Thursday, December 21, 2006

Lottie's Letters

In John 20:21, Jesus said, "As the Father sent Me, so send I you." No one in Baptist life typifies faithfulness to this command more than Lottie Moon. Jesus left the glory of heaven to come into hostile territory to lay down His life for sinners so that we might be saved. Lottie Moon left the comfortable surroundings of Richmond and went to China in 1873, and there she lay down her life as well, that sinners might be saved. How grateful we ought to be for the saints of the bygone days who put pen to paper to leave us such a rich heritage of wisdom and inspiration. Lottie Moon was a letter writer. As some have postulated, if she was on the mission field today, she would probably be a blogger. And thank God that someone here in the U.S. had the foresight to preserve so much of what she wrote for the benefit of future generations. What a debt we Southern Baptists owe to one of our own -- Dr. Keith Harper of Southeastern Seminary for compiling those letters in his 2002 publication, Send the Light. Dr. Harper was my Baptist History professor, and a real gem of a guy, but more than anything, I thank him for the labor of love he poured into this book.

Last night, rather than giving my congregation one more sermon or devotional thought, I shared with them from a few of the letters of Lottie Moon found in this book. I will share a few exerpts here. You really should get the book for yourself and your church libraries to get the full effect, but these quotes will demonstrate why Southern Baptists collect an offering in her name every year at this time.

What we need in China are more workers. The harvest is very great, the laborers, oh! so few. Why does the Southern Baptist church lag behind in this great work?

A young man should ask himself not if it is his duty to go to the heathen, but if he may dare stay at home. The cammond is so plain: "Go."

Oh! that we had many active and zealous men who would go far and wide scattering books and tracts and preaching the word to the vast multitudes of this land. ... Why does our church lag so slowly on? Where we send one man, other churches send scores. ... I earnestly long for the time to come when the women of our Southern Baptist churches shall fully awaken to the great work of sending the gospel to the heathen women. Oh! that Woman's Mission to Woman might take hold of the affections of our sisters at home and that many more representatives might be sent to China and elsewhere. ... I believe that nowhere at home can a devoted woman accomplish more for God than here.

I know that the Board cannot send men & women until the churches furnish the money, & I fully agree with Dr. Yates that more should not be sent until the churches meet promptly their obligations to those already in the field. But is there no way to arouse the churches on this subject? ... Let not these heathen sink down into eternal death without one opportunity to hear that blessed Gospel which is to you the source of all joy & comfort. The work that constantly presses upon us is greater than time or strength permit us to do. ... I know that the Board would gladly reinforce us at once, but that they are powerless without the hearty cooperation of the churches. I have the most abounding confidence in the Southern Baptist churches if they only see their duty. The question is how to make them see it. I confess I know not how to answer that question.

On and on, I could cite more from her wonderful letters. But I fast forward to the end of her life. With near famine conditions surrounding her, Lottie Moon began to give of her own money and food to those around her. She developed a severe carbuncle on the back of her neck that grew to be greatly infected. Her mind began to fail her, causing her so much embarrassment that she feared facing even her closest friends. Arrangements were made for her return to the States via steamer ship, and she was to spend perhaps the remainder of her earthly days in the Sheppard-Pratt hospital, an institution for the mentally ill in Baltimore (actually more properly, Towson). I have visited that hospital, having pastored a church about 45 minutes north at Conowingo, Maryland for five years. But God, in His gracious providence, did not allow this dear saint to expire in those conditions. She boarded that steamer ship in China, with a missionary nurse by the name of Cynthia Miller at her side. In her final hours, at the harbor of Kobe, Japan, Cynthia Miller said that she "would look around and smile and work her lips as though trying to speak, then with great effort she would raise her hands and put her fists together as the Chines do to greet anyone and act as though she were greeting someone. Christmas Eve at one o'clock in the afternoon she fell asleep just before we sailed from Kobe." She was cremated at Yokohama, and her remains transported back via Miss Miller, where they were buried near her home at Richmond.

Southern Baptists, today, we have 5,500 missionaries walking in the footsteps of Lottie Moon -- giving themselves away selflessly for the salvation of those who have never heard the gospel. In the midst of our Christmas excesses, we must not fail to be faithful to provide for their support. I am glad to say, to the glory of God, that in nine years of pastoral ministry, the three congregations where I have served have never failed to meet our goal for the Lottie Moon Offering. In just two Sundays, we are within $800 of meeting it this year. So let us all continue to give, and continue to pray for the work that goes on. The sun never sets on the work of our International Mission Board personnel, and it must never set on our responsibility to hold the ropes of support for them. But is this all we can do? Can we only give and pray? Hard as those things may be for us, can we not do more? I remind you of Miss Lottie's words:
A young man should ask himself not if it is his duty to go to the heathen, but if he may dare stay at home. The cammond is so plain: "Go."

Can we not go? For a short term trip to labor along side of our mission personnel, or to go as career missionaries -- can we not go? Do we dare stay at home? Millions grope in darkness, hungering for Thy Word, so set our souls on fire Lord, set our souls on fire!

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