FRESNO—It started with a Facebook Messenger note from pastor Tito Villegas’ former college professor. He found a rare Lottie Moon doll among his father’s belongings and wanted to know if Villegas would like to have it—since Villegas was a vocal supporter of Southern Baptist missions.
Villegas said yes. Now he’s using the doll to help others develop their own zeal for Southern Baptist missions by displaying it at the California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC) offices in Fresno, where the CSBC staff hopes it will generate conversation about missions and ministries.
“I’m very blessed to be able to share that doll with the convention,” said Villegas, pastor of RISE Church in Fresno, “and to be able to use it in the future as an educational piece when we speak about Lottie Moon and the [Lottie Moon Christmas] Offering. I’m honored that the convention would display it like that.”
Villegas’ call to ministry led him to an intensive bachelor’s degree program at Fresno Pacific University in 2012-13. There he met Quentin Kinnison, a professor in the School of Humanities, Religion and Social Sciences. Kinnison kept up with Villegas following his graduation, including Villegas’ journey as a Southern Baptist church planter beginning in 2017.
Kinnison’s father is a retired Southern Baptist pastor and used the Lottie Moon doll over the years as a teaching aid. Going through his father’s belongings, Kinnison happened across the doll, made with a bisque face, real hair and authentic Chinese clothing to reflect Moon’s missionary context. Namesake of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions, Moon served as a Southern Baptist missionary to China from 1873-1912.
The doll was part of a limited collection of 1,000 similar dolls, according to an information sheet that came with the figurine. A man and his wife purchased 50 of them, giving away or selling most over the years. Approximately 20 remained when a 1994 flood submerged them in a downstairs storage room. Yet “true to the spirit of Miss Lottie,” the dolls floated to safety in their blue boxes, according to the information sheet. They were cleaned up, and one ended up in the possession of Kinnison’s father.
When Villegas received that doll in late July, he wondered how it could be used most effectively to advance the Great Commission. His friendship with CSBC Executive Director Pete Ramirez helped answer the question.
Ramirez is a member of RISE, and Villegas’ wife Deanna works in Ramirez’s office. So it seemed natural to loan the doll to the CSBC for display in the executive director’s office suite. Several people already have asked about it as they passed through.
“Tito received it and felt it needed to be on display here in our offices, not on a shelf in his home or office where it could not be seen,” Ramirez said. “The letter that sits next to the doll in a frame tells a neat story of the survival of the doll. Lottie Moon cared for people, and missions was her heart. To honor her in any way seems the right thing to do. The family who made and purchased and cared for these dolls for years deserve credit for the preservation and care.”
Each fall Villegas invites an International Mission Board (IMB) missionary to preach at RISE and promote Southern Baptist missions. Perhaps in the future, those mission promotion Sundays will include a bisque doll.
“I really believe in what we do as a convention,” Villegas said. “I believe in what we do at IMB and NAMB (the North American Mission Board). I just hope that this inspires people, if they’re called by God, to be missionaries.” -30-