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Faith on Mission

I.  Introduction:

 In the history of missions, there have been those who have gone and those who have stayed behind to support those who have gone. Both are absolutely necessary for the work to be done. Annie Armstrong was one of the more faithful numbered among the latter group. She stayed behind, but that does not mean that her work was either unimportant or done with no zeal. She worked hard for many years to see that others who had gone out would be well supported. After briefly considering her life, we will come back and look at how we can imitate her faith.

October 16th, 2011
II.  A Brief Biography:

 A.  Birth and Conversion: Annie Walker Armstrong was born on July 11th, 1850 in Baltimore, Maryland.  When she was only eighteen months old her father passed away, leaving her and her sister, Alice, to live with their mom (along with other siblings), which they did for the rest of her life and lived together for the rest of their lives.  Annie’s mother was faithful in the Baptist Church and raised her children to be involved as well.  In fact, they attended some of the early meetings of Southern Baptists that took place in Baltimore.  Although Annie was raised in Church, she was not converted until December 11th, 1870, being twenty years old at the time.

 B.  Mission and life: Annie’s mother was very involved in supporting foreign missions and Annie became involved as well.  At that time, mission societies were often formed to help raise support for missionaries.  After spending several years working with her mother in a society that supported foreign missions, Annie became interested in the work that was being done in America, particularly with American Indians.  Along with others, she formed “The Women’s Home Missionary Society of Maryland.”  Through her work in this organization she was asked to help organize the “Maryland Baptist Mission Room” which was a ‘reading room’ for various Churches throughout the state to come and receive resources about missions.  They gathered pamphlets and letters and whatever they could to help educate Baptists about missions.  She worked with other women in the Southern Baptist Convention to promote missions throughout the Churches of the Convention.

 From this work and what was going on in other denominations, Annie became passionate about organizing across the Convention.  Instead of having individual societies, she wanted to form one large society that would pool all its resources to support the Home Mission Board and the Foreign Mission Board of the SBC.  After struggling a few years to see this realized, in 1888 she helped form the ‘Women’s Missionary Union (WMU),’ which is still a part of Baptist life to this day.  She spoke at the Convention meeting when the WMU was formed and actually quoted from William Carey.  She said: “As a general organization, if we could adopt, not only with our hearts, William Carey’s inspiring motto: ‘Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God,’ we need not know failure.” 1  She was elected the Secretary and served in that position for many years to come.  

 Since the Union was involved in supporting a work for the Home Mission Board, she wanted to do something for the Foreign Mission Board.  When she contacted its leadership, she was told about some struggles that a missionary in China was facing.  That missionary was Lottie Moon (who we will be looking at more next week).  Lottie Moon had been serving in China for eleven years with poor health and without any furlough.  She did not want to leave China until some replacements were sent to continue the work in her absence until she could return.  In order to do this, about $2,000 dollars was needed.  Thus, Annie Armstrong began raising money to help Lottie Moon.  She came up with the idea of having a Christmas offering to raise money.  This was the beginning of the “Lottie Moon Christmas Offering” that still exists today.  They raised over $3,000 dollars and were able to send missionaries that allowed Lottie Moon to come home for a brief furlough after fourteen years of service in China.  In fact, both Lottie and Annie were present at the 1892 Baptist Convention where they celebrated one hundred years of foreign missions, tracing the beginning back to Carey’s leaving for India.  

 She was involved in various projects throughout her life to help raise support for missionaries both home and abroad.  One project involved filling boxes full of supplies that were then sent to missionaries on the frontier, particularly those in Arkansas and Oklahoma.  For some of these missionaries, this was the only support that they would receive throughout a whole year of service.  Some of the letters of thanks that she received from these missionaries highlight the importance of that work.  A pastor from Arkansas wrote to her and said: “You would have wept with joy unspeakable if you could have been where you could have heard the good things said about the Women’s Missionary Union by our poor preachers at the late session of our General Association.  The tears of gratitude flowed freely as they expressed their love and obligations to those who had so generously come to their aid.” 2

 C.  Death: After spending her life supporting missionaries, Annie Armstrong died on December 20th, 1938, being 88 years old.  Her last words addressed to the Women’s Missionary Union that she had so long served were this: “I hope they grow every year stronger and better.” 3  Before she died, she encouraged another lady serving through difficulties with these words: “I have always found that if one will go forward in faith, she will find the stone rolled away.” 4

III.  How can we imitate her faith on mission?

 Again, the thing that amazes me and encourages me about Annie Armstrong is that she was never trying to make a name for herself.  She was content simply serving in the background.  That did not mean that she was not a faithful servant in her local setting.  She taught Sunday School and labored among the lost in Baltimore.  But she was never what we call ‘a full-time missionary.’  At least, not in how we define it.  Rather, she served in all the ways that she could.  She said: “Let no false depreciation of yourselves cause you to miss the blessedness of spending and being spent in His services.” 5  Her tombstone reads: “She hath done what she could.”  I am not sure how to sum that up with one word, but we could call it self-denying faith.  She had a faith that spent its all on lifting up the name of Christ with no regard for her own recognition.  It is indeed interesting that we call our Easter Offering the ‘Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for Home Missions.’  May we have such a self-denying faith.  May our labor for the Lord in mission never be about us, but always about spending our lives in whatever ways that we can to lift up the glorious name of our Savior.  Amen.

1 Quoted in Elizabeth Marshall Evans, Annie Armstrong (Birmingham, AL: Woman’s Missionary Union, 1963), p. 46.
2 Ibid., p.73.
3 Ibid., p. 189.
4 Ibid., p. 187.
5 Ibid., p. 188.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 26 October 2011 )

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