inspired so many Southern Baptists, for so many years, to give their own lives and treasure to God’s mission?
Born into privilege on a pre-Civil War plantation in Virginia, rambunctious young Lottie received the best education money could buy. But the difference between the fine words she heard from adults and the realities of life troubled her.
A young, unbelieving Lottie told classmates her middle initial, D, stood for “Devil.” She pulled pranks, missed chapel and scoffed at religion. She was a brilliant scholar, however, and became one of the most educated women of her era. But knowledge alone couldn’t satisfy her soul. She began a search for truth.
In 1870 30-year-old Lottie, home for the summer from teaching in Danville, Ky., shared her interest in missions with her sister Edmonia, one of Southern Baptists’ first single women missionaries to China. Lottie felt called to follow.
Lottie’s spiritual struggle came to a dramatic climax one night, sealing her commitment to serve God and others. She witnessed the ravages of the Civil War, which destroyed the old society she had known. Matured by the experience, but just as independent as ever, she boldly joined her sister, and they become two of the earliest female missionaries to China.
Little did she know what lay ahead.
‘I cannot be silent’
Lottie arrived in North China in 1873, just as the last imperial dynasty was beginning to crumble. She struggled to learn the ways of Chinese culture as her sister suffered mental and emotional breakdowns. Despite bitter opposition from many Chinese – and the bunker mentality of other missionaries – Lottie was determined to take the message of God’s love to the vast countryside. She went to the villages, often on her own.
“Here I am working alone in a city of many thousand inhabitants,” she wrote in one of her letters home. “It is grievous to think of these human souls going down to death without even one opportunity of hearing the name of Jesus. How many can I reach? The needs of these people press upon my soul, and I cannot be silent.”
She experienced isolation and loneliness. She had a chance to marry and return home. Her response: “God had first claim on my life, and since the two conflicted, there could be no question about the result.” She persisted through war and famine because the Chinese needed to know her Lord.
Disease, turmoil and lack of co-workers threatened to undo Lottie’s work. But she gave herself completely to God, helping lay the foundation of what would become the modern Chinese church, one of the fastest-growing Christian movements in the world.
She once wrote home to the Foreign Mission Board, “Please say to the [new] missionaries they are coming to a life of hardship, responsibility and constant self-denial.”
Lottie Moon died at age 72 – ill and in declining health after she had made sacrifices for decades for her beloved Chinese.
Who can relate to her today? Many Americans, particularly young people, have all the material things they want – but it’s not enough. In an aimless era, they crave direction and purpose. The more challenging the cause, the better. Her life speaks powerfully to a generation desperate for meaning and heroic role models.
Thousands have followed Lottie’s example during the century since her death – going just as boldly, obediently, sacrificially.
But not without Southern Baptists’ gifts to support them. Giving has its own call to obedience and sacrifice.
Lottie said it best 100 years ago: “How many there are … who imagine that because Jesus paid it all, they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime object of their salvation was that they should follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in bringing back a lost world to God.”
She followed to the end – and changed history. Future generations of Southern Baptists can change it again.
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions is named in her honor. Gifts to the offering and through Southern Baptists’ year-round Cooperative Program help Baptist missionaries around the world share the gospel. Gifts for the offering are received at Southern Baptist churches across the country or can be made online at www.imb.org/offering where there are resources for church leaders to promote the offering. Download related videos at www.imb.org/lmcovideo.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board’s global correspondent.)