CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – Lottie Moon was in a worship service at what’s now First Baptist Church when she heard God's call to missions, prompting her to leave Cartersville for China 150 years ago.
The 4-foot, 3-inch firebrand would go on to become a giant in the world of international missions, inspiring countless Southern Baptists to take the gospel to the nations while at the same time anchoring this Georgia community’s commitment to share the gospel globally.
“I don’t know that anybody has had as big an impact on missions as Lottie Moon,” said Lauren Sullens, president of the Georgia Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union. “She has inspired so many people to either go into full-time mission work or to support full-time mission work around the world.”
Perhaps nowhere is Lottie Moon’s legacy so profoundly felt than in and around Cartersville on the northwest edge of the Atlanta metropolitan area where she heard God's call "as clear as a bell."
As the sesquicentennial of the start of Lottie Moon’s 39-year missionary career quietly passes, her legacy is still impacting lives in a city that has changed dramatically since 1873 when she left to deliver the gospel to the nations.
Now, the nations are coming here.
Once largely homogeneous, the Cartersville area is becoming a melting pot of nationalities. At last count, 44 languages were being spoken in the area.
“God is bringing the nations to us,” said David Franklin, mission strategist in the Bartow Baptist Association based in Cartersville. “Lottie Moon left Bartow County years and years ago to take the gospel to the world. Now, God has the world coming to Bartow County.”
The entire state of Georgia, with its robust job market, is drawing immigrants from around the world. More than a million current Georgia residents were born in other countries, according to the Washington-based Immigration Policy Institute. With that in mind, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board has put a major emphasis on sharing the gospel with immigrants through its Mission Georgia initiative.
Mission Georgia funds a multi-faceted approach to evangelizing the state. That includes helping immigrants learn English, find jobs, and acclimate to the culture.
In doing so, Georgia Baptists are shining the light of Christ into the homes of many families that had never seriously considered Christianity.
That’s true for some of the international refugees who came to the Cartersville area in recent months. Tens of thousands have come to the U.S. in recent months, including some 1,500 who settled in Georgia.
Within the Bartow Baptist Association, churches responded with hospitality and generosity to the newcomers.
“There’s a big team of people here helping them to find homes and jobs, to learn English, to get driver's licenses, to get their kids enrolled in school,” Franklin said. “People from multiple churches are involved. This is bigger than one church.”
Franklin said he’s thrilled that his churches have ministered to immigrants just as Lottie Moon would have expected them to.
“It goes back to the DNA of Bartow County,” he said. “The mission of our churches has been to not just touch the state, not just to touch the nation, but to touch the world.”
Franklin credits Moravian missionaries, who arrived in Bartow County in the early 1800s to share the gospel with Native Americans, for initially setting the community’s spiritual temperature.
“They created a heritage that has lived on to today,” Franklin said.
The spiritual flames were further fanned in 1870 when then-Cartersville First Baptist pastor R.B. Headden fell under conviction, realizing that he hadn’t been doing enough to reach other cultures with the gospel. He began preaching about the importance of “winning the heathen” to Christ.
Lottie Moon was among the people listening to Headden’s sermons, and her life was forever changed in a way that has impacted the world with wave after wave of missionaries following in her footsteps.
The U.S. Census Bureau has reported that more than 350 languages are now being spoken in the U.S., making it one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world.
“If we win these people to Christ, they can bridge back to win people to Christ,” Franklin said. “So, missions are no longer just about sending; missions are also about receiving.”
Sullens said people who come to the U.S. and become followers of Christ tend to be very effective missionaries when they return to the countries of their roots.
“They have fewer barriers to overcome,” she said. “They know the culture. They understand the context. And they’re more likely to be received by the communities they return to.”
Churches in Bartow County, Franklin said, are keenly aware of the stakes. That, he said, is why they have joined together in prayer and cooperative ministries to get the gospel to immigrants.
They’re helping immigrants learn English. They’re teaching them to drive in a country that has very different traffic laws. They’ve even created a community garden and opened a soccer field and park for them.
Franklin said the churches in his association, like Lottie Moon herself, are willing to do whatever they can to shine the light of Christ for all to see.
“There’s a different spirit in this community than any other place I’ve lived,” Franklin said. “It’s not that other communities are bad, but here we’ve been working together in significant ways for a long, long time.”
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