George and Antoinette Laty and their daughter, Ruth, in the late 1980s. (Photo: Dale Thorne)
If you grew up in a Southern Baptist church, you know Lottie Moon.
She was a missionary to China for 40 years and has come to personify the missionary spirit of Southern Baptists.
My friend, Mike Lee, pastored a church in Scottsville, Virginia, that was founded by Lottie Moon's parents in 1840, the year Lottie was born. One lady once told him, "The Catholics have Mother Teresa, but we have Lottie Moon."
In the mid-1970s, I attended Nazareth Baptist Primary School, a school that was founded by Southern Baptists but is now an independent private school and run by local Christians.
Every year during the Christmas season, our Bible teacher, George Laty, would share with us during chapel the story of Lottie Moon. He would tell us about her childhood and her sacrifice.
Kids were also given envelopes to donate to the Lottie Moon offering, which was mainly for needy families in the community.
We gave generously, but I am not sure we really understood the connection between this American missionary in China and giving money to needy people in Nazareth.
Because of the resemblance between Lottie and Laty, we used to call it the "Laty Moon Christmas offering."
Every year following the story of Lottie Moon, Laty would also share his own story.
He was born in Akko on the Mediterranean coast in 1924, and God saved him from death four times.
First, during the 1948 war he was captured by the Jews and sentenced to death, but he managed to run away with the help of a woman from the Red Cross.
He walked for three days without food or water to arrive at an Arab village, where they suspected he was a collaborator. He was sentenced to death again but was released after three days by a jailer who had a bad dream about him.
Laty eventually arrived in Nazareth and became a follower of Jesus.
His life was again at risk when a ship taking him to study in America encountered a storm. Laty went up the deck, prayed aloud to God and the storm stopped. The captain and passengers looked at him as if he were a prophet.
The final near death experience came when he missed an airplane flight only to discover later that it crashed into the ocean.
Laty later went through the hardest test a man can go through when his son, Samuel, died tragically from cancer at the age of 16.
He and his wife, Antoinette, demonstrated great faith with the loss of their son. When people came to offer condolences, they would encourage them and say in the words of Job, "The Lord gave me everything I had, and they were his to take away. Blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21).
Laty would share this painful story with us during the Lottie Moon campaign. Even though it is not very common in our culture to share stories of death and grief, he would share it to give glory to God.
The personal stories of Lottie Moon and George Laty were integral parts of the season of giving, but the real story is the leadership Laty demonstrated in fundraising during Christmas and the rest of the year for needy families.
Laty would give from his own belongings and funds, inspiring others to give. This is why students, parents and other members of the community were contributing to the Christmas offering.
He was known in town as someone who kept in touch with hundreds of needy families, visiting them often and providing them with supplies in the name of Jesus.
Laty was literally living the teaching of John the Baptist. "If you have two coats, give one to the poor. If you have extra food, give it away to those who are hungry" (Luke 3:11).
He also had a network of both Christian and Muslim businesses that he would partner with for his philanthropic project.
For example, he had an arrangement with a Muslim bookshop owner so that students sent by Laty to buy books and other school supplies would not have to pay. Payment was taken care of later by Laty with the owner providing a discount.
For many years, hundreds of families in Nazareth and surrounding areas would receive surprise visits from Laty with food and other supplies.
He was jokingly nicknamed "The Wailing Wall," as everybody with a problem would approach him and anybody who knew about a needy family would ask his help.
Laty had miraculous ways in helping so many people. He would arrange payment for tuition for needy students at school or secretly arrange payment of health insurance for families. He always handled these financial needs discreetly and shared about the love of Christ.
Laty was always full of joy. His life was a living testimony for the love of Christ that inspired so many people.
He passed away in 1993, but people in Nazareth and elsewhere continue to be inspired by his legacy of helping needy families around Christmas.
Bader Mansour is an executive with the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel. A longer version of this article first appeared on ABCI's news page. It is used with permission.