Every year during the weeks preceding Easter, churches across the Southern Baptist Convention are asked to prayerfully and generously give to what is called the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. Unless you were involved with the Girls in Action program as a child or with Women’s Missionary Union, you probably are not familiar with who Miss Annie, as she was affectionately known, is. Perhaps you are not sure why we give to this offering on top of what we are already giving in our regular tithes and offerings. Annie Armstrong initiated a phenomenal work over a century ago and we now have the privilege of being a part of its ongoing effort.
Annie Armstrong, in large part, was one of the primary architects of the twentieth-century Southern Baptist Convention. While we recognize her as a name for our Easter offering, we should acknowledge the grand role she has played in raising money for the sake of missions, both nationally and internationally, as well as the work she tirelessly poured into advocating for Sunday school ministry. At a time when women were known for creating separate societies and working against larger entities, Annie organized a work that was united under the Southern Baptist Convention and pursued to cooperate with the convention for greater efficiency. She was an unstoppable woman of action.
Ironically, Annie claimed that she could never be a Baptist but at the age of 20 she joined a Southern Baptist Church in Baltimore, MD which drove her right to the heart of missionary work. Annie’s passion for home missions was motivated by the people around her. She ministered in large part to mothers, immigrants, the underprivileged, the sick, African Americans, Native Americans, and later her Jewish neighbors. The year 1880 was a pivotal point in her life when she heard of destitute conditions and needs of Native Americans. Annie among other women, sent clothes to the Native American children enrolled in a mission school. Without this donation, the school would have had to close. Miss Annie taught children’s Sunday school for 50 years. She worked at the Home of the Friendless, where she served on the board for over 20 years. She also started the Ladies’ Bay View Mission which served the homeless and those struggling with addictions.
In 1888, Annie helped found the Woman’s Baptist Home Mission Society which later was renamed the Woman’s Missionary Union and served as its corresponding secretary for eighteen years. The Society’s original intent was to involve women in the support of the Home Mission Board (now known as the North American Mission Board). She spent a large amount of time handwriting letters in support of missions. She would write until her hand could no longer hold a pen. In fact, in 1893, she wrote almost 18,000 letters. Apart from writing letters, Annie wrote leaflets for the WMU as well as contributed to two mission publications, Foreign Mission Journal and Our Home Field.
In 1887, Lottie Moon had been faithfully serving in China for over eleven years without taking a furlough. At this time, Lottie refused to leave unless a replacement could be found but limited funds made this impossible. Lottie wrote the Baptist women of Virginia requesting that they take a week of prayer before Christmas and consider taking up a special Christmas offering for missionary work. Armstrong wrote letters to all the societies, asking them to contribute to the first Christmas offering, which resulted in $2,833.49 for Lottie Moon in China. This was enough to send three missionaries to assist Lottie Moon although Lottie originally hoped for only two. After Lottie’s death, Annie made this an annual practice across the convention and had it named the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. During Armstrong’s tenure, total receipts for the Foreign Missional Board (now known as the International Mission Board) increased from $86,000 to $315,000.
In 1895, Armstrong led the WMU to donate $5,000 to help reduce the Home Mission Board’s $25,000 debt and stave off the withdrawal of missionaries from their mission fields. In response, the WMU instituted a Week of Self-Denial as a time of praying for and giving to home missions. Since that time, a week of prayer and a home missions offering have continued. In 1934, in observance of Annie’s endeavors to raise support for missionaries as well as her contribution and passion for reaching people for Christ in America, the SBC started the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. This offering has supported and continues to support thousands of missionaries and church planters across North America who have dedicated their full time service to reaching the lost.
Annie Armstrong passed away on December 20, 1938, the year of WMU’s 50th anniversary. Her tombstone reads “She hath done what she could.” And now it’s our turn to do what we can.
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