The loss of life in China in the first decades of the 20th century would have been much greater, without emergency relief programs funded by Christians in the United States and Britain, and administered by missionaries. In 1906 one Christian periodical raised and forwarded $450,000 in gold. Upwards of two million lives were saved. Many impressed Chinese came to the missionaries, asking, "Tell us about your religion."
Too often the money was not available from home, and missionaries were helpless to prevent mass starvation. They had only their own small salaries for purchasing food. Some hastened their own deaths by going without.
The most celebrated martyr to hunger was Lottie Moon, a household name among Southern Baptists today. Each Christmas Southern Baptist women in 35,000 American churches gather an offering in Miss Moon's name for foreign missions.
Born and reared in Virginia Baptist aristocracy, Lottie Moon was self-willed and rebellious through most of college. Surrender to Christ was not easy. Of her conversion she said, "I went to the service to scoff, and returned to my room to pray all night."
Her younger sister Edmonia went to China first. Charlotte went to Cartersville, Georgia, to teach. There she sought out destitute families for whom she bought clothing from her own purse. One morning the pastor spoke on the text, "Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest." At the close of the sermon the young teacher walked down the aisle and declared, "I have long known God wanted me in China. I am now ready to go."
She joined Edmonia in 1873 at Tengchow in northern Shantung Province. Edmonia was later compelled to leave China permanently because of poor health. Charlotte gave herself without reserve to her teaching and evangelistic work and to pleading for new workers from the homeland. She sometimes struck sparks in letters to her Board. "It is odd that a million Baptists of the South can furnish only three men for all China," she wrote once. "Odd that with five hundred preachers in the state of Virginia we must rely on a Presbyterian minister to fill a Baptist pulpit here. I wonder how these things look in heaven. They certainly look very odd in China -- but the Baptists are a great people, as we never tire of saying in our associations and conventions, and possibly our way of doing things is best!"
When more men finally were appointed, the decision was made that women should not share policy making with them. Miss Moon promptly submitted her resignation over the issue, and officials backed down.
In 1887 she was preparing to leave for furlough when two Chinese men arrived. They had walked 115 miles to seek a teacher. There was no one else to send, so she went. This was the year when she suggested that Southern Baptist women designate a week of prayer and offerings for missions the week before Christmas. "I wonder how many of us really believe that it is more blessed to give than to receive," she challenged.
She was now facing persecution and hatred for being a foreigner. Frequently she was called "Devil Old Woman." After receiving a death threat, she underlined this sentence in her copy of the "Imitation of Christ:" "Thou oughtest so to order thyself in all thy thoughts and actions, as if today thou wert to die."
She survived through most of the Boxer Rebellion before agreeing to evacuate to Japan for a few months. In 1911 came the Revolution, followed by famine. The Chinese churches did all they could. Miss Moon regularly gave a large part of her salary. She wrote to the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board again and again. Each time the reply was negative. The Board was heavily in debt and could hardly pay missionary salaries. Not one cent had been budgeted for famine relief.
She wrote a nephew, begging him to speak with his pastor about a local church offering. She told of mothers eager to give their children away and warned that "unless help comes, from one to three million must perish from hunger. One penny a day up to the next harvest will save a life. How can we bear to sit down to our bountiful tables and know of such things and not bestir."
The famine worsened. Her appeals to the homeland continued to receive no response. She drew out the last of her savings from a bank in Shanghai to send to relief workers. "I pray that no missionary will ever be as lonely as I have been," she wrote in her bank book.
Fellow missionaries began noticing that she was behaving strangely and appeared befuddled. They sent for a doctor. One look told him she was starving to death. Indeed she had vowed to eat no more, so long as her Chinese friends were starving.
Gentle hands gave her nourishment and put her on a ship for home with a missionary nurse escort. En route, the ship stopped at Kobe, Japan. There on Christmas Eve night, 1912, she lapsed into unconsciousness. The nurse saw her lips move and bent to catch the name of a Chinese friend. Her frail, thin, almost transparent hands were moving, clasping and unclasping in the Chinese fashion of greeting. She was saying goodbye to old friends. Or was she saying hello? Finally her hands grew still, her breathing stopped, and she was in the heavenly company.
After cremation (required by Japanese law) her ashes were delivered to Virginia and buried under whispering pines. At the head of her grave her family placed a marble stone with the inscription:
LOTTIE MOON 1840--1912
FORTY YEARS A MISSIONARY OF THE SOUTHERN
BAPTIST CONVENTION IN CHINA
"FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH"
Her home church hired an artisan to design the figure of a beautiful woman in graceful, flowing garments, walking through a field of lilies, one hand clasping the Word of God to her heart, the other holding high a blazing torch. On this he inscribed in gold lettering:
GO YE, THEREFORE, AND TEACH ALL NATIONS
Back in China her Christian friends erected their own memorial stone:
A MONUMENT TO BEQUEATH THE LOVE OF
MISS LOTTIE MOON
AN AMERICAN MISSIONARY
THE CHINESE CHURCH REMEMBERS FOREVER
But her greatest memorials have been the numbers of young Christians who have been challenged by her life, and the annual week-of-prayer-offerings taken in 35,000 Southern Baptist churches every year for foreign missions. In 1976 the collection amounted to almost thirty million dollars.