Each December, Southern Baptist churches collect the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for the sole purpose of supporting international missions. The entire offering goes to the International Mission Board’s overseas budget, supporting missionaries and their work.

But who was Lottie Moon?

According to John Allen Moore, who wrote a biography about her, Lottie was a hard-working, deep-loving Southern Baptist who labored tirelessly so her people group could know Jesus.

Throughout her career of service (39 years as a missionary, chiefly in Tengchow and P’ingtu, China, where she taught girls’ school and often made trips into the country’s interior to share the good news with women and girls), Lottie wrote numerous letters home, urging Southern Baptists to greater missions involvement and support.

One of those letters triggered Southern Baptists’ first Christmas offering for international missions — and became the predecessor of today’s Christmas offering.

Born Charlotte Digges Moon to affluent parents Anna Maria Barclay and Edward Harris Moon, who were staunch Baptists, Moon grew up on the family’s ancestral fifteen-hundred-acre tobacco plantation called Viewmont, in Albemarle County, Virginia.

Lottie was third in a family of five girls and two boys. Lottie was only 12 when her father died while on a business trip.

Despite dedicated Christian parents, Lottie rebelled against Christianity until she was in college. In December 1858, after attending a series of revival meetings led by John Broadus, the founder of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lottie dedicated her life to Christ and was baptized at First Baptist Church of Charlottesville, Virginia.

Lottie attended Albemarle Female Institute, the 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.

It is said that Lottie spoke numerous languages: Latin, Greek, French, Italian and Spanish. She was also fluent in reading Hebrew. Later, she would become expert at Chinese.

There were very few opportunities for educated females in the mid-1800s, though her older sister Orianna became a physician and served as a Confederate Army doctor during the American Civil War. Lottie helped her mother maintain the family estate during the war, and afterward settled into a teaching career. She taught first in Danville, Kentucky, then in Cartersville, Georgia, where she and her friend, Anna, opened Cartersville Female High School in 1871.

A Call to Missions

To the family’s surprise, Lottie’s younger sister Edmonia (“Eddie”) accepted a call to go to North China as a missionary in 1872. Not long after, Lottie felt her call to China “as clear as a bell” in February 1873 after the Cartersville Baptist pastor preached about missions.

On July 7, 1873, the then-called Foreign Mission Board officially appointed Lottie as a missionary to China, where she joined her sister in Tengchow.

She was 32 years old.

In those days, missionary appointment generally was “for life.” There were no regular furloughs or retirement.

When Lottie finally arrived in Shantung Province (then considered the most densely populated province on earth) she began studying the language. A quick study, she also adopted traditional Chinese dress, and she learned China’s history and customs.

Early in 1878, Lottie opened a girls’ boarding school for higher-class Chinese with the explicit purpose of evangelism. She also devoted much of her time to village visits, where she would tell children Bible stories and teach them catechism and songs.

“As I wander from village to village,” Lottie said, often working without the support of fellow missionaries, “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.’”

At the same time, she wrote to encourage Southern Baptist women to organize, convention-wide, to study and support missions. Her famous article, published in December 1887 in The Foreign Mission Journal, contrasted the cheerful giving of Methodist women versus the lack of giving from her own Southern Baptists.

She urged Southern Baptist women to follow the Methodists’ example of observing the week before Christmas as a time of prayer and giving for missions.

With great support from H.A. Tupper, then corresponding secretary of the Foreign Mission Board, and Annie Armstrong, then corresponding secretary for the Woman’s Missionary Union, the first Christmas offering was taken in 1888. The goal was $2,000.

The result was $3,315.26, enough to send three single missionaries to China.

During these years Lottie lived mostly in Pingtu but managed to get to Tengchow to give orientation to these new single women missionaries. By 1893, there were eight Southern Baptist missionaries who made up the north China mission. In 1898, Lottie began a day school for boys and girls together, an innovation for Chinese.

Later, despite war and rising persecution, she organized other schools to help meet the new, widespread desire for education, still using the Christian catechism and Bible stories as basic texts, plus courses in arithmetic, geography and classical Chinese literature.

In the fall of 1911, women from three women’s missionary societies met in Lottie’s living room and organized the Woman’s Missionary Union of North China. They elected Lottie president.

Then, in 1912, during a time of war and famine, Lottie’s compound was no longer an informal training school for Chinese women but a hostel for the ill and indigent. Knowing that the Chinese to whom she ministered didn’t have enough food, Lottie silently starved.

Her fellow Christians saw the ultimate sign of love: giving her life for others.

On Christmas Eve, Lottie died aboard a ship in the Japanese harbor of Köbe on Dec. 24, 1912. She was 72 years old.

Six years later, the Woman’s Missionary Union named the annual Christmas offering for international missions after the woman who had urged them to start it.

Lottie’s legacy lives on.

And today, when gifts aren’t growing as quickly as the number of workers God is calling to the field, her call for sacrificial giving rings with more urgency than ever. How much does your church plan to give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering this year?

Originally Published: BaptistLIFE, Dec. 3, 2008, by Shannon Baker. Source: Lottie’s Biography, By John Allen Moore, International Mission Board