RICHMOND, Va. -- As Southern Baptist congregations across the United States receive gifts for the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, reports filtering into the Richmond, Va., headquarters of the International Mission Board reflect the passion those churches have for a lost world.
Many Southern Baptist churches still are in the process of receiving the 2002 offering, which has a goal of $125 million. This year's offering is even more critical than usual because the number of Southern Baptists answering God's call to overseas missions service is increasing faster than giving from the churches.
The reports range from large congregations that report the biggest offerings to smaller congregations whose gifts reflect a sacrificial heart for missions. One such church -- First Baptist Church of Bellbrook, Ohio, which averages 55 in Sunday school attendance -- reported an offering total of $11,200. "And we won't finish collecting until this next Sunday," said pastor Jim Gifford.
What all the reports have in common, however, is that sacrificial giving follows naturally when God's people get personally involved in missions outreach and catch God's heart for a lost world.
A PASSION FOR MISSIONS
A passion for missions -- not just a dollar goal -- sent the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering ingathering at Grove Avenue Baptist Church soaring more than 25 percent over last year's.
Representatives of 36 Sunday school classes lined up during the morning worship service Dec. 8 to deliver the missions offering each class had raised. Including gifts received in the offering plates, the one-day ingathering brought in $111,770.90. The Richmond, Va., congregation received another $32,000 the next Sunday.
A group of ninth- and 10th-grade boys raised $615. One children's class gave $1,132. The preschoolers -- perhaps with a little help from their parents -- gave $1,824.
One class of 35 adults had set a goal of $6,000 but gave $8,600.
"Our class is made up of ordinary people who have mortgages and teenagers. A few of them couldn't afford to give anything," said Mark Snowden, who teaches the class. "About half of them weren't even Southern Baptists until this year. I had to explain who Lottie Moon was and how she sacrificed for the Chinese people she loved.
"I had them write on a slip of paper what they thought the Lord was leading them to give, and everyone was amazed that our goal came out to $6,000. The class dug in and really gave sacrificially."
All together, the congregation bettered its 2001 ingathering by 25.6 percent. It wasn't competition to reach a goal, however, which motivated the ingathering, said missions pastor Don Phelps, a former Southern Baptist missionary to the Philippines.
"I challenged people to lay aside what they gave to the missions offering last year and go before the Lord and say, 'What do you want me to give?'" Phelps said. "It's a faith offering. That's what pleases God, that we pray as Sunday School classes, as individuals, and that we give in faith.
"That's the focus, not the dollar goal. We're not goal-driven. We're passion-driven."
A week earlier, 42 missionaries had shared their testimonies with the Sunday School classes, helping class members sense the passion they feel for the lost world. Several of the classes plan to keep in touch with and pray for "their" missionary during the coming year.
Grove Avenue has ranked among the top 100 churches in total dollar giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for the past two years. Much of the credit for the church's love of missions goes to their former pastor, Ron Boswell, said current pastor Mark Becton.
"Ron was a former International Mission Board missionary to Brazil," Becton said. "His missions-hearted leadership led the church to raise the bar on its missions giving.
"Today we received 74 percent of our $150,000 offering goal," Becton added. "More has been pledged and more will be given. By God's grace, we will reach our goal so that all peoples may know him and bring him glory."
MORE THAN AN OFFERING
Calvary Baptist Church of Winston-Salem, N.C., doesn't see the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering as an annual obligation. For them, it's a chance to be part of what God is doing on the global scene.
This year, Calvary's offering goal was $300,000. On Dec. 8, church members gave almost $230,000. The next Sunday, they surpassed the $300,000 goal by $5,000. They expect to exceed $325,000 before the month is finished.
Pastor Al Gilbert told the congregation that the offering is an opportunity to join God on mission -- an opportunity for which he will hold his followers accountable.
Gary Chapman, the congregation's senior associate pastor, challenged members to be faithful stewards this year and give their largest Christmas gifts to God. Giving expensive gifts to family and friends is fine -- as long as God receives the greater gift through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, he said.
Gilbert, who was installed as pastor in November, praises Chapman and pastor emeritus Mark Corts for helping the church understand that the Kingdom of God is larger than the local church. That mindset has helped members exceed their offering goal year after year.
In both 2000 and 2001, the congregation gave more to the Lottie Moon offering than any other church in the Southern Baptist Convention.
"So often people assume that our gifts are given from a limited resource pool," Gilbert said. "But when people open up their hearts and give from the blessings God's given them, it changes the way they look at life."
Every December, the 6,100-member church spends one weekend emphasizing global missions -- listening to missionary speakers at a banquet, hearing members' reports from overseas volunteer trips and celebrating ministry to internationals living in their own community.
Then, on a designated Sunday, everyone in the morning service joins in the Lottie Moon March for Missions. Adults give their checks, children carry their bags of coins, and preschoolers wheel their offerings to the worship center in red wagons.
The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering isn't Calvary's only missions priority either. They're also committed to the Cooperative Program -- the way Southern Baptists combine their funds to support missions in the United States and around the world.
"It's a regular way to be involved in all spheres of missions, not just international," Gilbert said.
Calvary's members also are personally involved in missions, as well as generous in their giving. They reach internationals in their community through refugee programs, English as a Second Language courses and Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese Bible studies.
Each year, around 120 members participate in all kinds of short-term international volunteer trips. Businessmen serve as consultants in Japan and Asia; medical workers minister in other areas.
And members pray faithfully for the 27 overseas missionaries they know personally.
That personal involvement with missionaries helps Calvary members understand that when they give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, they're not giving to some impersonal mission board. They know that every dollar they give goes directly to support missionaries they know and others like them all over the world.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
After sending out two families as Southern Baptist missionaries in 2000, Cottonwood Baptist Church in Dublin, Texas, began to develop a passion for missions and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
The church adopted a people group and a missionary team in Asia -- and the up-close look at missions and missionaries led the church to put more focus than ever on the Lottie Moon offering.
"We want to be a part of what God is doing in the nations and the Lottie Moon offering is one of the best ways to do that," said Scott Sanders*, Cottonwood's minister of missions.
The interest in the Lottie Moon offering began to grow shortly after Sanders, his wife and another couple committed themselves to missions work two years ago.
While serving as missionaries in Asia, Sanders and his wife gained a deeper appreciation for the offering.
"Because of the Lottie Moon offering, I was able to travel freely wherever I needed to go to reach people," he said. "I didn't have to worry as much about the financial end of things."
In August, Sanders and his wife returned home to a supportive church.
"I think by seeing firsthand how the Lottie Moon offering helps missionaries, [the church] decided that was something we needed to be a part of. It gave us an awareness that this is a lot bigger than any of us."
As its interest in missions deepened, the church's attendance shot up from 250 people to about 650. And during that time, the church has sent 50 of its members on short-term mission projects. This year, the church plans to send three more families to serve as missionaries.
"God really moved us to going to the ends of the earth," Sanders said. "When we as a body committed to going to the ends of the earth and began saying, 'God we'll go where you want us to go, he filled up everything in between."
By Mark Kelly