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Lottie Moon: The Southern Belle Who Went to China

Lottie Moon: The Southern Belle Who Went to China

"If I had a thousand lives, I would give them all for the women of China," said Lottie Moon. These words were a testimony to how much Christ had changed her. She wasn't always so dedicated. On the contrary, as a child she was called a "devil" because of her defiant attitude.

Lottie's father was a was well-to-do cotton merchant when she was born in Viewmont, a Virginia plantation in 1840. But he died when she was thirteen. Did bitterness toward God for the loss of her dad drive her into rebellion?

Lottie did not like to go to church. But because of a friend, she agreed to attend a missionary meeting. At that meeting the Holy Spirit showed her how ugly her spirit was. After praying all night, she confessed her bad behavior to God and to others. She decided to become a missionary herself. A good student, Lottie worked hard and graduated with her masters degree. Two years later she sailed as a Southern Baptist missionary to China. Her appeals inspired drives for mission funds in the United States, especially at Christmas. Arriving in China on this day, October 7, 1873, she began work in Tonchow, Northern China.

The Chinese did not respond well to her overtures at first. When she offered them home-baked cookies they refused them, thinking they were poisoned. Gradually, she broke down barriers. She used her knitting and sewing skills to interest Chinese women.

Eleven years after coming to China she prepared for a much-needed furlough. As she was about to leave for the United States, men from Pintow arrived on foot, pleading with her to come work in their city where many were eager to hear the gospel. Lottie immediately abandoned her plans for a rest, moved to Pintow, and led many people to know the Jesus who had changed her own life. During her forty years in China, she took only three furloughs.

When she was in her seventies, China suffered severe famine. Lottie would not eat because her people had nothing to eat. Naturally she became ill. She was put on boat to return to America but died of starvation when the ship reached Kobe, Japan. She may not have given a thousand imaginary lives for China but she gave the one she had.


1. Deen, Edith. Great Women of the Christian Faith. New York: Harper, 1956.

2. Tucker, Ruth. Guardians of the Great Commission: The Story of Women in Modern Missions. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books, 1988.

3. Various internet articles.

Last updated November 2020.

(First published as "Extraordinary Lottie Moon Reached China" by Dan Graves, MSL. First published April 28, 2010)

Lottie Moon's Good Life in America

Lottie Moon sat on the back step of the sprawling Virginia estate, her cousin Sarah at her side. "I just can't imagine living anywhere else," said ten-year-old Lottie. "It's the most beautiful place in the whole, wide world."

Sarah agreed. "I'm going to miss plantation life when my family goes to Jerusalem."

In the distance, Lottie could see two slaves working in the fields. She wondered why her uncle's family was giving all this up to be missionaries. "Do you really want to go?" she asked her cousin.

"I really do," said Sarah. "My whole family does."

Grabbing a handful of pea pods crossly, Lottie tried not to cry. "Well I don't know why," she complained. "All Christians do is argue, and the Bible is just a storybook. It's a long way from Virginia to Jerusalem just to waste your time telling people fairy stories!"

Sarah looked hurt. "Don't say that. You used to believe too."

"I'll say anything I want," said Lottie. "And anyway, being a missionary is not for girls. Girls should learn to be ladies and have the biggest, grandest house they can get!"

"Well, when you get your own big house, I'll come back and visit you," answered Sarah. "Meanwhile, promise you'll write to me, Lottie. I want to hear all the news from home."

Lottie took her cousin's hand. "Every week, Sarah. I'll write to you every week."

A few years after Sarah's family moved to Jerusalem, Lottie Moon went to boarding school. In those days, wealthy Southern belles were groomed for marriage and were not to be "overeducated," yet Lottie's father had left money so his daughters could have all the education they wanted. In 1857, Lottie took the bold step of enrolling in college.

Lottie Moon's Memorable Birthday

"What are you two talking about?" Lottie asked Kate and Laura one day on the way to French class.

The girls looked uncomfortable. "We were discussing whether to go to the special services at the Baptist Church," Kate admitted.

"I suppose I could give myself an 18th birthday treat and go along too," teased Lottie. "Poking fun at sermons is always good for a laugh."

Her friends looked embarrassed and changed the subject. They were even more embarrassed when Lottie appeared at the church, took a seat right in the front row, and turned around and winked at them!

"I must be losing my touch," Lottie thought, as the service went on. "I've not wanted to burst out laughing once so far. What a waste of time!"

That night she tossed and turned and turned and tossed. At last, she rolled over to think. "I wonder if there is anything in Christianity. I stopped believing because I saw Christians arguing with each other when I was a little girl, but maybe that was not logical," she reasoned. "People might argue over a game, but that doesn't mean they should stop playing it forever."

By the following morning, Lottie eagerly desired to become a Christian. She got up early to attend a morning prayer meeting.

"What does she want?" asked Kate when Lottie arrived. "I bet she's looking for trouble."

But Lottie was not. She was looking for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. By the end of the day, she found Him. Lottie became a Christian.

Bucking the System

After graduation, Lottie used her new skills to teach girls at a school in Georgia. She was helping girls get an education, which hadn't been available to them before. But another idea burned in her heart. Lottie couldn't stop thinking about serving as a missionary in another land, as her cousin, Sarah, had done as a child. At that time, most Christian churches did not allow single women to become missionaries. Finally, in 1873, at 33 years of age, Lottie Moon found an open door through the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board. Once she arrived in China, it didn't take Lottie long to get busy.

"Why would you start a school for Chinese girls?" a friend asked. "They don't need to be educated to get married and have children."

"Education will help the girls," Lottie explained. "At the moment, everything is decided for them. They can't even choose not to have their feet bound, but if they are educated, they may let their own daughters run and skip with unbound feet. Girls who are educated will educate their daughters and things will change."

"Well, I don't think any girls will come," commented her friend.

She couldn't have been more wrong. By the end of the school's first year, Lottie had 13 pupils. Because nobody would pay to have a girl educated, she had to pay all the expenses herself: food, medicine, and housing. But she knew it was worth it, even if she had to do with less. Lottie served selflessly, through all kinds of trials, but it was her countless letters that may have had the biggest impact.

Impact on American Missions to China

In 1887, a group of ladies gathered for their Woman's Missionary Society meeting. "Did you read Lottie's latest letter in the Foreign Mission Journal?" asked Mary. "I admire anyone who can live in those horrible conditions. She has to sleep on the floor, travel to the roughest places, and work dreadfully long hours every day!"

"And just think how lonely she must get since no one there speaks English!" replied Bessie.

"Well, I don't suppose that bothers Lottie Moon—I hear she picks up languages like a child. But seeing the incredible needs of the Chinese people and having no help to reach them all, surely that is her greatest sorrow."

"Yes," replied Mary. "But what more can we do? We don't have much power or influence, and I've already given all the money I can."

Annie Armstrong turned the missionary journal over in her hand with a thoughtful look. "Lottie's letters have shown us the importance of missions work."

"That's so," agreed the others.

Annie continued, "And she's certainly shown us that women can do things we never thought we could. If Lottie's letters have accomplished all that, then why don't we write letters to the other women's societies and all work together to help her? I believe we could raise $2,000, which should be enough to send two new missionaries."

The ladies did just that. Their handwritten letters went out to a thousand Baptist women's groups. They collected over $3,000 and sent three new missionaries to China. That was a lot of money then, worth about $100,000 today.

Except for a few visits back to the United States, Lottie Moon ministered in China for the rest of her life. She started schools, shared the Gospel in various villages, and helped raise the conditions for missionaries. The offering that was begun by the Baptist Women's Missionary Union is still collected every year as the "Lottie Moon Christmas Offering." It is the largest single missionary offering of that denomination each year.

Make It Real! Questions to make you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.

1. As a young girl, Lottie Moon rejected Christianity. Do you have questions about faith that sometimes make it hard to believe? Whom can you talk with about your questions?

2. Lottie Moon helped the people of China, but she also helped raise the living conditions for missionaries in general. Why were both important?

3. Did you know that countries such as France, England and even the United States are now considered mission fields? Why do you think that is?

4. What types of hard circumstances do you think missionaries face today? What can you do to help missionaries?

5. Have you ever written a real letter to someone? How is a letter different from e-mail? Can you write a letter that would encourage someone in his or her faith?

Suggested reading:

1. Howat, Irene. Ten Girls Who Made History. Light Keepers, Christian Focus Publications.

2. Benge, Janet and Geoff. Lottie Moon. Christian Heroes: Then and Now, YWAM

3. Jackson, Dave and Neta. Drawn by a China Moon. Trailblazer Books, Bethany House.

("Lottie Moon: The Southern Belle Who Went to China" first published August 10, 2010)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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