Prominent among the pioneering members of the Women Missionary Union (WMU) of the Nigerian Baptist convention was Adeline Adeotan Sikuade Agbebi (née Peters). She was born at Ilugun Abeokuta in September about the year 1862 of an Ife father and Egba mother. Her mother was a descendant of one of those Egba women carried away into slavery from Nigeria by the Portuguese. The mother was later liberated and taken to Sierra Leone where she was trained by the missionaries who later effected her return to her home town, Abeokuta. Her father, an Ife, also came in contact with the early missionaries. This must have made it easier for her parents to place their daughter Adeline under the influence of the missionaries in the course of her training right from the cradle.
Adeline Adeotan was sent to school early to get the best training possible at that time. She was reared and educated in the schools of the Church Missionary Society (CMS). She attended first the local day school and later was sent to the Female Institute of the Church Missionary Society. Afterwards she took a teaching job at the Christ Church School, Lagos also known as Faji Elementary School St. Peters.
She met a man named Vincent David Omojola at Faji Elementary School in about 1880. David Omojola was the son of an Anglican catechist at Ilesa, though he spent most of his formative years in the home of his father’s cousin named Lewis Green. As a devoted member of the Baptist Church, Green was committed to the evangelism of the denomination. This influenced David whose friendship with Adeline later resulted in their marriage in September 1880 at Christ Church, Lagos (now Cathedral Church of Christ). However the family later changed their name from Vincent to a native name, Agbebi, and thus became known as Mr. and Mrs. Agbebi.
It was discovered that Adeotan Agbebi was pregnant with David’s child before the solemnization of the marriage and this annoyed the CMS authorities who dismissed them. The duo, however, refused to be discouraged. They worked for a short while at Catholic and Wesleyans schools; later they took up work with the Baptist Elementary School of Lagos. The dismissal from CMS was sort of a blessing in disguise for the couple. This is because they came into a personal relationship with Christ the same year they started working with the Baptist mission. This deep spiritual experience happened during the revival program organized by W. J. David from August 19 to October 7, 1883. The preacher was John T. Richardson, an evangelist from Liberia. The revival was held in the burnt-brick sanctuary built by Rev W. W. Colley in 1877. Adeotan Agbebi was baptized alongside her husband on April 18, 1884. Shortly afterwards, on May 20 that same year, she lost a son. However, this did not stop them from serving the Lord. After her conversion and baptism she began to serve alongside her husband in the Nigerian Baptist Convention, especially among women.
Adeotan Agebi entered whole-heartedly into several pastoral and missionary ministries of her husband. She became a teacher, a crusader, a newspaper editor and columnist, a poet and, in general, a humble servant of God. When the family resources were insufficient, she established a laundry business to meet their needs. She led in the teaching of the young and old converts. She taught them how to remain obedient and steadfast in the Lord after conversion. She contributed to the work of education by starting Hope Institute on April 3, 1888, though this was later closed down. Later on she saw the need to help the children who were far away from existing schools and started a school that was called Mrs. Agbebi Infant School. The school expanded into an elementary school and when the Baptist School started a few years later, she allowed the two schools to be joined so that the pupils might receive necessary advantages.
Apart from contributing in the sphere of education, Adeotan Agbebi has the reputation of being the founding mother of the Women’s Missionary Union in Nigeria. Although the Women’s Union originated in two places virtually at the same time, she was the first woman to lead the movement. Her branch of the Women’s Union took place first on April 14 or 16, 1916. The second of its type was organized by Reverend and Mrs. Scott Patterson at Ogbomoso later on July 7 of same year.
Adeotan Agbebi gathered ninety-four women from the three existing Baptist churches in Lagos at that time namely, First Baptist Church Lagos, Ebenezer Baptist Church Lagos, and Araromi Baptist Church to form the Women’s Society of the Baptist Church. She called it the Women’s League, which was a term borrowed from the Wesleyans. Eventually, it became necessary to unite all the existing women’s societies. Therefore at the sixth annual meeting of the Nigerian Baptist Convention on March 14, 1919, men debated on the importance of having and allowing a centralized women’s league; and it was decided that it should start. Without wasting time, women picked their seats to start a meeting immediately. At the end of the meeting Adeotan Agbebi was appointed the first president. The name of the society was later changed from Women’s League to Women’s Missionary Union.
Adeotan Agbebi travelled all over the country, spending days often on foot, visiting, organizing and encouraging women’s societies in Baptist churches. In addition, she was already holding simple services with little children calling them Sunbeam services before the Women’s League was organized, so it was easier to recognize Baptist children alongside with the women’s society. She continued to recognize them as a result of the interest she had for them. She gathered them together in her house and sometimes under the shade of tree to teach them scriptural verses and choruses.
She continued her ministry until old age crept in, and then she retired to her church where she continued her work with women and children. She died on a Sunday in August 1936 at around age seventy-five. This was after she met with the Sunbeam Band and the Girls Auxiliary of the church. On the day she died, she received the Lord’s Supper in her church (Araromi Baptist Church).
Bolaji Yetunde Olaomo
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This article, received in 2011, was written by Mrs. Bolaji Yetunde Olaomo, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Ibadan. It was edited and submitted by Rev. Dr. Samson Adetunji Fatokun, Senior Lecturer in Church History and Pentecostal Studies, Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, West Africa and DACB liaison coordinator.