WICHITA, Kan. (BP)—Lottie Elizabeth Sandusky charmed everyone she met in her mere 13 months of earthly life. After her unexpected death Feb. 5, she continues to touch lives through a memorial fund established by her parents, Ethan and Maggie, with the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
Lottie, her name evoking Southern Baptist missionary Lottie Moon, is drawing people across the world to Jesus.
David Crowther, pastor of Wichita, Kan., Immanuel, where Ethan serves as student and life groups minister, described Lottie at her memorial service as an “incredibly joyful baby” with a “big adorable toothless grin whenever you looked at her.” Nursery workers loved taking care of her. Her immediate and extended families adored her.
“Lottie was a gift from God,” her mom, 32-year-old Maggie Sandusky, said. She was an easy baby compared to her 4-year-old twin sisters, Cora and Adelaide, who spent a month in NICU as infants.
“She was just a very joyful baby. We had the twins first and they were a blast in their own way, but they were hard … they were twins! And so we just always laughed about how (Lottie) was kind of our reward, a very easy baby, very mild-tempered, easy to get along with.”
In early February, Lottie came down with the flu and was taken to the hospital twice during a short illness, first for a breathing treatment and then back overnight for two days. She was discharged the second time after her breathing improved enough that she no longer needed oxygen and had slept well the previous night. Doctors sent the family home with breathing treatments to administer. Lottie slept peacefully in her crib after her scheduled treatment, having enjoyed a reunion with her doting big sisters.
Her parents discovered the unthinkable the following morning.
“She just passed in her sleep,” Maggie said. “We went in early, thinking she was still asleep, to give her the next (treatment) and…found her. She had probably passed a couple of hours before.”
Their hearts broke.
Lottie the missionary
Little Lottie Sandusky was not specifically named after the legendary Southern Baptist missions pioneer Lottie Moon, but Ethan and Maggie didn’t mind it when people made that connection.
“We liked the name,” Maggie said. “We both have a heart for missions and had grown up hearing about Lottie Moon, and so it was a fond correlation. We had older-style names for both of our older daughters.
“We grew up doing Mission Friends and GAs,” she continued. “It was definitely a big part of our lives and something we wanted to instill in our kids. These (missionaries) are heroes in our family.”
Both Ethan and Maggie have served as short-term missionaries overseas—Ethan in Belize; Maggie in Brazil, Mexico, Czech Republic and Poland; and both in England.
During the Christmas season, the twins relished the frequent mentions of the “Lottie” offering (Lottie Moon Christmas Offering) at church.
“It was fun at Christmas as the twins both thought everyone was constantly talking about Lottie, our Lottie,” Maggie said.
When tragedy struck, the grieving couple thought of the Lottie Moon offering and the IMB as a trustworthy recipient for memorial gifts.
“As Ethan and I have talked about our goals for parenting—we serve in youth ministry… it’s been important to us that our goals for our kids not be just good grades and success. Our hope was that they would love and honor Christ wholeheartedly. We wanted to entrust our kids to God’s will, knowing that that could mean our kids could end up on the other side of the world rather than down the street with our grandkids.
“Lottie’s life hasn’t exactly gone the way we hoped and planned, but we believe she is loving and honoring Christ now more wholeheartedly than we ever could have imagined,” Maggie added, her voice cracking.
The Sanduskys hope that gifts to the IMB in memory of Lottie will make a global impact for eternity, she said. The Lottie Sandusky campaign was started to do just that and to facilitate good coming from tragedy.
“We just wanted it to be able to go and allow God’s word to spread around the world,” Maggie said.
At their request, Maggie’s mother, Tammi Ledbetter, contacted IMB President Paul Chitwood to set the wheels in motion for the account. The fund’s goal of $13,000 would remind all of Lottie’s 13 months of life. Chitwood and his wife not only matched the grandparents’ initial gift, but he quickly connected the Ledbetters, former editors of the Southern Baptist Texan, with IMB advancement officer Chris Kennedy and then tweeted news of Lottie’s death and the fund.
Contributions started flowing in. To date, the trust fund has received more than $15,000 and continues to grow.
“Lottie’s parents recognize her time on earth as a gift of God’s grace,” Kennedy said about the fund. “We are humbled they would allow us to help steward that grace, so others can know Christ. Every cent given in her honor is sent overseas to support and sustain IMB missionaries serving the least reached peoples of the world with this same grace. I can think of no greater way to honor a life shared.”
Friends and family in many churches across the years where they served on staff or simply as members have embraced the challenge, including Fort Worth, Texas, Birchman; Nacogdoches, La., Calvary; and now Immanuel. Beaumont, Texas, Westgate (where the Sandusky grandparents have served for decades), and Fayetteville, Ark., First (where the Ledbetters are active members) have also prompted folks of every age—from children to 95-year-olds—to give anywhere from $13 to $1,300.
Ethan and Maggie have found comfort in the words of friends, some of whom they had not talked to since high school. Friends have called, written or messaged to express their condolences.
Folks like Texas pastor Bart Barber picked up on the tragic news and retweeted the request for prayer. Others like SBC President Ed Litton spread the request even further, and the story of Lottie quickly reached more than 100,000 people worldwide within 36 hours as friends and alumni from Southwestern Seminary, Ethan and Maggie’s alma mater, also shared the news. The Feb. 10 memorial service, livestreamed and archived by Immanuel, touched thousands.
“People … have been impacted by the witness of her service. As we’ve walked through this, we’ve just tried to point others to Christ who is our hope,” Maggie said, adding that family conversations have also occurred with their twins, who are facing things they were not expecting to face at their young age.
“This has given (the twins and others) the opportunity to see firsthand where our hope is. (Our faith) is not something we just say. It’s the only thing keeping us going,” Maggie said.
At Lottie’s memorial service, Ethan read from Psalm 119:25-32, noting that he and Maggie identified with the psalmist: “Our life is in the dust, and we are weary from grief, but here we have a choice. We can be angry. We can be bitter. We can curse God, but that will not bring healing. That will not bring peace.”
Indeed, as Ethan continued, he reminded the congregation that “there is only one place that we can go. And that is into the arms of our Lord.”
For more information visit https://www.imb.org/campaign/honoring-lottie-elizabeth-sandusky/ or call the IMB at 804/353-0151.