Missions icon Lottie Moon shares story of her call to China in Dec. 3 chapel

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Laurita Miller portraying missionary icon Lottie Moon. Photo on left is courtesy of The Alabama Baptist Newspaper. Photo on right by Boyd Guy.

By Frank McCormack

Missions trailblazer Lottie Moon – portrayed by Laurita Miller – shared the story of her call to China during the last chapel service of the semester at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Dec. 3.

Moon offered NOBTS students a vivid picture of what a lifetime of faithful service to God looks like. She started with her call and the story of her first trip to China. Moon recalled how some of the other missionaries en route to China broke down into tears as they set sail. She saw the journey in a different light.

“I could only think with joy that my most cherished purpose was about to be fulfilled,” Moon said. “And in going … to serve my Lord in North China, I was simply going home. Home to the center of what I knew God’s will to be for my life.”

Moon’s first few years serving in Dengzhou, China, were “a kind of training period for me,” she said. She mastered the language and some of the dialects native to North China, thanks in part to the help of language student. She also faced some harsh treatment from the people in Dengzhou, which she later tied to the American style of dress she maintained while there.

Moon spent her first days in China serving alongside her sister, Edmonia. Unfortunately, Edmonia, due to illness, was forced to return to the United States a short time later, with Moon accompanying her. Moon said family and friends urged her to simply remain in the States.

“But you see my friends, it was God that called me to China, and a calling is not a little thing. A calling is not to be shelved because others don’t agree with your calling, or they’re afraid for your safety, or they want you to come and be their [spouse], or whatever,” she said. “So I chose to return to China at my own expense, knowing that I was completely dependent on my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for my sustenance and my direction.”

During those early years, Moon and other female missionaries became convinced that only women could reach Chinese women with the gospel. A gradual shift from school teaching to direct evangelism and church planting ensued. It was during this time that Moon began her letter writing campaign as she encouraged women Baptists in the United States to organize for the sake of international missions.

Around 1885, Moon moved to P’ingtu, China, to begin a more aggressive evangelistic work. There, she exchanged her American dress for indigenous clothes. The impact was immediate.

“For the very first time, I put on Chinese clothing. Do you know … the adults began bowing to me and would speak to me by my name. And the children – Oh! – the children began following me home,” she said.

Moon also saw a huge breakthrough in support from the States during her years in P’ingtu. In 1887, eight new missionaries joined her. And in 1888, Southern Baptist women voted to form the Woman’s Missionary Union. The WMU organized the first Baptist Christmas offering for foreign missions not long after. The $3,200 collected paid the passage of three women to relieve Moon in North China.

“And of course, I couldn’t leave. Someone had to train those women. Someone had to take care of those women,” Moon said.

Moon, except for a brief furlough in 1890, remained on the field despite war, famine and extreme poverty. And her faithfulness paid off. During her service in China, there were hundreds and even thousands of converts, and by 1909, “we had a trained, indigenous Chinese ministry in North China,” she said.

But by 1912, Moon herself experienced the mental and physical fatigue that haunted so many other missionaries in that time who journeyed to China. Late in the year, the decision was made to send Moon back to Virginia because of her failing health.

“They took my little bag of bones – there was 50 pounds left of me I am told – and took me to the ship and tucked me in a warm berth,” she said. “When the ship docked in Kobe, Japan, on Christmas Eve of 1912, Jesus came to meet the ship, and he took me home with him.”

Reflecting on her life of ministry, Moon challenged NOBTS students: “God carves out places for each one of his children to serve him. For me, it was China. For you, you will soon know. God asks us to serve him. We are to commit ourselves to him, and he expects commitment. He expects devotion. He expects sacrifice — at all costs.”

Laurita Miller, daughter and portrayer of missionaries
Laurita Miller, a Birmingham, Ala., resident and daughter of missionaries, portrayed Lottie Moon in the Dec. 3 chapel service at NOBTS. Miller’s parents were missionaries to Hawaii and later to Macau. Miller said she knew the story of Lottie Moon from a very early age.

“In GA’s growing up, we studied about missions and I learned about Lottie Moon,” she said. “She’s always been something of an icon in our family because of her great mission work.”

Miller attended Samford University, where she majored in both theater and psychology. Eventually, she began writing “biblical monologues” where she portrayed characters from the Bible. She then began portraying some missionaries as well.

“Back probably in the late 70s or early 80s, I started portraying Lottie Moon to support our Christmas offering in whatever church I was in,” she said.

Miller also portrays Ann Judson, William Carey’s sister, and women of the Bible including Mary Magdaline, Jesus’ mother Mary, Elizabeth, Priscilla, Sarah, Deborah, the woman caught in adultery, and the woman at the well.

“The most asked for thing I do next to Lottie Moon is a monologue on the life of Mary,” Miller said. “The name of the monologue is ‘Just one of God’s servants.’ It’s a 20 minute, interesting take on the life of Mary. It’s quite unusual.”

Miller said she also has a close personal connection to Lottie Moon. While serving in Macau, Miller’s parents traveled to North China in search of Moon’s church and home, which they found. To her knowledge, they were the first modern missionaries to visit Moon’s place of ministry.

“It was quite a feat in that day and age for my parents to make that journey, really without a Visa,” Miller said.

Miller portrays Lottie Moon for WMU and, four times a year, for the International Mission Board. She portrays Moon for every new group of missionaries commissioned to serve overseas. She also travels to churches, mostly in the South and Midwest, to give her Lottie Moon monologues.

Miller said the message and story of Moon’s conviction, obedience and sacrifice is just as relevant today as it was 100 years ago.

“Lottie Moon was the epitome of Christian sacrifice. I know that, in this day and age, we do have missionaries around the world whose lives are at stake. But most of us here at home live very content, complacent lives,” she said. “We have a world to win to Christ. He’s the only answer. I think it’s important we do everything we can to inspire one another to make the sacrifices necessary to spread the gospel.”

For more information about Miller, or to arrange to her to speak at an event or a church, contact her via email at laurita.miller1@gmail.com.