RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–“Will you not speak to the pastor of your church and ask him to obtain a contribution to help these poor sufferers?” the letter writer pleaded.
It spoke of a traveler discovering 13 emaciated corpses lying under the sky. Two other men given small bags of grain for their families had died of starvation on the side of the road before they reached home.
“Mothers are eager to give away their children, but no one wants them. Children roam the streets with none to care for them. A woman went to beg a little help, which was given, and on her return found that her mother had hanged herself,” the letter continued.
“How can we bear to sit down to our bountiful tables and know of such things and not bestir ourselves to help?”
Yet another fundraising appeal from a do-gooder trying to end global poverty? You could say that.
This particular letter, dated March 24, 1911, came from a bleeding heart by the name of Lottie Moon. She had seen nearly 40 years of human suffering as a Southern Baptist missionary in North China. It broke her heart. She eventually starved herself as she gave her own meager resources to feed the hungry and care for the sick and dying as famine and war stalked the land.
Lottie fought hunger, ignorance, lack of education for girls, the foot-binding of women, opium smoking and other evils in China.
What appalled her even more than these, however, was spiritual poverty.
“We are told that Jesus went out among the cities and villages ‘preaching the Gospel of the kingdom’ and it is added that when He saw the multitude as sheep without a shepherd, He was moved with compassion,” she wrote in 1888. “No heart that has truly caught the Master’s spirit can look out on the vast multitudes … and fail to be moved with a like pity…. How are these people to be saved without the Gospel?”
The false choice between evangelism and social ministry that Christians often make in our day would have angered Lottie and many other great missionaries through the ages — not the least William Carey, the father of modern evangelical missions. He engaged in any number of social and educational projects in 19th century India to gain a hearing for the Gospel.
“Our Lord makes it clear that neglecting either one is not an option of the faithful and obedient disciple,” says Jerry Rankin, who recently retired as president of the International Mission Board. “Wherever Jesus went, He responded to human needs. He gave sight to the blind, cleansed the leper, healed the lame and raised the dead, though the primary purpose of His coming was to provide deliverance and salvation to those in sin.”
In fact, Jesus went so far as to tell His followers that when they fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, tended the sick and visited the prisoner, they “did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).
Hundreds of millions of hungry, thirsty, sick and oppressed people struggle for life in our world today. Far more wander in spiritual darkness. Filled with Christ’s love, Lottie Moon was passionate about touching both the suffering and the lost.
May we be just as passionate!
Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board.