After a brief teaching career in Cartersville, Charlotte “Lottie” Digges Moon spent nearly forty years (1873-1912) in China as a Baptist missionary. In an extraordinary life punctuated with selfless acts of devotion and faith in God, the teacher and evangelist paved the way for Baptists’ traditionally solid support for missions.
Moon was born on December 12, 1840, to affluent and staunchly Baptist parents, Anna Maria Barclay and Edward Harris Moon. She grew up (to her full height of 4 feet 3 inches) on the family’s ancestral plantation, Viewmont, in Albemarle County, Virginia. A precocious and irreverent child, Moon underwent a spiritual awakening at the age of eighteen, after a series of revivals on her college campus. Educated at Baptist-affiliated Virginia Female Seminary (later Hollins Institute) and Albemarle Female Institute in Charlottesville, Virginia, Moon received in 1861 one of the first master of arts degrees awarded to a woman by a southern institution.
Although she had several suitors, Moon was uninterested in marriage, feeling called to foreign mission work, specifically in the Far East. The field was closed to single women, however, and Moon reluctantly settled into a teaching career that took her to Cartersville, where she opened a school for young girls in 1871. There she joined the First Baptist Church and ministered to the poor and impoverished families of Bartow County.
By 1873 the Southern Baptist Convention had relaxed its policy against sending single women into the mission field, and on July 7 the Foreign Mission Board officially appointed Moon as a missionary to China. She reported to the North China Mission Station in the treaty port of Tengchow, and began her ministry by teaching in established missionary schools, but evangelism took her often into the countryside. In 1885, at the age of forty-five, Moon gave up teaching and moved into the interior to evangelize full-time in the area of P’ingtu. Throughout her missionary career, Moon faced plague, famine, revolution, and war.
Moon’s converts numbered in the hundreds, and the many letters she penned to the Foreign Mission Board and Baptist publications poignantly described the life of a missionary and pleaded the “desperate need” for more missionaries, which the poorly funded board could not provide. Then, in 1887, Moon wrote to the Foreign Mission Journal and proposed that the week before Christmas be established as a time of giving to foreign missions, and she dared Baptists to ignore this financial responsibility. The Woman’s Missionary Union, an auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention, was established the next year and collected enough money during the first Christmas to send three missionaries to China. Renamed the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions in 1918, it has since raised an amount that averages more than $20 million annually.
Alone in the interior and deprived of Western companionship, Moon increasingly retreated into the “inner chamber” of her heart, relying on the word of God as revealed to her in Scripture and developing a near mystical relationship with Christ. Immersed in the culture, Moon came to feel “as one” with the Chinese, and during a resurgence of famine in 1911 she gave all her food and money to famine relief. By the time her assistants in Tengchow discovered that she had been starving herself to feed the Chinese, she weighed a mere fifty pounds. Moon died at the age of seventy-two, on December 24, 1912, in the harbor of Kobe, Japan, while en route to America. The official cause of her death was listed as dementia.