For Southern Baptists, Lottie Moon and Christmas go together as naturally as presents and wrapping paper. But many of us have not considered the reasons we connect Lottie Moon and our Christmas offering to international missions.
Lottie’s earthly life both began and ended in December. She was born on December 12, 1840, and she died seventy-two years later on December 24, 1912. Those dates strengthened her connection to the annual offering for missions, but they are not the reason the offering is received at Christmas.
Quite simply, the reason we have a Christmas offering for missions is because it was Lottie’s idea. She advocated for it thirty-five years before her death. Lottie wrote many letters from China, some of which were published in the Foreign Mission Board’s journal.
Lottie was a woman with numerous gifts, but none was greater than her ability to write with clarity and conviction. Many a spark from Lottie’s pen in northern China lit a fire in the United States. The spiritual power of her words motivated countless women and men to greater involvement in getting the good news of Jesus Christ to the unreached.
“The spiritual power of her words motivated countless women and men to greater involvement in getting the good news of Jesus Christ to the unreached.”
One particular letter, written on September 15, 1887, had a profound impact that resonates even today, 130 years later. Lottie had been reading the minutes of the Southern Methodist Woman’s Missionary Board. She was deeply impressed that those women gave six thousand dollars to missions during the course of the previous year.
This substantial sum was significantly greater than anything Baptist women were giving. She noted their efficient organization, but the secret of their financial generosity lay in their spiritual commitment to prayer and self-denial.
Rational Reasons for a Christmas Offering
These Methodist women set aside the week before Christmas to pray for missions and practice self-denial in the spending of money on personal wants and needs. The prayers increased their desire for Christ’s kingdom, and their self-denial increased their funds for generous giving to the spread of Christ’s gospel.
Lottie, who was never above using guilt trips for the right reason, looked at the Methodist plan and giving and wrote, “Doesn’t this put us Baptist women to shame?” She then gave us the clear rationale for scheduling the proposed missions offering at Christmas, writing:
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?”
Her letter was published in America in December of 1887. Lottie’s idea might never have gotten off the ground, however, had it not been for Annie Armstrong. Annie, who lived in Baltimore, Maryland, was a leader of the new Woman’s Missionary Union.
She took Lottie’s suggestion and gave it legs. In the following year of 1888, the first Christmas offering for missions was scheduled. Annie wrote—by hand—one thousand letters to promote the offering. She also sent out thirty thousand offering envelopes and thousands of other supporting materials. Everyone was thrilled with the result: $3,313.25!
The Christmas Offering Broadens
Initially, the proceeds were focused on funding “helpers” for Miss Moon, but the scope of the offering grew. For decades it was known as “The Christmas Offering for China.” Gradually, its proceeds began to be used beyond China in other mission fields.
Lottie’s death on Christmas Eve of 1912 further solidified her connection to the offering. The year after Lottie Moon’s death, her memory was called forth to stimulate greater missions giving. Finally, in 1918 the Christmas offering received another lasting link to Lottie.
In that year, the venerable Annie Armstrong spoke from her retirement, “It was Miss Moon who suggested the Christmas offering for foreign missions. She showed us the way in so many things. Wouldn’t it be appropriate to name the offering in her memory?” Southern Baptist women loved the idea, and Lottie Moon’s name was permanently affixed to our Christmas offering for foreign missions.
Through the years Lottie’s life and words have continued to inspire Southern Baptists to greater giving of our lives and money to the cause of Christ. 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. . . . How many there are among our women (and I would include men), alas! 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 in bringing back a lost world to God . . .
So this Christmas, in response to God’s great gift of his son Jesus to save sinners like us, may we fervently pray and generously give in order for others to be introduced to him.
David J. Brady is the pastor of Christ Community Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Mount Airy, North Carolina. He was born in Guyana and raised in Belize, where his parents served as Southern Baptist missionaries. David is the author of an evangelistic book entitled, The Gospel for Pet Lovers. He is currently working on a book of short historical biographies of missionaries who have served with the Foreign Mission Board (today known as IMB).