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Lottie letter reflects IMB-WMU partnership

SAN ANTONIO (BP)—The urgency in her voice was unmistakable.

Send new missionaries immediately, Lottie Moon pleaded.

‘I am holding on … at considerable risk of permanent injury to health. Yet I must not leave until others are here to take over the work.’

Moon penned these words in a letter to Annie Armstrong during a bitterly cold January in P’ingtu, China. It was 1889, and Southern Baptists had just collected their first offering for international missions –- $3,315, enough to send three new missionaries to China. Moon wrote to thank Southern Baptists for their ‘hearty response’ to her calls for help, and to spur them to action, listening to ‘no suggestions of delay.’

More than a century later, Moon’s call for new workers is no less urgent, nor is the calling of the Woman’s Missionary Union to support them. That urgency was evident during the opening day of WMU’s missions celebration and annual meeting June 10-11 in San Antonio.

Preceding the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting, hundreds gathered for the WMU sessions to celebrate the auxiliary’s commitment to the thousands of Southern Baptists missionaries serving around the world. Representatives from both the International and North American mission boards took part, sharing testimony from the field and thanking WMU for their support.

Gordon Fort, IMB vice president of overseas operations, presented Moon’s original letter as a surprise gift to the WMU for their role in the 2006 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which reached a record $150.1 million. An audible buzz rippled through the ballroom as Fort unveiled the 118-year-old letter, protected by a special glass frame. An inscription on the frame read:

‘In appreciation to Woman’s Missionary Union for encouraging Southern Baptists to faithfully give through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering so that all peoples may know Him.’

‘We could not have given this to a better partner at a better time in our history,’ Fort said. ‘The $150 million offering represents our ability to thrust a brand-new workforce into the field to reach the lost, just as this letter represents the first reinforcements that Lottie was expecting to come her way.’

Currently, the offering undergirds the work of some 5,100 missionaries serving around the world. IMB leaders anticipate adding more than 200 new missionaries during the next two years, over and above regular appointment numbers, as a direct result of the record offering. Some will serve among the world’s least evangelized people groups, encompassing more than 1.6 billion people with little or no access to the Gospel.

‘That’s what WMU is about, that urgency, and transferring that sense of urgency to our churches,’ Kaye Miller, WMU president, said. ‘That sense of urgency was implanted in me on the mission field as an MK [missionary kid], and that’s why I do what I do today -– because of that sense of urgency that we’ve just got to have if we are going to reach the ends of the earth.’

Wanda Lee, WMU executive director/treasurer, said the letter will be put on display at the WMU’s national office with its collection of Lottie Moon artifacts including a steamer trunk and footstool used by Moon during her time in China.

‘She broke all kind of barriers by being appointed as a single woman, and she challenged Southern Baptist leaders who were not 100 percent behind missionaries in her day by writing them letters,’ Lee said. ‘I think this letter is an example of how she stirred the waters and got three missionaries, and I think she knew who to turn to get the money to do it. Lottie knew Annie, and Lottie knew Annie would get the word out.

Both Miller and Lee said they were grateful for the letter, which came from the IMB’s archives.

‘There’s nothing that we treasure more at the national WMU office than the original writings of Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong and other leaders from our past,’ Lee said. ‘This is a great treasure that only WMU women can love in the appropriate way; the words of Lottie herself who’s our inspiration and the reason that we’re here today.’

Moon closed her letter to Armstrong with a challenge that still holds true today for many Southern Baptist missionaries.

‘Please say to the new missionaries that they are coming to a life of hardship, responsibility and constant self denial,’ she wrote. If ‘the joy of the Lord’ be ‘their strength,’ the blessedness of the work will more than compensate for its hardships. Let them come ‘rejoicing to suffer’ for the sake of that Lord and Master who freely gave his life for them.’

    About the Author

  • Don Graham