Charlotte Diggs “Lottie” Moon – Patron Saint of Southern Baptist Missions
Like Mary Slessor, Lottie Moon (1840 – 1912) found sponsorship through a denominational mission board, the Southern Baptist Convention. Born on a plantation in the American South, she sailed for China in 1873, only to find that opportunities for single women were severely limited. As a refined “Southern belle,” she balked at her assignment. Feeling called to “go out among the millions” as an evangelist, she was instead stuck in a school of forty “unstudious” children. What a “folly” this was. “Can we wonder,” she seethed, “at the mortal weariness and disgust, the sense of wasted powers and the conviction that her life is a failure, that comes over a woman when, instead of the ever broadening activities she had planned, she finds herself tied down to the petty work of teaching a few girls.”
As a competent woman, she resented her second-class status. “What women want who come to China is free opportunity to do the largest possible work. . . . What women have a right to demand is perfect equality.” Despite opposition, she moved to the outpost of Pingdu and launched an evangelistic campaign, initially targeting women. But soon men were showing interest as well. “Such eagerness to learn! Such spiritual desires!” she reported. “Something I had never seen before in China.” The first baptisms in Pingdu had come in 1889, and during the next two decades that region became the most successful Baptist evangelistic center in China, largely due to her focus on training and ordaining national leaders. Despite loneliness and opposition from male directors, she was convinced of her calling. “Surely there can be no deeper joy,” she wrote, “than that of saving souls.”
Her enthusiasm and her appeals to Baptists back home not only brought missionaries to China but also raised much-needed funds. The first Christmas offering in 1888 brought in generous gifts. In the years that followed the offerings increased, but not enough to feed hungry people during a famine in 1911. Overwhelmed, she withdrew funds from her own bank account to buy food and gave hungry children every morsel in her pantry. When it was discovered that she had quit eating and that her health was rapidly failing, arrangements were made for her to return home. But she died aboard ship a week after her seventy-second birthday in 1912. Significantly, she died on Christmas Eve. In her memory the “Lottie Moon Christmas Offering,” sponsored by Southern Baptist women, continued for decades to bring millions of dollars annually for overseas missions.
The sacrifices made by Moon and other women missionaries were exceeded only by the sacrifice of native women evangelists. These were typically impoverished, illiterate women who traveled a circuit as Bible women because they carried the Bible in their heads through a vast store of memorized verses. In many cases their children were grown, but leaving aged parents behind was an enormous sacrifice, especially in cultures where honoring one’s parents was a profound obligation. Without Bible women, missionary women would have been stymied not only in evangelistic and Bible-related activities but also in health and humanitarian ministries.