If we used one word to describe Lottie Moon, it might well be "courage." As a single woman, she overcame great obstacles to bring the gospel to the unreached of north China. During her lifetime, her writings strongly impacted women's prayer groups in America. But her influence has been far greater since her death.
Born in 1840 in Virginia, Moon was raised in a strong Christian home that valued a good education. One night during college, a campus revival meeting brought her to total commitment to Christ. "I went to the service to scoff and returned to my room to pray all night," she recalled.
Her sister, Edmonia, was one of the first single women missionaries to be commissioned by what is known today as the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. But Lottie Moon would be the name that would become legendary to missions-hearted Christians. After college, she became a schoolteacher in Georgia, but she longed to be a missionary. Her godly family was progressive for the time, raising daughters who served as doctors or business executives and even in military operations. So Moon knew intuitively that being a woman would not impede her effectiveness as a missionary. She was right. In 1873, she sailed for China.
Moon's missionary commitment always came first in her life. An old friend who became a professor proposed to her. Although she had strong feelings for him, Moon could not endorse his belief in evolution. The disagreement was serious enough for her to refuse his marriage proposal. Years later, she was asked if she ever considered marriage. "Yes, but God had first claim on my life, and since the two conflicted, there could be no question about the result," she said.
In many ways, Moon was ahead of her time. She advocated for women to have the same privileges and responsibilities as men in missions work. She established a church in north China. Over the next two decades, the church she planted saw over 1,000 people come to Christ and be baptized. Moon wrote back excitedly to Christian women in America, "Surely there can be no deeper joy than that of saving souls."
She was also ahead of her time in her belief that this church be "as free from foreign interference as possible." An early proponent of cultural sensitivity, Moon adopted many Chinese customs. Her respect for what was beautiful in Chinese culture helped open the hearts of many to the gospel. She was also an early proponent of regular furloughs for missionaries to increase longevity and fruitfulness.
Moon's reports to Baptist women in America became a powerful tool for missions. In her letters, she promoted worldwide evangelism: "How many there are ... who imagine that because Jesus paid it all, they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime objective of their salvation was that they should follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in bringing back a lost world to God."
Moon had no trouble chiding men for their lack of concern. "It is odd that a million Baptists of the South can furnish only three men for all of China," she wrote. "... I wonder how these things look in heaven. They certainly look very [strange] in China."
Yet Moon thought her successes had been meager. She was often frustrated in her attempts to win the Chinese to faith in Christ. She sometimes found it difficult to identify with and communicate to them. However, she championed one big idea that has helped send thousands of missionaries and has brought thousands more to faith in Christ. She proposed a week of prayer for world missions and an annual Christmas missions offering throughout Southern Baptist churches. She felt the Christmas season was the ideal time to raise money "to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth." Her proposal was accepted, and from 1888 to 2015, the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering has brought in more than $4 billion for missions outreaches.
In 1900, the Boxer Rebellion brought intense persecution to Chinese Christians. Moon worked tirelessly to minister to the victims. Plagues, smallpox and local fighting brought mass starvation to the Tengchow area where she worked. She drained her life's savings attempting to help the Chinese. Her health weakened, and friends urged her to return to the U.S. for medical treatment. She died en route to America on Christmas Eve 1912, one week after her 72nd birthday.
Today, Lottie Moon has come to personify the missionary spirit of Southern Baptists. Christians can stand on the shoulders of pioneers like her, who advanced the gospel at all costs. Without knowing it, she has been responsible for sending thousands of missionaries around the world.
David Shibley is founder and world representative for Global Advance, a ministry that equips thousands of leaders each year to fulfill Christ's Great Commission. In his "Days with David" sessions with young ministers, he downloads "what matters most" from his half-century in gospel ministry. He is the author of more than 20 books. This column is based on profiles from his book Great for God: Missionaries Who Changed the World (New Leaf Publishing Group).
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