“Southern Baptists have only one saint and her name is Lottie Moon.”
So wrote Texas pastor Chuck Warnock in his fine review of Regina D. Sullivan’s book “Lottie Moon: A Southern Baptist Missionary to China in History and Legend” (2011).
I am writing this in praise of “Saint Lottie” (she has never actually been called this), whose full name was Charlotte Digges Moon, and in commemoration of her outstanding work and life, which ended on Christmas Eve 1912, when Lottie was 72.
She was on her way back from China to the United States and died on board the steamer Manchuria as it lay at anchor off Kobe, Japan.
At the beginning of the 1870s, Southern Baptists did not think single women should be appointed as missionaries, but in 1871 Lottie argued publicly that women should be allowed to do paid religious work.
Consequently, Lottie became one of the first single Baptist women to be appointed as a missionary – with the understanding that she would be involved only in “women’s work for women.”
Among other things, that meant not preaching or engaging in any kind of public activity when men were present.
But Lottie soon began to ignore the restrictions. As Sullivan says, “Moon was never one to be dissuaded by an argument that centered on gender.”
Her breaking with her culture and board policy culminated with her, alone, beginning new mission work in the city of Pingtu. It was the first time for a Southern Baptist woman to start a new mission point.
As Southern Baptist missionaries for 38 years, June and I were indirectly linked to Lottie Moon, for in each of those years the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering was a major source of funding for the Foreign (later International) Mission Board that provided our support in Japan.
And I have spoken in numerous churches through the years, encouraging generous giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
In July 2004 when June and I left Japan as missionaries for the last time, we spent a few days in China before coming on back to the states.
Our most memorable time there was seeing the places where Lottie Moon had lived and worked.
We visited the church where she had worshipped soon after her arrival in Tengchow (now Penglai) in 1873. And then we went to Pingtu (now Pingdu), where Lottie had lived and worked from 1886-91.
We visited a church in Pingdu that resulted from Lottie Moon’s work there. Appropriately, the senior pastor there is Wang Xia, a woman – and a fourth-generation believer whose ancestors were among the earliest Christians in the city.
For a long time, Lottie Moon has often been considered “saintly” because of what was written about her sacrificing her food, and ultimately her life, for the sake of the poverty-stricken people of China.
According to Sullivan, those stories are likely fabrications for the most part. (Writing as a scholar rather than as the promoter of a cause makes one more objective – and more nearly accurate.)
Lottie Moon deserves our praise, though, for her courageous work for gender equality among missionaries and for sparking the formation of the Woman’s Missionary Union among Southern Baptists as well as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which has raised more than $1.5 billion for missions since its inception in 1888.
We may not want to call her Saint Lottie, but she is well deserving of appreciative remembrance 100 years after her passing.
Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. This column appeared previously on his blog.
A missionary to Japan from 1966-2004, he is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church.