November 26, 2007

Why "Lottie Moon"?

When I was a very young child, I was quite confused about the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. What is a Lottie Moon? And why do we have a missions offering named after it? I later found out Lottie Moon was a she, not an it. But I still didn’t know who she/it was. Perhaps you are similarly in the dark. So let me shed some light on Charlotte “Lottie” Moon.

Lottie Moon was born into a wealthy Baptist family in Scottsville, Virginia in 1840. As is often the case, she was turned off to Christianity in her childhood as she saw squabbles and hypocrisy in the church. By the time she was a teenager, she thought Christianity was utterly ridiculous, openly refused to attend church with her parents, and once (upon hearing the story of a missionary to Israel) said: “If there is a single way of wasting a life, being a missionary is it.” Boy did God have a surprise in store for her!

The change began to happen when she was a student at Albemarle Female Institute (at the time, the women’s wing of the University of Virginia). One evening, Lottie took it upon herself to attend a service at the local church, seeking to find logical inconsistencies and “holes” in the message of the gospel. She was looking for ammunition with which to belittle her Christian classmates. But after attending the meeting, she found that she couldn’t find the holes she was so sure were there! That night a barking dog kept her up all night, and all she could do was think about the words of the preacher. By morning, the truths that she could no longer make fun of became the joy of her heart. Lottie was a believer in Jesus!

As her faith grew, Lottie gradually found herself feeling called to use her education (a rare commodity for a female in those days) to serve Jesus on the mission field. She petitioned the Foreign Mission Board (now our IMB) and was appointed a missionary at the age of 33. Aboard ship in the San Francisco Harbor, awaiting departure for China, Lottie Moon wrote these words in an open letter to the Southern Baptist Convention: "For women… foreign missions open a new and enlarged sphere of labor and furnish opportunities for good which angels might almost envy...Could a Christian woman possibly desire higher honor than to be permitted to go from house to house and tell of a Savior to those who have never heard his name? We could not conceive of a life which would more thoroughly satisfy the mind and heart of a true follower of the Lord Jesus." Quite a change from her earlier attitude toward “wasting a life” on the mission field. And perhaps, quite a word of encouragement to someone reading these words?

During 35 years in China, Lottie opened Christian schools for girls, taught illiterate Chinese women how to read (using the gospel of Matthew!), held Bible classes, ministered through hospitality, and suffered persecution. She eventually died of starvation because folks back home weren’t giving as they should have been, and Lottie was giving what little food she could afford to feed starving, war-ravaged Chinese villagers. The nurse who was with Lottie when she died said this, "It is infinitely touching that those who work hardest and make the most sacrifices for the Master should suffer because those in the homeland fail to give what is needed."

“To give what is needed.” Perhaps this is the most lasting theme of her life. She was constantly faced with the fact that there wasn’t sufficient money to get more workers into the fields, nor to adequately support them while once were there. She often wrote Southern Baptists, urging them to give more to the cause of missions. In fact, it was her idea (in 1887) to start a Christmas offering for foreign missions. That first year, Southern Baptists collected a grand total of $3,315.26 collected for missions. 120 years later, as a result of Lottie’s forward-looking vision, and her willingness to challenge to the people in Southern Baptist pews, we now collect over 150 million dollars annually for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering … and support close to 6,000 full-time workers on the field… none of whom are starving. Let’s you and I make sure we keep it that way.

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