Lottie Moon, Missionary to China
By Linda Hull
It is said that Charlotte Digges Moon (Lottie, for short), born December 12th, 1840, was a precocious child, somewhat unruly, and irreverent. Many prayed for her salvation, but she was a scoffer. Later, after a series of revival meetings, she decided to seriously consider Christianity. Shortly after her 18th birthday, she received Jesus as her Savior and Lord. She was baptized at the First Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia in December, 1858, while attending the Albemarle Female Institute. It should be noted that Lottie was the first woman to be awarded a master’s degree from a Southern college, notable proof of her determined spirit. Lottie soon felt the call of a missionary, but foreign missionary work was closed to single women.
Reports of foreign work inspired both Lottie and her sister, Edmonia. Edmonia began corresponding with Martha Crawford, who with her husband, served as a missionary to China. Martha advocated that single women should be allowed to come to China to minister to women and children. On a whim, Edmonia wrote to Henry Tupper, secretary of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board, to ask permission to go to China along with a missionary couple and the wife’s single sister. Miraculously, the Board agreed. Finally foreign missions were opened to single women.
Called to China
In 1873, at age 32, Lottie followed Edmonia to Tengchow, China. Tengchow, a port city of 80,000, is in northern China in the province of Shantung on the eastern coast, next to the Yellow Sea. Lottie joined missionaries, T. P. and Martha Crawford and her sister Edmonia at the North China Mission Station where she began her work of teaching in established mission schools. Unfortunately, Edmonia became ill, and clearly was not suited to missionary work. She and Lottie were forced to return home in 1875, so Edmonia could recuperate from typhoid and pneumonia.
Upon her return to China in 1877, Lottie opened a school, initially for upper class Chinese women, the first of many schools throughout her years of service. It was difficult to persuade families to allow their daughters to be educated since girls were rarely educated in those days. In fact, it was assumed by most Chinese men that women were incapable of learning. However, women were treated with respect and honor in the home. Amazingly, it was the poor who realized the value of an education, so Lottie enrolled thirteen girls from these poor families.
After several years, Lottie, chaffing at the lack of resources and recruits, wrote a letter in September, 1887, praising the Methodist Woman’s Board of Missions for raising $65,000 for the year. The letter was printed in the Foreign Mission Journal that December. Not only did Lottie praise the Methodist women, but she also exhorted Southern Baptists to prove their commitment to Christ by calling on them to follow the example of the Methodists. She suggested the week before Christmas be set aside as a time of giving toward foreign missions. Consequently, what is now the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions was begun. Best of all, enough money was collected to send three more missionary women.
Lottie helped bring about reform. She was a strong advocate for abolishing the practice of foot binding for girls. Foot binding to make a tiny foot was a nasty tradition that began when girls reached school age. The painful process of making the foot smaller began with bending the four small toes under, toward the sole. Then they were bandaged, and drawn toward the heel until the bones were broken, creating a tiny 3 inch foot. Unfortunately, many girls suffered complications of infection, foul odors, and paralysis; some even died. Bound feet afforded a young woman of the upper classes the opportunity to make a good marriage, and possibly to advance in class. Peasant classes rarely practiced foot binding because women are needed to work in the fields.
Lottie loved to travel about the countryside evangelizing in village after village in the area around Pingtu. The Shantung province was densely populated, and for the few missionaries, it must have seemed a daunting task to reach so many with the Gospel message. Her denomination believed that Scripture teaches that women are not to teach men or to have authority over them, but often Lottie found herself in the uncomfortable position of having to refuse to preach to a mixed group. Her frustration drove her to write letters to appeal to the Board to send men who could preach, that these souls might be reached.
Lottie continued her faithful service until her health finally gave out. Lottie loved the Chinese, and when a severe famine overtook the land, Lottie stopped eating, giving away her precious rations to feed the starving. She suffered from dementia, a result of having starved herself. When her condition was discovered, it was too late to save her. Her only hope was to return home, but Lottie died aboard ship in the harbor at Kobe, Japan, December 24, 1912.
Lottie was mourned greatly by all who knew her. She had finished a tremendous work in bringing the Gospel message to China. To understand the impact these faithful ones had on China, we must remember the words of Viceroy Tuan Fang at the Waldorf Astoria in February, 1906 (Headland, 1909):
“We take pleasure this evening in bearing testimony to the part taken by American missionaries in promoting the progress of the Chinese people. They have borne the light of Western civilization into every nook and corner of the empire. They have rendered inestimable service to China by the laborious task of translating into the Chinese language religious and scientific works of the West. They help us to bring happiness and comfort to the poor and the suffering, by the establishment of hospitals and schools. The awakening of China, which now seems to be at hand, may be traced in no small measure to the influence of the missionary. For this service you will find China not ungrateful.”
Giving was a principle Lottie advocated to others, and one which she lived throughout her thirty-nine years of missionary service in China, finally giving her life that others might live.
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