Women in SBC History: A Look at Lottie Moon’s Legacy

Editor’s note: Over the coming months, the SBC Women’s Leadership Network blog will feature a series of profiles on impactful Southern Baptist women throughout the history of our denomination. The first piece of our series will focus on missionary Lottie Moon.

By Susie Hawkins

Lottie Moon has one of the most recognizable names of all Southern Baptist missionaries. Even though her service in China was over 140 years ago, today’s Southern Baptist Christmas missions offering is named for her. Her testimony and story have been—and continue to be—used in the call of countless servants to international missions.

Lottie’s story is a fascinating one: Who was she? What motivated her? What was her experience in China?

Charlotte “Lottie” Digges Moon was born in 1840 to an aristocratic family in Virginia. She was a bright young woman and eagerly pursued her education, excelling in languages.

Lottie’s sisters were just as gifted. Her sister, Orianne, was one of the first female physicians in America and served as a missionary in Jerusalem for several years. Edmonia, at the young age of 20, was the first single woman to be appointed by the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board (now known as the International Mission Board) to go to China. Lottie moved to Georgia after her graduation. There, she taught in an upscale girls’ school.

After hearing her pastor preach on missions one Sunday, she sensed the call of God to reach the nations. And so, at age 33, with minimal training and preparation, she sailed for China. One of Lottie’s immediate concerns was the well-being of Edmonia, who was suffering with chronic health problems and depression. Edmonia eventually returned home.

Lottie was also one of the first single women appointed by Foreign Mission Board. The importance of her appointment cannot be overstated. The physical and emotional toll that an assignment on foreign soil brought was not easy to bear as a married couple, much less a single person.

She had abandoned the idea of marriage, despite being in love with a young professor. According to her account, they had serious theological disagreements, making marriage between the two of them untenable. Lottie’s spiritual and emotional strength, her strategic thinking, and sheer perseverance eventually set the bar very high for missionary service. Petite in stature (4’ 3”), she proved to be a giant in spirit.

Lottie studied Chinese with her mission partners, Dr. And Mrs. T.P. Crawford. While that relationship would have its challenges through the years, Lottie and Mrs. Crawford remained faithful co-laborers, traveling throughout the countryside of northern China on grueling journeys.

They evangelized, taught the Scripture, and helped plant churches as well as distributed Chinese Bibles. They also trained numerous “Bible women”—Chinese women who aided in teaching and language skills.

As Lottie became familiar with Chinese culture, she became outspoken regarding the cruel custom of “foot-binding,” a painful and crippling custom practiced on young girls, wrapping the feet very tightly and causing great pain and deformity. Lottie was also quite a curiosity in her village—a diminutive western woman baking sugar cookies, which she generously handed out to anyone at her door.

The strength of her character, her ability to adapt to the culture, and her sheer perseverance enabled her to serve effectively on the mission field for almost 40 years. Lottie adopted Chinese customs at a time when few Western missionaries did so. She insisted on wearing Chinese dress, slept on a “kang” (a brick bed), and ate food bought in the village market.

There are several factors that make Lottie Moon’s contributions to Southern Baptist life particularly significant. Although she was not the first single woman missionary appointed, she was one of the few who were. Lottie’s long-term success caused the mission board to reevaluate the importance of single women missionaries being appointed to international mission work.

One of Lottie’s greatest gifts to Baptists was her journaling of her experiences and observations. A prolific writer with an excellent vocabulary and distinctive flair, she was one of the first missionaries to begin sending eyewitness accounts of life in China to the Foreign Mission Journal, which was widely distributed through churches. These articles described in detail the Chinese people, their desperate hunger for God and their constant physical hardships.

Lottie’s stirring accounts gripped the hearts of Southern Baptists and brought the cause of missions to the forefront of denominational consciousness. Most of her articles were an appeal for greater support of foreign missions.

Several of Lottie’s suggestions regarding missionary policies were eventually adopted. It was Lottie Moon who drew attention to the need for missionaries to be allowed furloughs—a time of rest and recuperation from the difficulties of the field.

After observing several breakdowns of her co-laborers—including her sister, Edmondia—she concluded that the physical, emotional and spiritual well being of the missionary must be protected by extended periods of rest. Lottie herself dealt with periods of weariness and discouragement herself. The Mission Board agreed and eventually instituted the policy of furloughs for all future missionaries.

Lottie also began pressing for annual offerings in order to provide additional funds for mission work a well as the person involvement of churchwomen in the missions cause. The first Christmas offering was around $3,000 and was eventually named after her, in honor of her great sacrifices and influence. She personified the mission spirit and sacrifice. Today the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions has raised around $1.5 billion for the cause.

In 1911, China faced political turmoil and a terrible famine. Lottie gave her last dollar to the Famine Relief Fund, even though she was in her early 70s and desperately needed nourishment herself. Frail and almost starved, Lottie was ordered home.

On Christmas Eve, as her ship pulled into Kobe Harbor, Japan, on her deathbed, Lottie looked toward heaven, raised her hands in the customary Chinese greeting and died. She once said, “I would I had a thousand lives that I might give them to China.”

For Southern Baptists, Lottie Moon became a stellar example of a faithful, courageous Christian woman answering God’s call on her life. Her influence is unsurpassed today.

Note: If you have the opportunity, I recommend visiting the Lottie Moon exhibit located on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. Among the items in the exhibit is her house in P’intu, which was dismantled several years ago and recently reconstructed.

Susie Hawkins lives in Dallas, Texas. She enjoys teaching the Bible, speaking, and working with ministry wives. Susie serves on the board of Baptist Global Response and has an MA in Theology from Criswell College.