The most influential Southern Baptist woman in ministry gave her life in service to Christ. Lottie Moon was an affluent, highly-educated linguist from Virginia whose testimony reads like something from a novel. But in her case, the facts were far greater than fiction.
While Lottie Moon demonstrated little to no interest in Christianity during her early years, a revival sermon on her college campus, preached by Southern Baptist legend John Broadus (one of the founders of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), changed her life.
When she was still a college student, Moon met Crawford Toy, a brilliant young Baptist Hebrew teacher, and the two eventually planned to get married. Toy, however, had been influenced by Darwinism, and his theology grew more heavily informed by German liberalism, embroiling him in controversy while he taught at Southern Seminary.
Eventually Professor Toy left Southern Baptist life, became a Unitarian and taught at Harvard University. Lottie Moon’s convictions about the trustworthiness of the Bible and her commitment to Christ wouldn’t allow her to go through with the wedding plans. She never married. Her heart, instead, was set on missions.
In spite of her marital status, in an unusual move, especially for the late 19th century, the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board commissioned Moon to go to China as a missionary. She would spend the rest of her life in ministry there.
Eventually, missionary funding and personnel support became slow in coming. Lottie Moon gave her last dollars and most of her food to the hungry Chinese people in her care, all the while pleading with the mission board and stateside churches for more missionaries and more support.
Lottie Moon was exhausted and starving, but she refused to go home. Finally, unable to care for herself, others put her aboard a ship headed for the States. She weighed 50 pounds. Two weeks after leaving China, while docked in a port in Japan, Lottie Moon died. It was Christmas Eve in 1912. She had been in China for nearly four decades.
During her selfless life, Lottie Moon’s tireless efforts on the field and persistent letter-writing to the States appealing for more missionaries and more funding stirred greater interest in missions. The circumstances and timing of her death only fueled the missionary zeal of Baptist women eager to get the gospel to the world. As a result, over more than a century the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has funneled $4.5 billion to world missions. Half of the International Mission Board’s budget for missions comes from the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, and every penny given goes directly to missions.
I urge our Southern Baptist churches to tell her story and give generously this year. In addition, we preachers should call out the next generation of missionaries to answer the call to missions. The men and women with the call to go will come from our churches. Some of them are now teenage boys and girls or younger, sitting in our services every Sunday.
The sacrificial life of Lottie Moon is a biography worth repeating and a ministry worth emulating. As Southern Baptists, our churches can and should lead by example in giving generously and sacrificially to international missions. This year let’s send a strong signal of support that the Southern Baptist Convention wants to be a big part of sending the gospel and more missionaries to the nations.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Kie Bowman is senior pastor of Hyde Park Baptist Church and The Quarries Church in Austin, Texas.)