LOTTIE MOON

Southern Baptist Missionary to China

Lottie Moon was born in 1840, third in a family of five girls and two boys, on the family’s fifteen-hundred-acre tobacco plantation known as Viewmont. Her father, Edward Moon, was the largest slaveholder (fifty-two slaves) in Albemarle County; he was also a merchant and a lay leader in the Baptist church. But Lottie was only thirteen when her father died in a riverboat accident.

The Moon family valued education, and at age fourteen Lottie went to school at the Virginia Female Seminary [e.g. high school] and later the Albemarle Female Institute, where she earned both her bachelor’s and Master of Arts degree in teaching. A spirited and outspoken girl, Lottie was indifferent to her Southern Baptist upbringing until her late teens, when God touched her heart during a spiritual revival at Albemarle.

There were precious few opportunities for educated females in the mid-1800s, though her older sister Orianna became a physician and served as a Confederate doctor during the Civil War. Lottie helped her mother maintain Viewmont during the war, once hiding the family silver in a field from approaching Union soldiers, but when the threat evaporated, she was unable to find it again.

After the Civil War, Lottie taught at female academies first in Danville, Kentucky, and later helped set up Cartersville Female High School in Georgia. The school was thriving academically (though not financially) under her leadership as associate principal when she felt a quite different call: to go to China as a missionary.

Single women on the mission field? Most mission work at that time was done by married men. But the wives of China missionaries T. P. Crawford and Landrum Holmes had discovered an important reality: Only women could reach Chinese women, and they needed help. To everyone’s surprise, Lottie’s younger sister Edmonia accepted a call to go to North China in 1872. Lottie followed a year later. She was thirty-three years old.

Edmonia didn’t last as a missionary, but Lottie did. She was a petite woman, only four foot three, but she had stamina, a lively spirit, vision, and a passion to win souls for God. Mission policies of the time limited what ministry women could do. But Lottie waged a slow, respectful, but relentless campaign to give women missionaries the freedom to minister and have an equal voice in mission proceedings. A prolific writer, she corresponded frequently with H. A. Tupper, head of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, informing him of the realities of mission work and the desperate need for more workers—women and men. She encouraged Southern Baptist women to organize mission societies in the local churches to help support additional missionary candidates—and to consider coming themselves. Many of her letters appeared as articles in denominational publications. Catching her vision, Southern Baptist women organized Women’s Missionary Unions (WMU) and even Sunbeam Bands for children to promote missions and collect funds to support missions. The first “Christmas offering for missions” in 1888 collected over $3,000, enough to send three new missionaries to China.

Raised in a family “of culture and means,” Lottie at first thought of the Chinese as an inferior people, and insisted on wearing American clothes to maintain a degree of distance from these “heathen” people. But gradually she came to realize that the more she shed her westernized trappings and identified with the Chinese people, the more their simple curiosity about foreigners (and sometimes rejection) turned into genuine interest in the Gospel. She began wearing Chinese clothes, adopted Chinese customs, learned to be sensitive to Chinese culture, and came to respect and admire Chinese culture and learning. In turn she was deeply loved and revered by the Chinese people.

Lottie began her tenure as a missionary by teaching in a girls school—but while accompanying some of the seasoned married women on “country visits” from village to village outside the bigger cities, she discovered her passion: direct evangelism. But there were so many hungry, lost souls, and so few missionaries! For forty years she kept up her not-so-gentle pressure for the Southern Baptists to become giving, sending, missions-minded people.

Lottie’s home base as a missionary was Tengchow (today Penglai) in Shantung Province in North China. T. P. Crawford was the senior missionary there, but he had a reputation among both missionaries and the Chinese as an inflexible, contentious personality. Lottie often functioned as a peacemaker, able to see both sides of a dispute. She had her own strong opinions about different things, but she always worked respectfully with the Foreign Mission Board and with her fellow missionaries. Eventually Crawford resigned from the mission and formed the independent Gospel Mission, taking several Southern Baptist missionaries with him. After Crawford’s death, however, Lottie encouraged the board to receive the remaining GM missionaries “back into the fold.”

Lottie extended her work into the interior, especially P’ingtu and Hwangshien, until additional missionaries arrived to carry on the work. Only then did she allow herself to take a much-needed furlough, the first in 1892, and the second in 1902. Lottie was very concerned that her fellow missionaries were burning out from lack of rest and renewal and going to early graves. The mindset back home was “go to the mission field, die on the mission field.” Many never expected to see their friends and families again. Lottie argued that regular furloughs every ten years would literally extend the lives and effectiveness of seasoned missionaries. (Today missionaries get a furlough roughly every four years.) She also took a month of rest during the year.

The War with Japan (1894), the Boxer Rebellion (1900), and the Nationalist uprising (that overthrew the Qing Dynasty in 1911) all profoundly affected mission work. Famine and disease took their toll, as well. When Lottie returned from her second furlough in 1904, she agonized over the suffering of the people who were literally starving to death all around her. She pled for more money and more resources, but the mission board was heavily in debt and could send nothing. Mission salaries were voluntarily cut. Unknown to her fellow missionaries, Lottie Moon—the Southern belle who was once described as “overindulged and under-disciplined”—shared her own meager money and food with any and everyone around her, severely affecting both her physical and mental health. In 1912, she only weighed fifty pounds. Alarmed, fellow missionaries arranged for her to be sent back home to the United States with a missionary companion, but she died on Christmas Eve on board ship in Kobe Harbor, Japan. Her body was cremated and the remains returned to loved ones in Virginia for burial.

Since her sacrificial death at the age of seventy-two, Lottie Moon has come to personify the missionary spirit for Southern Baptists and many other Christians, as well. The annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Missions has raised a total of $1.5 billion for missions since 1888 and finances half the entire Southern Baptist missions budget every year.

2000 Dave and Neta Jackson