On Sept. 15, 1887, a diminutive woman named Charlotte Digges Moon, known to Southern Baptists as “Lottie,” sat at a rough hewn table in a modest hut in China and penned a letter that would forever transform the Southern Baptist Convention.
In that letter, Lottie called for prayer and financial resources that would ensure the advancement of the gospel. At the time, the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) had a limited number of global missionaries, but Lottie was thinking bigger — much bigger. She envisioned a day when Southern Baptists would present the gospel to the uttermost parts of the world, but she also knew it would take significant financial resources to do so. With prayer and generosity in mind, she wrote:
“Need it be said, why the week before Christmas is chosen? Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?”
Stories abound from people who knew Lottie giving testimony to her feistiness. Knowing what we know in hindsight, it was more her passion for the gospel that fueled Lottie’s vision and leadership for the future. Her call for prayer and financial resources is as relevant today as it was 133 years ago. Fortunately, Southern Baptists wisely followed her lead and eventually formed two significant giving opportunities to accomplish her goal of gospel proclamation: The Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
The Cooperative Program is how Southern Baptists decided 90-plus years ago that we as a network of churches could most consistently and effectively give financially to ensure the advancement of the Gospel within our states, across our nation and around the globe. I’ve often wondered if our forefathers could have ever imagined the global impact that single decision would make in Southern Baptists staying the course as a Great Commission people.
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions (LMCO) goes beyond Cooperative Program support for our missionaries and is also a lifeline for funding and sustaining missions overseas. Our more than 3,600 overseas personnel depend on LMCO for ministry support that includes vehicles, housing, equipment and ministry budget among other needs. This offering means everything to them financially. As a result of generous giving by Southern Baptists, our missionaries can spend their time preaching the gospel “over there” rather than being home raising support.
International missions have changed immeasurably since Lottie so faithfully served, but two things that haven’t changed is the need for vision and leadership. Fortunately, we as Southern Baptists have someone at the helm of the IMB who shares Lottie’s vision to reach the nations with the Good News of Jesus Christ and is a leader with the drive to get us there.
When Dr. Paul Chitwood was named the new president of the IMB nearly two years ago, I admit I had some mixed emotions. Paul is a dear friend. I knew I’d miss his friendship and comradery from among the ranks of state convention executive directors. Paul led Kentucky Baptists well for several years. He and I have prayed with and for each other, and together with our wives, have enjoyed rich fellowship that has been soul reviving.
However, while I knew we were losing a great state convention leader, I knew we as Southern Baptists were gaining a great leader and advocate for the Great Commission. Paul and I served together as IMB trustees while we served as pastors, and we advocated for the IMB while serving as state convention executive directors. He’s been a seminary professor and served a term as the IMB’s trustee chairman. Paul was the perfect choice when IMB trustees tapped him to become their next president.
This is a landmark year for our flagship mission board as the IMB celebrates its 175th anniversary. As Southern Baptists are currently in the middle of our LMCO giving emphasis, we can take great comfort in knowing that every penny given through the LMCO will be used to support our Southern Baptist missionaries around the globe as they extend the Great Commission work of our local churches to the ends of the earth.
But Tennessee Baptists can also take great assurance in knowing that we have a fellow Tennessean leading the IMB with great integrity, passion and biblical commitment. As a pastor, state convention leader and seminary professor, Dr. Chitwood comprehensively understands the missional heartbeat of our denomination. He is as unquestionably committed to global missions as Lottie was to China.
It’s because of my own love of missions and for Paul Chitwood that I challenge Tennessee Baptists to be sacrificially generous with your giving to the 2020 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
If every Tennessee Baptist gave just $20, which is less than the cost of a couple of tickets to see a movie (and who’s spending money on movie tickets these days), collectively, we would contribute approximately $20 million dollars to global missions. And think, if every Southern Baptist followed our leadership of generosity, then collectively we could contribute more than $320 million to the LMCO, shattering the 2020 goal of $175 million.
Tennessee Baptists, we have an opportunity to do something extraordinary for the Kingdom of God in a year fraught with challenges and uncertainty. Let’s join our hearts and generosity with the vision and leadership of people like Lottie Moon and Paul Chitwood and let’s reach the nations for Christ to the glory of God.
It is truly a joy to be on this journey with you.