Charlotte Digges “Lottie” Moon. Among Southern Baptists, hers is likely the most recognizable of all missionary names. Lottie, a missionary to China, inspired Southern Baptist women to organize and give so that more missionaries could be sent. She is, of course, the namesake of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering that continues to serve as a means to send missionaries to peoples and places around the world to this day.
Less well known, yet of great importance in missions history, is Sallie Little Holmes, who also served as a Southern Baptist missionary to China. Born in 1836, Sallie, or Sara Jane as she was formally named, was only four years older than Lottie. However, it was Sallie, who, along with missionary Martha Crawford, did more to mentor Lottie as a missionary than anyone else.
Sallie and her husband, Landrum, were appointed by the Foreign Mission Board in 1858 and arrived in China in January 1859. Less than three years later, Landrum was dead, having been murdered along with Episcopal missionary Henry M. Parker by Taiping rebels. Only a month and a half prior, Sallie and Landrum had lost their little daughter Annie. Shortly after Landrum’s murder, Sallie discovered that she was expecting another child. This time, it was a boy, whom Sallie would name Landrum after his father.
Sallie’s sister encouraged her to return home, saying that she may be of more use at home in Maryland than in China. In response, Sallie wrote, “I think I might probably be instrumental in the conversion of more persons at home than here, but if I went home for that and other missionaries acted upon the same principle I doubt if there would be a missionary left in China.”
Now a widow and single mother, Sallie remained in China, returning to the States only once in 1867 due to her sons’ illness. She sailed again for China in 1869, three years prior to Lottie’s arrival. She remained there for almost twelve more years until failing health caused her departure from China in 1881. Much of the intervening time was spent in “country work,” visiting hundreds of villages for evangelism and teaching. Former missionary Anna Seward Pruitt wrote that “Mrs. Holmes and Mrs. Crawford were tireless in visiting in the city and neighboring villages, giving the Good News in season and out of season.”
“I think I might probably be instrumental in the conversion of more persons at home than here, but if I went home for that and other missionaries acted upon the same principle I doubt if there would be a missionary left in China.” Sallie Holmes
It was estimated that Sallie and Martha Crawford had taken the gospel into “hundreds of villages and thousands of homes.” In the first six months of 1876, Sallie visited 118 villages. According to one biographer of Lottie, Sallie covered “as many as four hundred villages in a year.”
Strength and Passion to Serve
Lottie wrote years later that seed previously sown in the towns and villages was beginning to spring up. That seed was sown on numerous evangelistic trips to the many villages of North China—trips on which the two senior missionaries took Lottie under their wing and set the example for their young protégé.
On one such trip, Lottie wrote that at the end of the day, she (Lottie) “was so weary” she “could scarcely sit up, but Mrs. H chatted as if she were fresh.” On the following day, after finishing about sunset at the eleventh village of the trip, Lottie had enough and returned to the inn. Sallie, however, continued across the creek to one more village. Her enthusiasm did not seem to wane.
The March 24, 1880 entry in Lottie’s journal relates their experience on another trip to the villages. While stopped for lunch, several men and boys surrounded the ladies in order to watch them eat. Sallie finished her meal and used the opportunity to launch into a “vigorous attack on the catechism.” Lottie, for her part, admits that she “was not so good” and “stole a few moments to dip into a story” she wanted to read.
Thankfully, Sallie ignored the pleas for her to return to America after Landrum’s murder. Her love for the Chinese people and her commitment to her calling resulted in untold numbers of people hearing the gospel. It also set an example of faithfulness, patient endurance, and persistence for Lottie and many others to come, including us today.
Her example resonated in the development of the missionary whose repeated calls for more workers and the need for funds to send those workers resulted in an offering God has used to send thousands of missionaries to unreached peoples and unreached places within the century-and-a-half that has followed.
Scott Peterson serves as Associate Director of Global Research at IMB.
Find more on participating in global missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering here.