Since the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board held its first commissioning service in 1846, more than twenty thousand missionaries have been appointed. Now known as the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the board's main objective is presenting the Gospel of Jesus Christ in order to lead individuals to saving faith in Him and result in church-planting movements among all the peoples of the world.
Lottie Moon — the namesake of Southern Baptists' international missions offering — has become something of a missionary legend. But in her time Lottie was anything but an untouchable hero. In fact, she was like today's missionaries. She was a hard-working, deep-loving Southern Baptist who labored tirelessly so people could know Jesus as Savior.
Lottie Moon was born Charlotte Diggs Moon on December 12, 1840, in Albemarle County, Virginia. Lottie had rebelled against Christianity until she was in college. In December 1858, she dedicated her life to Christ and was baptized at First Baptist Church of Charlottesville, Virginia. Lottie attended Albemarle Female Institute, female counterpart to the University of Virginia. In 1861, she was one of the first women in the South to receive a master's degree.
Lottie stayed close to home during the Civil War but eventually taught school in Kentucky, Georgia and Virginia. Edmonia Moon, Lottie's sister, was appointed as a missionary to Tengchow, China, in 1872. The following year, Lottie was appointed and joined her sister there.
When she set sail for China, Lottie was thirty-two years old. She had turned down a marriage proposal and left her job, home and family to follow God's lead. Her path wasn't typical for an educated woman from a wealthy Southern family. But Lottie did not serve a typical God. He had gripped her with the Chinese peoples' need for a Savior.
For thirty-nine years Lottie labored, chiefly in Tengchow and P'ingtu. People feared and rejected her, but she refused to leave. The aroma of fresh-baked cookies drew people to her house. She adopted traditional Chinese dress, and she learned China's language and customs. Lottie didn't just serve the people of China; she identified with them. Many eventually accepted her. And some accepted her Savior.
Lottie's vision wasn't just for the people of China. It reached to her fellow Southern Baptists in the United States. Like today's missionaries, she wrote letters home, detailing China's hunger for truth and the struggle of so few missionaries sharing the Gospel with so many people — 472 million Chinese in her day. She shared another timely message, too: the urgent need for more workers and for Southern Baptists passionately supporting them through prayer and giving. By 1888, Southern Baptist women had organized and helped collect $3,315 to send workers needed in China.
In 1912, during a time of war and famine, Lottie silently starved, knowing that her beloved Chinese didn't have enough food. Her fellow Christians saw the ultimate sign of love: giving her life for others. On Christmas Eve that year, Lottie died on a ship bound for the United States. She was seventy-two.
But her legacy lives on. In 1918, Woman's Missionary Union named the annual Christmas offering for international missions after the woman who had urged them to start it.
Over the years, God has blessed Southern Baptists' gifts to the offering with souls being added to the Kingdom. In 2006 alone, IMB workers and their Baptist partners overseas reported 23,486 new churches. And 475,072 people stirred the waters of baptism overseas!
Today, even among the progress and blessings the Lord has provided, Lottie Moon's call for sacrificial giving so that the world may know Christ rings with more urgency than ever.
Almost five thousand people groups — 1.6 billion people — still live with little or no access to the Gospel.
New missionaries are answering God's Great Commission call, but their opportunity to share is squandered without churches' continued commitment to give.
"How many million more souls are to pass into eternity without having heard the name of Jesus?"
That question, ubiquitous in the letters of Lottie Moon, seared her heart as she planted her life in China a century ago. As a young Southern Baptist missionary, it compelled her to flee the safety of the Baptist missionary compound in order to live among those to whom she felt called.
In middle age, it gave her the strength to place her four-foot-three-inch body in the path of an anti-Christian mob intent on harming believers and saying, "You will have to kill me first." As an older woman, it compelled her to give away her food so others might live and have one more opportunity to find Jesus.
How many souls? What did she think? One million? Five million? Fifty million?
One hundred years later, we have an answer: 1.6 billion people — indeed, more people than populated the earth when Lottie lived — have never heard the Gospel, according to missions researchers.
During the past five generations, Southern Baptists have been motivated by Lottie Moon to plant their lives in missions by going or supporting others who are carrying the Gospel light into the darkness.
Today, we support more than 5,300 missionaries on the field. Today, our goal for the annual missions offering named for Lottie Moon is a substantial $165 million.
What would Lottie think? Would she be impressed that sixteen million Southern Baptists were supporting more than 5,300 missionaries? Would she think $165 million was a worthy goal?
Or would she, citing the 1.6 billion who live with little or no access to the Gospel, challenge us once again: "How many million more souls are to pass into eternity without having heard the name of Jesus?"
How much does your church plan to give to the Lottie Moon offering this year?
Ask for the Lord's guidance to help you reach a goal that will challenge your church. Consider increasing your offering at least 10 percent — if every Southern Baptist church accepted this challenge, the $165 million national goal would be met.
Register your church's Lottie Moon offering goal at imb.org/main/give/goal.
Get to Know the IMB
The Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845 mainly to create two mission boards — the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) and the Domestic Mission Board (now North American Mission Board). This was precipitated by controversy with northern Baptists over appointing slave owners as missionaries. The Foreign Mission Board, in Richmond, Virginia, held its first commissioning service in 1846. Since then more than twenty thousand missionaries have been appointed.
After Southern Baptists assumed support for some missionaries in China, the denomination's missionary efforts grew slowly. The Civil War and the South's agrarian economy made support difficult, and the board often was hampered by debt between 1861 and 1943. Significant growth in the board's overseas work did not occur until after World War II.
Empowered by the support of the Cooperative Program, founded in 1925, and an enlarged worldview, Southern Baptists answered the call, reaching one thousand missionaries in 1955. Under the twenty-five-year leadership of Baker James Cauthen, global expansion continued, reaching three thousand-plus missionaries in ninety-four countries by 1980.
In 1976, Bold Mission Thrust was begun as a Southern Baptist effort to evangelize the world by A.D. 2000. From 1981 to 1992, Keith Parks led the IMB to adopt new, innovative strategies to reach restricted nations and unreached peoples.
The Missionary Associate Program in 1961 was created for those not qualified for career appointment. The Journeyman Program, for young college graduates, was begun in 1965 and later expanded into the International Service Corps. Also, the number of IMB volunteers soared far beyond the one thousand two hundred who went out in 1975.
How has God used these efforts to plant with passion? In 2006 alone, IMB workers and their Baptist partners overseas reported 23,486 new churches. And 475,072 people stirred the waters of baptism overseas!
International Missions Offering
In 1918, Woman's Missionary Union named the annual Christmas offering for international missions after Lottie Moon, a missionary to China who had urged them to start it.
Since then, Southern Baptists have given nearly $3 billion to international missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.