Building Bridges   4 comments

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Presenting the gospel in a cultural context does some wonderful things.

Lottie Moon-1.jpgMany of the Chinese Christians I know mention Charlotte Diggs Moon as the reason they are Christians today. Of course, none of them knew her personally, but her example as a missionary in China shines in the house churches of the persecuted Chinese Christian faith.

Lottie Moon was born to affluent and staunchly Baptist parents on a tobacco plantation in Virginia in 1840.

The Moon family valued education, and at age fourteen Lottie went to school at Baptist-affiliated schools in Virginia. In 1861 Moon received one of the first Master of Arts degrees awarded to a woman by a southern institution. She spoke Latin, Greek, French, Italian and Spanish, was fluent at reading Hebrew and would later become a fluent Chinese speaker.

Although educated females in the mid-19th century generally had few career opportunities, her older sister Orianna became a physician and served as a Confederate Army doctor during the Civil War. Lottie helped her mother maintain the family estate during the war, and afterward began a teaching career at various female academies throughout the south. She was an avid church member who worked in local charities.

To the family’s surprise, Lottie’s younger sister Edmonia accepted a call to go to North China as a missionary in 1872. Lottie soon felt called to follow her sister to China. On July 7, 1873, the Foreign Mission Board officially appointed 32-year-old Lottie as a missionary to China.

Lottie joined her sister Edmonia at the North China Mission Station in the treaty port of Dengzhou, in Shandong, and began her ministry by teaching in a boys school. She admitted in her letters to feeling racially superior to the Chinese during those early months. While accompanying some of the seasoned missionary wives on “country visits” to outlying villages, Lottie discovered her passion for direct evangelism. Most mission work at that time was done by married men, but the wives of some of the Baptist missionaries had discovered that only women could reach Chinese women.

Lottie soon became frustrated with teaching school, convinced that her talent was being wasted, that she could be better put to use in evangelism and church planting. She had come to China to “go out among the millions” as an evangelist, only to find herself relegated to teaching a school of 40 children.

In 1885, at the age of 45, Moon gave up teaching and moved into the interior to evangelize full-time in the areas of P’ingtu and Hwangshien. She adopted Chinese dress and customs and evangelized in the Chinese language. Hundreds came to know Jesus as their Savior. Lottie distinguished from those who joined the church because they liked something of Christian culture and those who exhibited transformed lives. Going house to house and village to village, she introduced women and children to the gospel and sometimes she had opportunity to “preach/teach” to mixed-gender audiences. Yeah, Southern Baptist women do not “preach”, but they are allowed to “teach” wherever the Lord guides them.

Continuing a prolific writing campaign, Moon’s letters and articles poignantly described the life of a missionary and pleaded the “desperate need” for more missionaries, which the poorly funded board could not provide. 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. Then, in 1887, Moon wrote to the Foreign Mission Journal and proposed that the week before Christmas be established as a time of giving to foreign missions. Catching her vision, Southern Baptist women organized local Women’s Missionary Societies and Sunbeam Bands for children to promote missions and collect funds to support missions. The Woman’s Missionary Union, an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention, was also established. The first “Christmas offering for missions” in 1888 collected over $3,315, enough to send three new missionaries to China.

Throughout her missionary career, Moon faced plague, famine, revolution, and war. The First Sino-Japanese War (1894), the Boxer Rebellion (1900) and the Chinese Nationalist uprising (which overthrew the Qing Dynasty in 1911) all profoundly affected mission work. Famine and disease took their toll. When Moon returned from her second furlough in 1904, she was deeply struck by the suffering of the people who were literally starving to death all around her. She pleaded 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, Moon shared her personal finances and food with anyone in need around her, severely affecting both her physical and mental health. In 1912, the diminutive Moon only weighed 50 pounds. Alarmed, fellow missionaries arranged for her to be sent back home to the United States with a missionary companion. However, Moon died en route at the age of 72, on December 24, 1912, in the harbor of Kobe, Japan.

Moon is the only Southern Baptist missionary that I know of who is honored an Episcopalian feast day.

Lottie Moon has come to personify the missionary spirit for Southern Baptists and many other Christian organizations. 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, all of it going overseas to support missionaries in the field rather than stateside salaries (those are paid out of other resources). There is no secular charity that even comes close to that sort of stewardship of donated dollars.

But these pale in comparison to the great achievement Lottie accomplished for the Lord. Her efforts at contextual evangelism had a wide-ranging impact in China, so that many evangelical Christians there trace their spiritual ancestry to one of those she led to the Lord. Because of her emphasis on transformed lives rather than cultural hegemony, the Christian churches in China survived concerted efforts to eliminate them.

Could she have been as effective dressed in a hoop skirt and bonnet speaking English?

4 responses to “Building Bridges

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  1. Pingback: Cultural Dance | aurorawatcherak

  2. Nice! My grandfather was a Southern Baptist Minister and we grew up hearing about Lottie Moon. Good memory!

    Like

    • We just finished the Lottie Moon offering at church and some of our Chinese congregation shared her impact on their faith. I got the details from the SBC website. I’m sure there were missionaries that were just as dedicated as she was, but they didn’t have the temerity to keep writing the President of the Southern Baptist Association for 35 years.

      Liked by 1 person

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