Well over 100 years ago, a single missionary named Lottie Moon, while serving in China, began writing letters challenging the American church to send and support more workers to go there. After her death on the field, her challenge was heeded 99 years ago in the formalization of an offering in her name. Even if you’re not a Southern Baptist who has given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, her life is a reminder of why we must give to send and support missionaries serving among unreached peoples in unreached places.
Edmonia Moon, Lottie’s sister, was appointed to Tengchow, China, in 1872. The following year, Lottie was appointed and joined her sister there. Lottie served 39 years as a missionary, mostly in China’s Shantung Province. She taught in a girls’ school and often made trips into China’s interior to share the good news with women and girls.
Lottie Moon was passionate about people knowing Christ. She didn’t hesitate to speak her mind.
Today’s China is a world of rapid change. It’s home to 1.4 billion individuals—one-fifth of the world’s population. Village dwellers flock to trendy megacities with exploding populations. And China holds its own in the world’s economy. It’s very different from the vast farmland Lottie Moon entered in the 1800s. But one thing hasn’t changed: China’s need for a Savior.
When she set sail for China, Lottie was 32 years old. She had turned down a marriage proposal from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor Crawford Toy. Instead of marrying, Lottie left her job, home and family to follow God’s lead. Her path wasn’t typical for an educated woman from a wealthy Southern family. God had gripped her with the Chinese peoples’ need for a Savior.
Moon and Toy continued to exchange letters and “the engagement which she had earlier refused” she later accepted with plans to be married when she returned home on furlough, then go with him to Japan as missionaries. However, after reading that Toy embraced unorthodox theological views regarding biblical inerrancy, she broke off the engagement over what relatives called “religious differences” and never married. Ultimately, Toy was forced to resign, relocated to teach at Harvard and became a Unitarian.
For 39 years Lottie labored, chiefly in Tengchow and P’ingtu. People feared and rejected her, but she refused to leave. The aroma of fresh-baked cookies drew people to her house. She adopted traditional Chinese dress, and she learned China’s language and customs. Lottie didn’t just serve the people of China; she identified with them. Many eventually accepted her. And some accepted her Savior.
Lottie wrote letters home detailing China’s hunger for truth and the struggle of so few missionaries taking the gospel to the 472 million Chinese in her day. She also shared the urgent need for more workers and for Southern Baptists to support them through prayer and giving.
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.”
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. Lottie Moon died at 72—ill and in declining health after decades ministering to her beloved Chinese. But her legacy lives on. And today, when gifts aren’t growing as quickly as the number of workers God is calling to the field, her call for sacrificial giving rings with more urgency than ever.
The newly opened Mathena Hall at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary provides a way for visitors to experience Lottie’s life. Some of her furniture, such as chairs and a stove, as well as shingles and bricks were used in the recreation of the home. Antiques from 19th-century P’ingtu City help Southern Baptists understand the Chinese culture and the people to whom Moon devoted her life. Visitors can even copy her famous cookie recipe which appears in the exhibit along with a modern day equivalent.
After receiving the crate eight years ago, SWBTS President Paige Patterson said, “It is almost inconceivable to think of what it would have been like in the late 1800s for a single woman to move into an incredibly patriarchal society—patriarchal not in its good sense, but in its exponentially wicked sense—where women didn’t really count.”
Moon rented her house in P’ingtu—a four room structure with dirt floors and clay shingles that covered a thatched roof and bare rafters—for $24 a year. She adapted one room as a kitchen, one as a storeroom, and another as a passageway. She lived, prayed, entertained guests and rested in the fourth room, sleeping on a Chinese kang—a traditional bed made from mud bricks and covered with a thatched, straw mat. From here she set out into the city of P’ingtu, dressed in traditional Chinese garb, to befriend her neighbors and share the love of Christ.
“Just imagine,” Patterson said, “how many people have come to Christ all over the world as a result now of her witness because of the incredible millions of dollars that Southern Baptists have given for the cause of world missions.”
Southwestern alumnus Paul Kim of Cambridge, Mass., and businessman Louie Lu, a member of Birchman Baptist Church in Fort Worth, were instrumental in purchasing Moon’s belongings and transporting them by boat, train and automobile to Southwestern.
Kim credited Jacksonville College President Mike Smith with the vision for the project as both he and Kim realized that the house was set to be demolished along with other 19th-century Chinese houses as a result of P’ingtu City’s modernization efforts.
Smith had recognized the cities where Moon had lived when he was traveling in China and asked a friend to take him to the church and hospital she helped. He learned when visiting her home that plans were underway to build a high rise apartment soon after.
“I thought ‘what a shame,’” Smith told the TEXAN. After sharing the concern with East Texas churches, he was thankful for the men who were able to purchase the house and began scouting a place to situate it. Kim referred him to the Pattersons who enlisted Lu’s help while Kim worked on the shipping.
“The Pattersons graciously accepted the task” of recreating Moon’s house, Smith said, “so I backed out of the process and Mrs. Patterson made it happen. I am thankful it is at Southwestern Seminary and not in a garbage dump in China. Now so many can enjoy seeing it and understand this great missionary’s legacy.”
The bulk of this article is taken from imb.org/who-was-lottie-moon which features a gallery of photographs relating to Lottie Moon’s life. Additional information about her relationship with Toy is drawn from information at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and TEXAN interview with Smith.