George Green, Jr. was born in London on July 26, 1872 to George Green, Sr. and Charlotte Steadman Green. He had two sisters named Alice and Charlotte. After their mother died just before his fourth birthday, the three children were brought up by their Aunt Martha. His father later remarried and had three other sons, one of whom died in infancy.
The young George was greatly influenced by his godly parents. His father, a sculptor, was a committed Christian and a member of the Evangelist’s Clan of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London. The pastor there was none other than the irrepressible and indomitable Charles Haddon Spurgeon whose life and ministry greatly influenced the senior George Green.
Young George had a normal childhood and attended British public schools. He later trained to become a bookbinder and an account bookmaker by the age of 21. He loved sports and the sea but his father would not allow him to work as a seafarer.
George was born again at the age of 16 at a revival meeting on November 4, 1884. He was baptized into full membership of the Upton Baptist Chapel the following year.
As a beloved son, George never had any known disagreements with his father. When he received a telegram in January 1919 informing him of his father’s death, he had this to say, “Mail brought the sad news of Father’s death. I miss him greatly. His life and letters meant so much to me. He was a good man.”
Even though George’s father refused to have his son work with shipping companies, he supported him financially in his decision to go to Canada. He left on April 13, 1894. In Canada, his first port of call was Montreal where he soon began working with a company as a bookbinder. He joined the Olivet Baptist Church in that city. Wherever he went George was eager not only to join a Baptist church but also to be very actively involved in the life of the local congregation. As soon as he had settled in Montreal–a major francophone city in Canada–he enrolled in evening classes to learn French.
In 1895 a touch of flu landed him in the Montreal General hospital. He was treated by Dr. Reed, a member of his church, and convalesced in the home of another church family member. The compassionate care he received from these kind people was the initial seed that later inspired him to become a doctor.
Green lived for a brief period in Cleveland, Ohio and joined the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church where John D. Rockefeller was the Sunday school superintendent. Then he was in Canton where he became acquainted with congressmen William McKinley who was later to become the president of the United States. He joined the First Baptist Church in Canton. He returned to Montreal one year later.
Back in Montreal, Green was deeply involved in the ministry of the Young Men’s Christian Association and often joined groups traveling on the St. Lawrence River to distribute tracts to sailors.
Influenced by the ministry of Dr. Dodson, the former pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, who had become the pastor of Olivet Baptist Church, Montreal, Green moved to Woodstock, Ontario, in January 1897 to start his own bookbinding business. In Woodstock he met Mr. and Mrs. J. S. Sweet and their children, George and Lily, with whom a family bond was formed for life: their home in Canada later became the Green family’s Canadian home. In the same church Green met with professors at Woodstock Baptist College whose parents had been missionaries in India. They greatly influenced his interest in missions and ministry work.
Green’s bookbinding business flourished but his increasing conviction about being in ministry soon prompted him to sell it to attend Woodstock Baptist College, an affiliate of McMaster University. Taking full advantage of his excellent British public school education and the night classes he had attended in Canton, Ohio and Montreal he was able to pass the necessary examination which placed him in the senior class. He was thus able to complete his college education in only one year, graduating in May 1900, which was no mean achievement. He was licensed to preach by the First Baptist Church, Woodstock, in 1899.
He returned briefly to London where he was reunited with his parents and siblings. He had planned to go to McMaster University for graduate work but by the time he returned to Canada in January 1901, to his great disappointment, the university’s second term had already started. The university chancellor advised him to defer his admission until the next academic year. In the meantime Green accepted a position as a home missionary under the Ontario and Quebec Baptist Convention of Canada in the North Bruce Peninsula where he was in charge of two churches.
But going to McMaster was not to be. When Dr. George Cooper of First Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia was invited to First Baptist Church, Woodstock, to preach at the 75th anniversary of the founding of the church he told Green about the Medical College of Virginia based in Richmond. By this time Green was contemplating medical mission and felt led to attend medical school. He applied to the Medical College and was admitted.
Green entered the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond in September 1901. For four years he struggled to support himself through his studies and finally received his degree of doctor of medicine in May 1905. Only twice did he have to appeal for financial support from his father who graciously obliged him with a hundred dollars support from London on each occasion. While in college the “preacher-student,” as he was fondly known, was an active member of First Baptist Church, Richmond. At the Medical College, Green was reputed to be one of the ten best students in his class of 120 despite the fact that he had to provide for himself as a student and was actively involved in church ministry.
From June to September 1903, while a student, Green was the supply pastor of Park Avenue Baptist Church of Norfolk. Norfolk was a very important chapter in his life for this is where he met Lydia Barnes Williams, his future wife. She was a member of the Park Avenue Baptist Church in good standing.
In October 1906 Green completed an eighteen-month non-remunerative internship training at St. Vincent de Paul’s Hospital, Norfolk. On November 17, 1906, the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention appointed him the first medical missionary to Africa. He was ordained into the ministry on November 26, 1906.
He and Lydia were married at Park Avenue Baptist Church, Norfolk, on January 9, 1907. The newly wedded couple went directly from the church to the wharf to board the steamer from Norfolk to Richmond. They left Richmond for New York on January 17 and finally departed for Lagos on the steamship Carmania via Liverpool, England, on January 19, 1907. They arrived in Lagos on March 4 and finally in Ogbomoso on March 18. There they were warmly welcomed by Rev. and Mrs. Compere and their three daughters, the only missionary family in Ogbomoso at the time.
The hospital started in their home in Mission House 1. Patients sat under the flamboyant tree that served as a waiting room. The hospital later moved to the ground floor of House 2 in 1909 and then to a three-room house (House 3) where Rev. Dawes had lived. With a rapidly expanding work, thatched roof extensions were built on either side of the house to provide rooms for sick men and women. The hospital remained in this house for many years until the first set of buildings designed for the hospital was dedicated on July 4, 1923.
The Greens’ first patient was a little girl, about four years old, with severe burns and burn contractures that had caused significant deformity to one of her legs. The surgery was scheduled for the mission meeting time in May 1907. Rev S. G. Pinnock of Oyo mission station acted as the anesthetist. The surgery was success. The success of the first surgery on their first patient was a watershed for the budding medical mission. The fame of Green and his new hospital in Ogbomoso soon spread far and wide like bush fire in harmatan.
The hospital grew in leaps and bounds despite the fact that, in addition to full time hospital work, Green also directed the activities of the mission station at Ogbomoso and those of surrounding outstations and provided leadership for the budding Training School, predecessor of the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary.
Diligent and hardworking Green succeeded in the many tasks he undertook. At different times he served as a doctor, a preacher, a school administrator, an itinerant missionary, a treasurer of mission funds, and held different positions in the Nigerian Baptist Convention. He was the secretary and treasurer of the Baptist mission, the general secretary of the Nigerian Baptist Convention from 1935 and the president of the convention from its inception to Friday, April 21, 1944 when he graciously passed the mantle to Rev I. N. Paterson, his successor. Green was an excellent administrator and manager of men. Never was it recorded that he had any serious problem with the different groups he led at the hospital, the mission station, the theological training school or with the leadership of the convention.
The Greens were a considerate couple. When they arrived in Ogbomoso they settled into House 1, the Comperes and their three daughters occupying the one-storeyed House 2. Within six months of their arrival, the Wards, another missionary couple, left Ogbomoso for the U.S.A. on furlough. They returned a year later not only with a new addition to their family–a boy–but also with a new couple with four children of their own. The two families were to share House 2 but the Greens considered this unsuitable and graciously gave their more comfortable house to the Wards and shared House 2 with the Comperes.
Green worked courageously during the influenza epidemic of August-November 1918 and almost lost his life to the epidemic. Having taken care of hundreds of people at the door of his home, he eventually contracted the infection. Fortunately he did not die and no other member of his family was infected. At the height of the illness he refused to return to the United States believing that his days in Ogbomoso were not over and the Lord still had work for him to do. He made this decision despite the rumor that his illness was caused by Oro worshippers because he had interfered with proper celebration of the Oro festival, a pagan feast.
During the First and the Second World Wars Green left the safety of America on two occasions when he could have stayed home on extended furlough until hostilities ceased. During the yellow fever epidemic of June 1937 he took care of several ill missionaries and had the unenviable and difficult task of having to bury two young ladies, Miss Frances Jones and Miss Lucie Reagan, within two weeks. Nevertheless, he remained composed and carried out his difficult task with dignity at great risk to his health and that of his family.
Many buildings were erected in the fledging hospital under Green’s leadership. Under his tutelage many of the mission boys soon acquired a real education with many of them growing up to take responsible positions in the life of the convention.
As a physician he was committed to continuing his medical education and hardly ever went on furlough without seeking the opportunity to improve his medical knowledge and skills. He received the qualification of Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Edinburgh and Glasgow after passing the appropriate examinations which enabled him to join the British Medical Association in 1920.
He had an inquisitive and creative mind and was able to accommodate new challenges in diverse environments. He learned to speak French and Yoruba fluently. He was equally at home among the English, Canadians, Americans, and Africans.
Green was a devoted family man. Even though he was often separated from his immediate family by great distances he was constantly in touch with them. While crossing the Atlantic en route to or from Africa he always found the time to visit with his father, aunt, sisters and step brothers, and their families. He dearly loved his wife and there was never a single story of any serious disagreement between the pioneering duo. With Lydia, he was actively engaged in raising their family of four children from 1911 to 1922. He doted on their daughters. He gave them sound moral and secular education and was always there for them, ready to give up the personal comforts of having his wife with him so that she could be attend to the needs of the children. Once he had to return to the mission field alone so his wife could stay back and give needed support and attention to one of their daughters in her moment of need.
At the end of their service they had promised to attend the college graduation of their youngest daughter Charlotte. However Green had to be at the Baptist Convention meeting of 1944 in Lagos to hand over the presidency to his successor. As it was impossible to be at the convention and to make it home in time by sea to attend Charlotte’s graduation, they chose to complete their mission well by attending the convention where Green gave both the opening and closing prayers. Afterwards, in an extraordinary measure of appreciation, the Greens were airlifted home, all expenses paid, by the British Overseas Airline Corporation-the only time in their long African sojourn that they had bridged the Atlantic divide by air.
An excellent preacher, Green loved to preach and was given many opportunities to do so. In 1950 while visiting Shaki, Nigeria, after his retirement, he had to preach a sermon in Yoruba with a bad cold. The Holy Spirit took over and, in spite of his bad voice, forty people chose to follow the Lord at the end of the sermon. Once, while yet a medical student, he was invited to hold a two-week series of meetings at the Barton Heights Baptist Church. One meeting was so powerful that one entire Sunday school class made a profession of faith in Christ and joined the membership of the church by baptism.
Green was a lover of nature and an agricultural enthusiast. He took such interest in the yams grown around Ogbomoso that he took six varieties to America to be cultivated in Florida. In return he brought from the U.S.A. to Nigeria a number of seeds and fruit trees seedlings, including the Ogbomoso mango, orange, tangerine, avocado, pear, and grapefruit trees. In this way he taught that agriculture is a veritable means of proclaiming the gospel of our Lord.
Green was a statesman, wining and dining with the great and mighty in the land without compromising his integrity. District officers, residents, and the governor-general not only received him into their presence but opened their doors to him when he needed their help. He and his wife entertained men in high public positions in their home. Often times Green had to be involved in issues of the state completely outside his mandate as a missionary. In June 1935 during the commemoration of the Silver Jubilee of the reign of King George V and Queen Mary, Dr. and Mrs. George Green and Dr. and Mrs. E. G. MacLean were among the people who received the Silver Jubilee Medal with suitable certificates in honor of their meritorious services in Nigeria during the reign of the king and the queen. Green was installed as Baasegun of Ogbomoso (the chief medicine man of Ogbomoso), a well deserved chieftancy title. He used his diplomatic skills on many occasions to advance the mission work and further the cause of Christ.
Lydia describes her husband’s mastery of many tasks,
When I was in my teens, I said I did not want to marry a doctor, a farmer or a preacher. I married all three in one–and a surgeon to boot. Dr. Green was an ordained preacher, having been ordained at the First Church in Richmond, Virginia. He was a graduate of Virginia Medical College of Richmond. And when in Nigeria, we had to raise our own vegetables or go without vegetables. Why did I not want to marry any of these men? I was afraid of doctors. I did not want to marry a farmer as they must arise before daybreak and get to work; just too early for me who did not like early rising. I did not feel worthy of being a preacher’s wife.
Green was called to his heavenly home and reward on November 26, 1962 at the ripe old age of 90. He is survived by his dutiful and devoted wife of 56 years and his four loving daughters and their families.
Adapted and abridged from “A Eulogy to Dr. George Green, M.D., 1872-1962, presented by Dr. D. A. Gbadero at The Centenary Thanksgiving Service at Ori-Oke Baptist Church on Sunday The 18th of March 2007” by Mrs. Olabisi Chukwudile, DACB Project Luke affiliate, 2008-2009 and Director of the Women Who Care program of Children Evangelism Ministry International, headquartered in Ilorin, Nigeria.