MARION, Ala. (BP)--If Southern Baptists have a heroine, it's Lottie Moon.
Their annual Christmas offering for international missions is named in honor of this pioneer missionary who spent 39 years in China teaching the Gospel. Moon died on Christmas Eve, 1912, en route back to America. She had fallen into bad health after giving her food rations to hungry Chinese.
Students and faculty at Judson College in Marion, Ala., were surprised when the famed missionary interrupted the chapel worship service in early December to share her personal story. Actually, the missionary was played by Linda Harrison of Leeds, Ala.
Harrison is an employee of the Woman's Missionary Union in Birmingham and a member of the Bethel Baptist Church in Moody, Ala. She developed an interest in Lottie Moon after reading the biography of Moon by Catherine Allen. Inspired, Harrison developed a monologue and costume as Lottie Moon in order to take the missionary's story to Baptists around the state.
"I do my Lottie Moon monologue only a few times each year," Harrison said. "Southern Baptists begin to emphasize their Christmas offering after Thanksgiving, so the window is small. I did it once for a church in the spring, but that was out of the ordinary."
Harrison's costuming and makeup is so convincing that her own parents didn't recognize her. Her short stature also compliments the physical size of the diminutive Lottie Moon.
"I normally 'interrupt' a service when I'm scheduled to be Lottie Moon," she said. "The pastor will be speaking and I walk in unannounced. The congregation usually gets very quiet and they listen attentively. I generally time my monologue so that the pastor can do his usual sermon, so I try to fit in to the church's schedule."
Harrison believes her monologue opens the eyes of many who've heard of Lottie Moon but really don't know much about her.
"I consider it as a ministry, a way to individually promote the offering and give churches opportunity to get a clearer picture of what missions is all about," she said. "And it helps me support the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Any honorariums I get are given to missions."
For her Judson College audience, Harrison completed the monologue and then stepped out of character to draw lessons from the missionary's life.
"Some of you in this place might be hearing the call of God for missions," she said. "Our task is obey and be faithful."
John A. Broadus, a Southern Baptist leader in the second half of the 19th century, called Lottie Moon the "most educated woman in the south." Moon was a linguist, a teacher, a principal and a Civil War nurse. She also was proficient in six languages.
Moon went to China in 1873 and was shocked by the disease, poverty and opium addiction she saw and also by the widespread polygamy which caused many women to be treated poorly. She detested the ancient practice of foot-binding and the widespread worship of idols.
But Moon brought hope to the Chinese, Harrison said.
"Some called her a 'foreign devil' when she first arrived. She gently rebuked her name-callers," Harrison said. "On one occasion, she said, 'Why do you curse me? If I am a devil, what are you? We are all descended from the first great ancestor.' Before long, they began to call her the 'heavenly book visitor.' She went to remote villages and taught the Bible. She didn't see herself as a preacher, but as a teacher. She taught in homes and in the churches, even though the men and women had to be in separate rooms in that culture."
Moon implored Baptists in America to send more missionaries and more money to help the Chinese.
"There were never enough resources," Harrison said, "and some of the missionaries grew very depressed and didn't stay. It's a tribute that Lottie Moon had the tenacity to remain and serve the Lord the rest of her life."
The 2003 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering goal is $133 million, with a challenge goal of $150 million. The offering represents approximately one-half of the annual operating budget of Southern Baptists' International Mission Board.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: LOTTIE'S VISIT.