Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who is Lottie Moon?


Even within present-day Southern Baptist circles I still hear the question, “Who was Lottie Moon and why do we give money in her name?”

For those of us who grew up in a Baptist church and experienced the special focus on international missions each December, Lottie Moon is a well-loved name, but even some life-long Southern Baptists do not know her story of sacrifice and commitment to share Christ with the Chinese people at a time when single women were not readily accepted in the world of career missions.

"Two weeks before Christmas, on December 12, 1840, a baby girl was born into an aristocratic plantation family in Albemarle County, Virginia. Her name was Charlotte Diggs Moon, but everyone called her "Lottie." She grew to just four feet three inches, yet her intellect and force of personality were enormous. Lottie spoke six languages and earned a master's degree in education in 1861.

Lottie came from a family of dedicated Southern Baptists, but she became a staunch skeptic. Yet, it would be her intellect and skepticism that would bring her to faith one sleepless night in December 1858 as she pondered a message by Dr. John Broadus.

How could a woman of such small stature, reportedly 4 feet 3 inches, make such a remarkable impact on the world for Christ?

First, she experienced the changing power of faith in Christ. She accepted Christ at age 18 while in college and began to seek His direction for her life earnestly.

Second, she prepared herself for whatever God might lead her to do. She was reportedly one of the first women in the South to receive a master’s degree, excelling in numerous languages. She worked as a teacher and an administrator honing the skills she would one day use to open doors in China.

Third, she understood the meaning of sacrifice. Born into a wealthy family in Virginia, Lottie lost her father at the age of 12. Most of the family’s wealth was gone following the Civil War. She saw God’s strength at work in her mother and sisters as they endured the hardships of war while helping nurse wounded soldiers, including her brother, back to health. When God called her to missions, Lottie was prepared sacrificially to go.

At age thirty-three, Lottie heard a call to missions "as clear as a bell." In July 1873, the foreign mission board of the Southern Baptist Convention appointed her as its first unmarried missionary to China. She would serve in Tengchow where her sister Edmonia was already serving.

Lottie tirelessly advocated for the needs of the people of China. She became a teacher of girls in various schools, fought against the culture of binding their feet, defended those being persecuted for their faith and risked her own health during a famine that took the lives of many Chinese. The famine eventually took her life as well. In 1888 she persuaded SBC women to take an annual missions offering on Christmas Eve. By 1912, despite such gifts, thousands of people were dying every day in famine-ravaged Shantung Province.

At seventy-two, Lottie Moon was coming home. But that same night, Christmas Eve of 1912, aboard a ship off Kobe, Japan, she died—of complications from starvation. A few months before she had written, "If I had a thousand lives, I would give them all for the women of China."" 

Lottie Moon served in China 39 years, sharing the story of God’s greatest gift of love, His Son, Jesus. Countless women, girls and yes, even men who were not supposed to be listening, came to faith through the life of this one woman.

Lottie Moon was a champion for missions giving and missionary sending, regardless of how tough things were at home economically and within Baptist life. We recognize her important role along with Annie Armstrong in the formation of Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) in 1888 after her inspiring letters were read within the women’s circles of Baptist churches. She challenged the women to stir up the missionary spirit and embrace the Great Commission.

The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering continues to this day.

Sources: Wanda Lee, "Who was Lottie Moon?"; God’s Daily Promises, adapted from The One Year® Book of Christian History by E. Michael and Sharon Rusten (Tyndale), 694-95.