Biographical Sketch: Lottie Moon
Charlotte Digges Moon (“Lottie”) was born in Virginia on December 12, 1840 to Edward Harris Moon and Anna Maria Barclay Moon. The Moon family was large (Lottie had six siblings who lived to adulthood) and wealthy: the family had 52 servants and hired a full-time tutor to teach the children with a classical education.
Lottie’s father, Edward Harris Moon, was from a Presbyterian background, but after studying the Presbyterian arguments for infant baptism he became convinced of the Baptist position, and he was instrumental in founding Scottsville Baptist Church. When Lottie was 13 years old Edward Moon was on a riverboat as part of a business trip; the boat caught fire and Edward barely made it to shore, dying of exhaustion on the banks of the Mississippi River.
In her childhood, Lottie became known for skipping church. Lottie said that she preferred babbling brooks to babbling sermons and that Sunday was not for sitting in pews but for lying in haystacks.
When Lottie was 14 years old she was enrolled in Virginia Female Seminary, where she regularly skipped chapel.
At 17 years old, Lottie was enrolled in Albemarle Female Institute, which had been started by John Broadus (who also helped start the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and A.E. Dickinson. Lottie’s Christian friends would gather to pray for her salvation, but she scorned the things of God, insisting that her middle initial (“D”) did not stand for Digges (her family name), but for Devil. John Broadus gave a series of evangelistic meetings and Lottie went to one of these meetings in order to scoff, but she fell under the conviction of the Holy Spirit and returned home to pray all night, and she was converted. Lottie Moon was baptized when she was 18 years old, on December 22, 1858.
Early Conversion Years (1860-1872)
Lottie was fully committed to the Southern cause during the Civil War, referring to the United States federal government as a tyranny. During the hardships that the South faced during the Civil War, Lottie learned deeper trust for God, and she wrote, “[no] trouble comes upon us unless it is needed” and “we ought to be just as thankful for our sorrows as for our joys.”
In the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, Lottie was considered to be a potential leader in educating the women of the South and in 1866 she went to Danville, KY to teach in a female academy operated by the First Baptist Church. In 1870 Lottie moved to Cartersville, GA to become a teacher there.
Lottie’s sister Edmonia, “drawn both by the romance of foreign travel and the clear need for educational work among the women in China” was appointed in June 1872 as a missionary to Tengchow, China “under the support of the women of the Missionary Society of the First Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia.” Edmonia soon began appealing to Lottie to join her in China.
At first, Lottie believed that her proper place was to help educate women in the Southern United States, though she did have a heart for foreign missions and contributed financially to the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention– specifically to fund missions in China and Italy. Finally, however, Lottie decided to join Edmonia and “on July 7, 1873 [Lottie] was appointed as a missionary to China and three months later she arrived in Shanghai where she was met by Mr. and Mrs. T.P. Crawford.”
The Missionary Years (1873-1912)
Lottie had great skill in the Chinese language, but when she first arrived in China, she faced both external and internal struggles. The children would taunt Lottie, calling her “Old Devil Woman.” Southern racial pride was evident in some of her early writings as a missionary; she wrote, “Where the Caucasian goes, he carries energy and an inferior race is aroused by the contact” and “much mingling with the heathen makes one stupid.”
Still, Lottie’s passion for the Lord and compassion for the lost overcame the cruelty of others and her own prejudices. Lottie said she was filled with zeal to see idolatry tumble and Christ to be enthroned in the hearts of the Chinese.
Edmonia proved less well-suited for the mission field; she became more and more incapacitated due to problems with her physical and emotional health. In December 1876 Lottie left China to bring Edmonia home; Lottie was severely criticized for leaving the mission field to care for her sister. Lottie returned to China in November 1877.
In September 1887 Lottie Moon wrote an open letter to be read by Southern Baptists calling for a mission offering at Christmas time. This famous letter was but one in a series of letters pleading with Southern Baptist churches to send people and resources to the mission field. Lottie wrote, “the Baptists are a great people, we never tire of telling ourselves that” and yet we can send only three men to China.
Over time God used Lottie’s compassion for the lost to overcome her Southern racial pride. “By 1890 she was referring to herself as one of the ‘natives.’” She began admonishing others not to use the word “heathen” in a derogatory way– as people would speak of the “heathen,” meaning ignorant, uncultured people– recognizing that the only real, eternal difference that people need is not cultural education, but the grace of God in Christ.
Even as God was working in Lottie Moon so that she identified more closely with the Chinese, many Chinese people were becoming more hostile to any influence on their culture coming from Europe or America. In 1900, a group of Chinese martial artists (called, at the time, “boxers”) began what became known as the Boxer Rebellion, seeking to purge any Western influence from China, killing many missionaries and other settlers from Europe and America. During this Rebellion Lottie and some of the other missionaries were evacuated to Japan for a year.
During the famine of 1912 Lottie saw that many of the Chinese people to whom she was ministering were starving. Identifying with the suffering of the Chinese people, Lottie ceased eating and eventually died of starvation at 1 PM on December 24, 1912 aboard a boat headed for America, which was docked in Kobe harbor in Japan. Lottie spoke of Jesus to others to the very end of her life and on her tombstone reads, “Faithful Unto Death.”
[To find out more about the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, visit the International Mission Board website HERE.]