Three Ways Lottie Moon’s Calling Was Centered in Christ

Given what I know about Lottie Moon from reading her missionary letters and seeing her through the eyes of historians, it’s safe to say she wouldn’t like being the focus of this article, but I think she would agree with what it says. Hopefully . . .

Lottie Moon is most famously associated with the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering® (LMCO), an offering that she helped start by sending letters from China to her constituents in the States. Her challenging words and inspiring message paved the way for a special offering collected in December that funded the appointment of new missionaries.

But it was not just her words that affected change; it was that coupled with her example—a life fully devoted to Christ. As I study the life and ministry of Moon, I see three primary motivations that drove her with Christ-centered passion.

A Calling to Christ, Not Self

Lottie was raised in a life of privilege. She was well educated, excelled in academia, and was acutely aware of the challenges women faced, especially on the mission field. When she received her call to foreign missions at the age of thirty-one, she knew the difficulties she would encounter as a single woman on the field.

She was not opposed to marriage, but she also would not let her singleness stop her from faithfully following her calling. Her relationship with a former Baptist professor, Crawford Toy, is well documented, but there were two things about a relationship with Toy that caused conflict: calling and theology. It’s rumored that Toy sought appointment as a missionary to Japan at one point. Moon, discerning God’s clear focus for her to serve in China, did not oblige.

Furthermore, and more importantly, was Toy’s leaning towards liberal theology. Moon, the strong-willed, conviction-led woman that she was, could not reconcile Toy’s stance on evolution with the veracity of Scripture. She chose faithfulness to God’s Word over matrimony. When asked if she had ever experienced romance, Moon replied, “Yes, but God had first claim on my life, and since the two conflicted, there could be no question about the result.”

“She trusted God’s sovereignty, knowing the God who calls men and women to the mission field is the same God who brings a husband and wife together.”

Moon didn’t see singleness as a detriment to the work. She trusted God’s sovereignty, knowing the God who calls men and women to the mission field is the same God who brings a husband and wife together. Instead of forcing something she desired, she trusted God and sought to be used by him where she was. On July 7, 1873, Moon was appointed as a single missionary to China at the age of thirty-three.

A Calling to Christ, Not Comfort

Moon’s first few years in China were rough, but nothing compared to the hardship that would come. Even during the first Sino-Japanese War (1895), Moon would make regular trips to rural areas to share the gospel, learning that evangelism was the work she came to love. Believing she could have a greater impact to share Christ, she gave up access to Western comforts in urban China to move inland, where she was likely the first foreigner with whom the locals had ever interacted. There, she engaged in pioneer evangelism—sharing the gospel with people who have never heard it before. It was a bold move for a single woman at that time.

She took on the living habits of the local culture—another revolutionary move—by wearing Chinese robes and leading a simple life. After a while, the insults of “foreign devil woman” began to fade, and she was accepted as the “Heavenly Book Visitor” who “loved us.”

“She was driven by the joy of knowing she was fulfilling God’s purpose on her life.”

She had every opportunity to eradicate hardship by withdrawing from the field and returning home, but that was not God’s call on her life. Instead, she doubled-down, by God’s grace, and gave away all she had to tend to the physical and spiritual needs of the people. She was driven by the joy of knowing she was fulfilling God’s purpose on her life, saying “Surely there can be no deeper joy than that of saving souls.”

A Calling to Christ, Not Fame

Lottie was laser focused on the spiritual needs of the people, not on the circulation of her name. If she would have had a Twitter handle, her constituents in the States would have woken every morning to a feed lit up by requests on behalf of the people she served. Her focus was on others, not herself.

Her goal was action, not popularity, unless it meant the renown of Christ. This type of sacrificial giving was lived out daily in a context that most of us will never understand. She faced poverty and hardship at every turn, and it was Christ who sustained her.

She was motivated by a God-centered, God-given, and God-inflamed passion to name Christ where he had not been named. Her charge to the church was not “come and be like me,” it was a charge to remember the sacrifice of Christ who “paid it all.”

Lottie knew she had been saved by the grace of God and that her life was not her own. Her calling and motivation was centered in Christ. She was driven by her love for Christ and a passion to see his name known. For thirty-nine years, laboring in China, Lottie embodied the spirit of LMCO—Christ-centered sacrifice that fuels the work of missions.

Jack Swift is an IMB training strategist in East Asia where he serves on the student strategies team developing training for student and young adult missionaries.