Lottie Moon

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The life of Lottie Moon:
The offering begins
Read more of her story: Part 3: Her journey ends | Part 1: From Southern roots | <<Back to bio
By John Allen Moore

Lottie Moon's return to China after accompanying her sister Eddie (Edmonia) back home to Virginia was not nearly as quick as she wanted. H.A. Tupper, corresponding secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, recruited her to travel to church and mission societies to bolster mission support. Tupper also corresponded with her about mission business.

When Richmond Baptist women authorized use of part of the funds raised for the Moon house to send Lottie back and also promised to provide her support, Lottie returned to China.

During a stopover in Japan, Lottie wrote Tupper, "Now I honestly believe that I love China the best. Actually, which is stranger still, I love the Chinese best." Famine raged in north China as Lottie arrived in December 1877. She and other missionaries gave to relief programs and shared personally as they could to relieve the suffering.

Early in 1878 Lottie opened a girls' boarding school for higher-class Chinese. Her purpose was evangelistic: She knew the school would help her enter pupils' homes, since the exclusive citizens of Tengchow wanted little to do with "foreign devils" otherwise. Finding pupils would be hard, for females generally were judged incapable of education. Some Christian missions paid parents to send their children-especially girls-to school; Baptists did not do so but did provide instruction and materials free.

Lottie's school soon had 13 pupils, but all from poor families. They studied arithmetic, reading and geography and learned from Martha (Mrs. T.P.) Crawford's catechism and a book of Bible stories Sallie Holmes had prepared. Lottie taught singing, accompanying with an organ Eddie had ordered and paid for. Lottie wrote to women's societies to suggest that each adopt a girl to support for $15 a year. She promised to report on each girl's progress.

She managed to save about a third of her pupils from the practice of binding girls' feet. The custom usually began about the time a girl would be entering school. The four small toes were bent under and bandaged and drawn toward the heel until bones broke. The suffering young women wound up with a three-inch foot and a pointed big toe. Often infection, illness and sometimes even death resulted.

She kept trying to buy the mission house where she lived or other property-in vain because of Chinese opposition to selling land to foreigners. T.P. Crawford, with Lottie's support, persuaded the older Baptist church in northern Tengchow to move outside the city; this united work by Southern Baptists around the other congregation, renamed Tengchow Baptist Church.

Mrs. Holmes and Miss Moon devoted most of their time to village visits. When invited into a home, one would take the children into the yard to tell Bible stories and teach the catechism and songs. Lottie, if she were the one staying inside to teach the women, sat cross-legged on the kang, using her bedroll for a backrest. A kang, a brick bed about 5-by-10 feet and 3 feet high, was found in every home. It was heated from fire built inside it through an opening from an adjoining room. People sat, ate and slept on the kang, the only heated place in the house. At night, Lottie unrolled her bedding there.

In the morning neighbors usually crowded around to stare at the foreigners as they ate breakfast. Once Mrs. Holmes remarked, "Miss Moon, please note that we are being observed by 30 people; I've counted them." Two were in the doorway; others peeped from behind. Four boys stood on a table for a better view.

"Now look," said Lottie. "Some boys are tearing holes in the window [made of paper]. We are a wonderful sight, I suppose." Later she wrote Tupper, "Have you ever felt the torture of human eyes bearing upon you, scanning every feature, every look, every gesture? I feel it keenly."

She spoke from early morning to late evening, from the kang, on the street, in the yard of dirty homes, traveling in shentzes or riding donkeys, in the heat and dust of summer or wintry rain and snow. She was constantly in contact with the people, continually at risk of exposure to smallpox and other diseases. Yet she suppressed her craving for cultured life and conversation and her Southern tastes-all for the cause of Christ. "As I wander from village to village," she said, "I feel it is no idle fancy that the Master walks beside me, and I hear His voice saying gently, 'I am with you always, even unto the end.'"

She found strength in prayer and Bible reading and in devotional classics. She often wrote quotations from spiritual writings in the margin of her Bible or devotional books. One favorite was from Francis de Sales: "Go on joyously as much as you can, and if you do not always go on joyously, at best go on courageously and confidently."

Lottie suggested to Tupper that the board follow the pattern of some other mission groups and provide for a year of furlough after 10 years on the field. The board eventually adopted such a policy, but not until several missionaries in China died prematurely and others returned home in broken health.

"Mission life takes the strength and energy out of us before we know it," she wrote. "We have to learn to be watchful and not overwork lest the time come too soon when we can work no more." Becoming more careful of her health, she cultivated her garden and took walks for exercise. She read extensively and kept up with mission thought in her own and other denominations.

Loneliness became her great enemy. "I am bored to death with living alone," she wrote Tupper. "I don't find my own society either agreeable or edifying."

She bombarded the board with requests for recruits, including single women. Tupper tried, but with small success. "I estimate," he said in one speech, "a single woman in China is worth two married men."

Lottie continued correspondence with Crawford Toy, through the years the only man in her life. In addition to seminary teaching, he was president of the American Philological Society, which promoted phonetic spelling. Lottie used it for a short time, even in letters to Tupper, who believed she and Toy were considering marriage.

In 1879 Toy, accused of teaching a liberal view of biblical interpretation, had to resign from the Louisville seminary faculty. He became a professor at Harvard University, but the controversy continued in Southern Baptist papers between heresy hunters and some of Toy's former students. Tupper wrote Miss Moon in some defense of Toy; she replied, "What you say of our mutual friend is very pleasing to me. You are right in supposing that I think very highly of him (this is not to go in The Journal!)"

Martha Crawford, visiting in Richmond, reported Lottie would go to Harvard as Mrs. Toy. Lottie apparently wrote family members to prepare for a wedding in early 1882.

Besides her loneliness, Lottie felt abandoned in the mission. For extended periods she was the only Southern Baptist missionary in north China. One side of her responded to the prospect of cultured life in a community of scholars such as at Harvard. But her deep commitment to missions and China won out. A niece asked her years later if she ever had been in love. "Yes," Lottie replied, "but God had first claim on my life, and since the two conflicted, there could be no question about the result."

An article by Lottie in Women's Work in China brought protests from conservative Southern Baptists. She listed three classes of single women missionaries regarding decision making in a mission: (1) those greatly dissatisfied and wanting changes; (2) those content to work under current restrictions and exercise influence indirectly; (3) those who enjoy full rights but wish these extended to others. The board's committee on women's work quoted from the article in a report in The Foreign Mission Journal, noting, "This is not endorsed by the committee but is reproduced to show what some others think."

When Lottie saw this, she protested to Tupper: "I wrote the article for deep and intense sympathy for my suffering sisters. I have belonged heretofore to the third class who are free. It seems to be the purpose of the committee to relegate me henceforth to the first class. I distinctly decline from being so relegated. Will you be so kind as to request the Board to appropriate the proper sum, say $550, to pay my return passage to Virginia? On arrival, I will send in my resignation in due form."

Tupper assured her the board considered her a full partner in determining policy. She responded calmly that single women missionaries in all missions should have equal voice-as in her own mission-but again threatened to resign. She declared she was unable to understand why the China committee "do not endorse my position."

Sallie Holmes, after long service in China, had left in 1881, so Lottie took over her compound-"Little Crossroads," and made that her home for the rest of her life. She conducted both her school and Sallie's, but soon was devoting full time to city visiting and country work.

Early in 1882 missionaries N. Weston Halcomb and C.E. Pruitt reached the field, the first new personnel since Lottie's arrival almost 10 years earlier. Two years later, a single woman missionary arrived and soon married Halcomb. Next came two couples-the E.E. Devaults and James M. Joiners. Some new arrivals soon died; others went home as invalids. Lottie respected Halcomb as an effective missionary and a man of integrity. However, he resigned after concluding his views on biblical inspiration and interpretation were inconsistent with mainline Southern Baptist teaching. Pruitt remained the only man active in the work.

Meanwhile, T.P. Crawford always seemed less involved in missions than in his business ventures, attacking the board and trying to force on others his ideas of full self-support. After a few years, he left the board and formed his own Gospel Mission. He took many Southern Baptist missionaries with him as he opened interior stations.

Lottie Moon nurtured a dream, shared by some colleagues, of establishing a chain of mission stations toward the interior. Hwanghsien, 20 miles from Tengchow, was the first, led by Halcomb, Devault and Joiner. But since those workers were soon ill or gone, Lottie had to serve there for a time.

She saw as the next stop Pingtu, the world's 12th largest population center, 100 miles further inland. Lottie, the first Southern Baptist woman to open a new mission outpost, made a survey trip to Pingtu in late 1885, spending three nights in miserable Chinese inns on the way. A month in Pingtu convinced her a mission station must be started. The people seemed curious and open, even in religion. She returned to Tengchow and gathered a supply of warm clothing, medicines, staple foods and reading material. The U.S. North China consul opposed her going, since there was no consular protection for foreigners in the interior (Pingtu had no resident foreigners), but the few other Southern Baptist missionaries on the field supported her plan.

She reached Pingtu in December 1885. Aided by a Chinese couple from Tengchow, she rented a four-room, dirt-floor house for $24 a year, planning to stay until summer. She ate and lived as the Chinese did. No one she knew spoke English.

She first wanted to be accepted as neighbor and friend. It was easy to attract a friendly, curious crowd, and she quickly adapted to the local dialect. She began visiting surrounding villages and within a few months had made 122 trips to 33 different places.

She returned to Tengchow in June 1886 and after catching up on her work there she felt she needed to nurse seriously ill new missionaries in Hwanghsien for the winter and care for the local church. It was April 1887 before she could return to Pingtu, where she met a warm welcome.

Lottie knew she was wearing herself out. She had had no co-worker since Sallie Holmes left six years earlier. Lottie wrote Tupper to ask for a furlough and also requested missionary recruits. She said of the people, especially those in Pingtu: "We must go out and live among them, manifesting the spirit of our Lord. We need to make friends before we can hope to make converts."

At the same time she wrote to encourage Southern Baptist women to organize, conventionwide, to study and support missions. They were planning to act on the idea at their usual informal gathering along with the Southern Baptist Convention in 1888. Lottie's article in The Foreign Mission Journal told of the example Methodist women had set: "They give freely and cheerfully. Now the painful question arises, 'What is the matter, that we Baptists give so little? Whose is the fault? Is it a fact that our women are lacking in the enthusiasm, the organizing power, and the executive ability that so conspicuously distinguishes our Methodist sisters?'"

Her letter that was to become famous appeared in the Journal for December 1887. For several years the women's society in Cartersville, Ga., had taken a Christmas offering to help Lottie's work. Now she learned that Methodist women that year were to observe the week before Christmas as a time of prayer and giving for missions. She urged Southern Baptist women to follow their example:

Need it be said why the week before Christmas is chosen? Is not the festive season, when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?

She wanted it clear that she was not trying to separate women's work from other mission work:

In seeking organization we do not need to adopt plans or methods unsuitable to the view or repugnant to the tastes of our brethren. What we want is not power, but simply combination in order to elicit the largest possible giving. Power of appointing and disbursing funds should be left, as heretofore, in the hands of the Foreign Mission Board. Separate organization is undesirable, and would do harm, but organizing in subordination to the Board is the imperative need of the hour.
She opposed raising funds by entertainments or gimmicks. She wrote:

I wonder how many of us really believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive. A woman who accepts that statement of our Lord Jesus Christ as a fact and not as "impractical idealism," will make giving a principle of her life. She will lay aside sacredly not less than one-tenth of her income or her earnings as the Lord's money, which should would no more dare touch for personal use than she would steal. How many there are among our women, alas, who imagine that because "Jesus paid it all," they need pay nothing, forgetting that the prime object of their salvation was that they should follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ!

After 10 months in Pingtu as the only Southern Baptist missionary within a hundred miles, Lottie Moon returned to Little Crossroads in Tengchow in July 1888. Looking over her accumulated mail, she learned that women of the South had formed a conventionwide organization at their spring meeting in Richmond. Miss Annie Armstrong served as corresponding secretary for the Woman's Missionary Union, auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention; headquarters were in Baltimore, Md.

Lottie's request for furlough had been granted, but reluctantly, for Tupper feared for the North China mission without her. Despite failing health, Lottie also was unwilling to leave until new women missionaries had arrived and been introduced to the work. She returned to Pingtu with Martha Crawford. Most promising outpost was in Sha-ling, 10 miles away. A church was formed there in the fall of 1889, the fourth church related to Southern Baptist missions in all of north China.

The success of the first Christmas-season mission offering among Southern Baptists, in 1888, resulted chiefly from Lottie's suggestion, Tupper's strong support and Annie Armstrong's extensive letter writing and publicity. It had been designated in advance to send women missionaries to help Lottie in China. The goal: $2,000. The result: $3,315.26, enough to send three single missionaries.

During these years Lottie lived mostly in Pingtu but managed to get to Tengchow to give orientation to new single women missionaries. She regarded July as her time for semi-relaxation and catching up on Tengchow work.

Persecution broke out in Sha-ling in 1890. Relatives of one of the first inquirers, Dan Ho-bang, tied him to a pole and beat him, but he refused to worship at ancestral tablets. A young convert, Li Show-ting, was beaten by his brothers, who tore out his hair; still, he remained steadfast in his faith. He was to become the great evangelist of north China, baptizing more than 10,000 believers.

Lottie rushed to Sha-ling and told the persecution leaders, "If you attempt to destroy his church, you will have to kill me first. Jesus gave Himself for us Christians. Now I am ready to die for Him." One of the mob prepared to kill her but was restrained. Lottie calmed the terrified believers and remained with them until persecution waned. When the believers did not retaliate with the usual legal action, the Chinese turned with more respect to hear of the new faith. The church became the strongest in north China; its members evangelized in nearby villages.

"I am trying honestly to do the work that could fill the hands of three or four women," Lottie wrote in an open letter published in the Religious Herald, "and in addition must do much work that ought to be done by young men Our dilemma-to do men's work or to sit silent at religious services conducted by men just emerging from heathenism." Letters against women speaking in public where men were present or taking the lead in general work continued in Baptist papers; nothing on the other side was printed from American readers.

Finally came furlough-Lottie's first trip to American in 14 years. The last family property at Viewmont had been sold. Eddie Moon, still sickly, though she taught school at times, had bought a small house near Scottsville, Va., and awaited Lottie there. To recover her health and strength, Lottie declined speaking invitations for six months. Tupper, at her invitation, visited her in Scottsville to talk about mission work. Pruitt, then on furlough but leaning toward Crawford, also came to talk to Lottie and became a loyal supporter of the board. All Southern Baptist missionaries in north China at the time joined Crawford and his Gospel Mission, except William and Effie Sears and Laura Barton. The board reappointed J.B. Hartwell.

Refreshed, Lottie at her own expense visited church and women's societies in several states. She attended WMU meetings in connection with the SBC, in Atlanta, admitted to convention sessions as an "observer." At the 1893 convention in Nashville, the WMU meeting honored Lottie, and she supported a plan to use the Christmas offering that year for mission advance in Japan.

Read more of her story: Part 3: Her journey ends | Part 1: From Southern roots | <<Back to bio

 

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This page was last updated 11/24/03