A Thousand Lives for China

Originally published in Pulpit Helps, December 2002.

Few ambassadors for Christ on foreign fields have had the long-lasting influence of Lottie Moon, whose life became "a model of genteel and loving service" to nationals as well as fellow missionaries. And she established an outpost for the Gospel even where others had failed. Near the end of her life, she declared, "If I had a thousand lives I would give them all for the women of China."*

What a long way she had come from a Virginia plantation "with 52 slaves and a thriving mercantile business."

Charlotte (Lottie) Diggs Moon was born Dec. 12, 1840, at Viewmont, Va. She grew up enjoying all the "advantages of the landed gentry," with social status and wealth. In spite of spiritual family influences (her uncle was a missionary, her parents staunch Baptists), she remained a skeptic in early years. However, after a revival meeting in 1858, she came to know the Lord. By the time of graduation from Albemarle Female Institute, she had become an excellent linguist. "In addition to French, Latin, Italian, and Spanish, she had attained proficiency in Greek and Hebrew." Her education was remarkable for a woman of that era. And her interest in missions was growing rapidly, resulting in generous gifts to work in both China and Italy.

After 10 years of teaching school, Lottie experienced her own missionary call "as clear as a bell." The Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board appointed her to China, where her ministry began in 1873. With other missionaries, she sought to overcome the "great barriers of hatred and prejudice" against the "foreign devils," and struggled to learn the difficult language. Lottie opened a school, where she taught the Bible and a catechism with some success. However, recurring famine frustrated her best efforts. Through U.S. periodicals she described the terrible plight of starving Chinese, and money came in, but demands often outpaced supply. She often fed destitute people at her own expense.

Lottie also concentrated on personal evangelism, in company with other missionaries. She told a colleague, "we must go out and live among them… [making] friends before we can hope to make converts."

Lottie would endure waves of persecution, especially during the terrible Boxer Rebellion. This further endeared her to the growing body of her faithful flock. In the midst of the Chinese-Japanese war in 1895, Lottie with another missionary "made evangelistic excursions to 118 villages in three months." She often won an audience with local children "with delicious cookies she baked from an old Virginia recipe." Instead of "devil woman," first the children and then their parents began calling her "the cookie lady." This helped her ministry grow and expand rapidly.

She fought many battles on behalf of the Chinese she grew to love: She was a leader in the effort to ban the foot-binding of young girls; she broke down barriers against the education of girls. And, as a leader among missionaries, she was among the first to suggest the idea of furloughs. In her greatest act of empathy for the Chinese, as local Christians were facing famine due to floods and war, she stopped eating, giving instead her meager resources to others.

While doing the work of three or more missionaries, Lottie kept up a continual barrage of letters home, urging more missionary recruits and soliciting finances to support them. A letter published in the December, 1887, Foreign Mission Journal called for an annual Christmas offering for overseas work. Little did she dream the mighty movement that would eventually result from such a small beginning!

The Woman's Missionary Union began sponsoring her appeal in Southern Baptist churches. The first year brought in some $3,200. But the idea caught on, and with the God's rich blessing it spread like wildfire. Through 2000, the cumulative total given to foreign missions through the Lottie Moon Offering (as it was named in 1918) reached the staggering total of $2.095 billion!

But various hardships, including severe famine, finally took their toll. So Lottie, frail and in failing health, was forced to return home. She went to be with the Lord on Christmas Eve, 1912, in Japan, while en route.

She had often testified, "I am immortal until my work is done." What a remarkable, lasting legacy-and what enormous rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ await this faithful, fervent witness. "[She] being dead yet speaketh."

Bernard R. DeRemer chronicled the lives of dozens of heroes of the faith in more than a decade of writing for Pulpit Helps Magazine, and continued to serve in this capacity as a volunteer contributor to Disciple. He joined those he had written about so faithfully in the Lord's presence in 2014.

*Taken from "A Thousand Lives for China," in More Than Conquerors, by John Woodbridge; Moody Press, copyright 1992, excerpts used by permission.

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