By Wanda S. Lee
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) — WMU and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering are celebrating their 125th anniversary this year! The first missions offering for international missions was the result of pleas from Lottie Moon to the women of the churches to send more workers to China to help share the Gospel with so many who had never heard.
The goal was set to gather enough money to send two women, but when the receipts were counted, there was enough for three. While the offering that began in 1888 did not carry the name Lottie Moon until 1918 — six years after her death — the purpose of the offering was closely tied to the reason WMU organized.
The women had heard the stories of missions life through the testimonies and letters of Lottie Moon and other missionaries. They realized the needs were great and God was calling them to do more. And so they organized.
Those early documents reveal “the women of the churches connected with the Southern Baptist Convention, desirous of stimulating the missionary spirit and the grace of giving among the women and children of the churches, and aiding in collecting funds for missionary purposes….” They organized to increase support for our missionaries and to raise awareness of missions needs within the churches.
It wasn’t long before the need for a systematic way of educating our children emerged, first with children (Sunbeams), then among the boys (RAs, Royal Ambassadors) and then among the girls (GAs, Girls in Action). Southern Baptist churches had a full program of ongoing education for the purpose of missions. The impact of those early decisions can best be seen in the lives of people since that day, both those who were called and went to the missions field, and those whose lives were changed as they heard the stories of Jesus. To this day, missionaries often share the influence of missions education on their personal call to missions service.
For example, Amanda Mellot knew God was calling her to missions during her years in GAs and Acteens. “I knew I loved Jesus and that there are people in the world who didn’t know Him,” she shares. “I was burdened at a young age for lost people in the world. GAs and Acteens were the foundation of my life; I knew I wanted to be part of what was going on in the world as God uses His church for His renown.”
Currently serving as an IMB journeyman in East Asia, Amanda says, “In GAs, I received a foundation of what the Bible says about missions. I learned a lot about missionaries and what they do around the world to share the Gospel. Then in Acteens, I got to put my knowledge to practice as we went out into the community and on missions trips.”
Looking back, she realized “it is important to encourage girls as they grow in their relationship with Christ … to follow what He says even if it goes against norms of society. GAs and Acteens are where I was encouraged to honor God with my life no matter what avenue is taken. This age in a girl’s life is so critical for how she will be when she leaves her family, goes to college or goes off to work. When she is firmly planted in the world, she will remember the truth of who God is when pressures of this life are faced.”
IMB missionary Susie Rain started her missions journey in Mission Friends, then GAs and Acteens. She says Bible verses “memorized as a GA still pop into my brain when I’m out doing ministry. It always surprises me when a verse comes to mind that will comfort someone in the midst of an earthquake or tsunami.
“GAs cast the vision for sharing the Gospel with your friends, family and beyond,” Susie continues. “Kind of crazy to think that something I learned in a small town in Kansas also works in spreading the Gospel in Southeast Asia.”
Amanda and Susie are just two examples among thousands today who are supported through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and our Cooperative Program gifts. They also represent many who felt the impact of missions education as a child.
They are our “Lottie Moons” of today; their story of faith and commitment to serve and share Christ with those waiting to hear can also be our story as we follow Christ each day.
Happy Birthday Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and WMU! May you continue to flourish and grow together until all know of the Savior’s love and forgiveness.
Wanda S. Lee is executive director/treasurer of Woman’s Missionary Union.