By Brett Younger
When the fundamentalists took over the Southern Baptist Convention, they tried to steal Lottie Moon, along with everything else. If they really knew Lottie's story they would immediately stop the presses to take her name off their envelopes.
Charlotte Moon, born in Virginia in 1840, grew to be four feet, three inches tall; if tall is an appropriate noun to follow the phrase four feet, three inches. Her parents were wealthy slave owners. Lottie's father was killed in a riverboat fire when she was thirteen. Her mother ran the several thousand-acre plantation. In high school, Lottie didn't care about religion, but at eighteen she started to pray.
Lottie went to college and majored in the classics-one of the first women in the South to receive a master's degree. She taught school for a while, but announced that she would go to China as a missionary after reading about the Orient.
Single women weren't allowed to be missionaries, but Lottie persisted. At thirty-three, she was sent to China-perhaps, in part, to get rid of her. She was quickly frustrated that she wasn't allowed to do anything without the permission of male missionaries. She fought openly for equality. The fundamentalists of her day accused her of teaching heresy, but she kept preaching as she saw fit. She liked it when the Chinese called her "Reverend Miss Moon." The other missionaries weren't amused.
Lottie reached a turning point when she adopted a different approach to missions. At first, like the other missionaries, Lottie wore American clothes and lived in better conditions than the Chinese people. Then one day she read the section in Philippians where Paul writes about Jesus humbling himself to become a servant. Lottie left the increasingly irritating male missionaries and moved 115 miles into the interior of China. She left behind her American clothes and American-looking house. She decided that it was time for her to stop being an outsider and become one of the people. She wrote that new missionaries, "must be men and women of absolute self-consecration, ready to come down and live among the natives, to wear the Chinese dress, and live in Chinese houses, rejoicing in the footsteps of the one who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor. "
She borrowed an idea from the Methodists and pushed the Baptists to take an annual Christmas offering for missions. (She had ruffled more than a few feathers at the board, so they waited until she had been dead for six years to name the offering after her.)
Lottie grew old in China. In forty years she made only three trips home. She lived through miserably cold weather, diseases, and wars. She received little money and lots of criticism from America. She struggled with doubts and disappointments. During a famine, in 1912, she shared her food with her neighbors. When the other missionaries found her, she weighed fifty pounds. She died two weeks later on Christmas Eve.
By the way most measure success, she wasn't a successful missionary. She had few converts. At her first mission, not one person became a Christian. Her life is triumphant only if we judge it in terms of faithfulness.
Lottie Moon is a good person to think about when we are writing our checks to missions because she reminds us of what it means to follow Mary's child, the one who "emptied himself, taking the form of a servant."