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LETTER FROM CHINA: ‘The laborers are few’

EDITOR’S NOTE: Each day during Baptist Press’ coverage of the Beijing Olympics, we are publishing a letter from a Southern Baptist missionary who served in China during the years before the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949. Some of the letters reveal these missionaries’ great love for the people of China; others provide glimpses into what life was like for an American living abroad in the 19th century. We hope the collection helps Southern Baptists capture the passion of these great souls and understand the sacrifices they made so the good news of God’s love could be taken to what was, for them, the ends of the earth. The letter below was written by the venerable missionary Charlotte “Lottie” Moon, who served in China from 1873 to 1912.

PINGTU, China — We are told that Jesus went about 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. No heart that has truly caught the Master’s spirit can look out on the vast multitudes of heathen and fail to be moved with a like pity.

Not merely tens — nor hundreds — nor thousands, but millions are moving restlessly on in the downward path. Who lifts a helping hand to stay their course? How are these people to be saved without the Gospel? “How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?” “Narrow is the gate and straightened the way, that leadeth unto life, and few be they that find it.” Neither these heathen nor their forefathers ever heard of the narrow gate.

Once more I desire to plead the cause of the people among whom I am living. Pingtu is a walled city with suburbs on all sides. The suburbs contain a population probably not less than the city itself. In all directions are encircling villages. Stretching northward and eastward as far as Tungchow and Chefoo, a distance of more than 100 miles, there is not one resident missionary. Westward, there is a mission station of Presbyterians, distant from here 60 miles. To the south, stretching on for hundreds of miles, I know of no mission station. Members of our mission have worked in this region now for several years, coming all the way from Tungchow. What can two or three accomplish in the way of reaching these hundreds of thousands?

The itinerant missionary comes, spends a few days at an inn and is gone. This is all his time allows, for he feels that there are many other places with pressing claims upon him. The majority of the natives look upon him as a “devil” to be hated; even the best disposed regard him as an enthusiast who is trying to lay up merit for his own sake.

Here and there, however, is a man who becomes interested in the Gospel; he listens to instruction and has vague desires after a better life. He has before him a fearful conflict. There are family influences, there are superstitions of ages, there is obloquy and hatred. The newly awakened man needs the moral support of the missionary’s presence. Is it a wonder that many give up in despair, thinking it is no use to try, and that they can’t walk this hard path alone? Suppose there are converts; they need to be taught how to live the Christian life. They need before them actual examples of holy Christian living.

It is absolutely certain that our mission force in Shantung is utterly inadequate. In this large province, with probably 30 million inhabitants, we have at present but one station, and that not strongly manned. We were the first to enter this field, and today we are the weakest mission, with perhaps one exception. These things ought not to be so. There should be steadfast resolve to push the work on into the interior, to establish new stations as rapidly as possible and to man them thoroughly, that there shall be no more disastrous failures. All this means an immense increase in contributions to the mission cause and consecrated men and women ready to lay all upon God’s altar, that these precious souls may be saved.

“Then saith he unto his disciples, the harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray ye, therefore, the Lord of the harvest, the He send forth laborers into His harvest.”

L. Moon.

Feb. 29, 1888

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  • Lottie Moon