A mighty fortress is our God. A bulwark never failing; our helper He, amid the flood of moral ills prevailing; for still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great. And, armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal. *
These words of Martin Luther from the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” were words that inspired Kelsey Lambert throughout his life.
Kelsey Lambert was born on February 23, 1942 in his home town, Degema, (Atala) in Degema Local Government Area of Rivers State, Nigeria. He was born into the families of Lambert and Inegba Eremoni, both of Degema town. The name Kelsey was given to him at his birth by Jim Kesley, a European who was the chairman of the region of Degema at the time. This name inspired him to be determined and to want to become the chairman of his Local Government Area, an ambition which he later realized. He grew up in Degema, where his main occupation was fishing and hunting animals. His hobbies were wrestling, storytelling, singing and cooking.
He attended New Jerusalem Baptist Church Primary School in Degema, from 1952 to 1961. He was converted in 1959 while in primary school, and was baptized in 1960. He entered the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary in 1964, where he obtained the Certificate in Theology in 1967. He started his secondary education in 1969 at the Baptist High School in Borokiri, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, and completed it in 1974, obtaining the General Certificate of Education (G.C. E.) ordinary level qualification. In pursuit of further education, he gained admission into the University of Port Harcourt, Port Harcourt in 1985, and graduated with a B.S. in geography in 1989.
In 1962, Kelsey Lambert married Adokiye Ada Lambert (now deceased) at Degema and the marriage was blessed with three children: Ohovere Mary Lambert, Kakumuswei Boy Lambert and Inume Lambert (now Mrs. Ogbowo).
A Baptist presence had already been established in Port-Harcourt before the Nigerian civil war, and was being led by two missionaries, Miss Dale Moore and Miss Josephine Scaggs, as far back as the 1950s. The Mission then acquired two plots of land at No. 4 Owhonda Street, Mile 3, Diobu, Port-Harcourt, but they were only able to put up a partially completed cement-block building. Other church properties consisted of ten Broadman hymnals, thirteen Sacred Songs and Solo hymn books, eleven benches, and a polished wooden pulpit which was donated by the missionaries. However, the Nigerian civil war dealt a fatal blow to the church, its properties, and its members. The members were scattered and the two plots of land were lost because the purchase documents were destroyed. The only property of the church which survived the onslaught of the civil war was the old wooden pulpit.
After his graduation from the Seminary in 1967, Lambert went to Port Harcourt just before the Nigerian civil war, and joined the Biafran Army. After the war, he returned to Port-Harcourt with his family in December of 1968, where he met three notable Baptist ministers: Rev. C. T. T. George, Rev. R. E. Ofuoku and Rev. R. O. Oteh. He approached Rev. Oteh and told him of his burden to work for the Lord and to start a church. Rev. Oteh then gave him some background information about the First Baptist Preaching Station. After that interaction, Rev. Oteh encouraged him to resuscitate the church. Lambert made serious attempts to recover the church land, which was already occupied by other people, but he did not succeed because the original purchase documents could not be found. With a burning vision to re-establish a Baptist presence in the Port Harcourt area, he turned his attention to the Amucha City Hall, an abandoned property which was unused at the time, and which had been turned into a sort of public toilet by the people. He personally cleaned out all the human waste and started worship services there in early 1969 using the old wooden pulpit recovered from the former church site.
Around the year 1972 or 1973, the owners of the Amucha City Hall came back from Imo State after the war and insisted that the hall was their property. Lambert negotiated with them and encouraged the small congregation to purchase the property. This was done, and a church was started in the hall. This church, which was later known as Central Baptist Church, initially consisted of three members: Kesley Lambert, his wife Adokiye, and their young son, Kakumuswei. Within a short time however, Lambert was able to locate other Baptists living in the area and the membership of the church started to increase.
As the church membership increased, various departments were created under leadership initially appointed by Lambert, who was the pastor, but later appointments were made by election. Lambert’s exemplary leadership led to the growth of these various departments. Within a short time, the Women Missionary Union (WMU) grew so strong that it was split into five groups: the Virtuous Women, Esther, Deborah, Divine, and Dorcas. These were arranged in terms of age so that all women of all ages would be reached effectively. Other organs of the WMU, such as Lydia’s (young unmarried ladies), the Girls Auxiliary (young girls), and the Sunbeam Band (children) were also eventually established.
The leadership of the Men’s Missionary Union (MMU) passed from Lambert to other members of the church in succession, and this department fared quite well, leading to the Royal Ambassador arm of the church. The Royal Ambassador group was quite functional and also inaugurated chapters in other churches in the area: Siloam and Rhema Baptist Churches, Dale Moore Baptist Association, and Rivers Baptist Conference. The Royal Ambassadors of the Central Baptist Church had performed excellently on several occasions at the Baptist Association, and on the Conference and Convention levels. It is said that the Conference Royal Ambassadors Parade Squad is never complete without at least three members from the Central Baptist Church.
The Sunday school department initially had only one class which was taught in Pidgin English by Lambert himself, and which was later split into two classes, Adults and Children. In the course of time, the classes grew to a total of nineteen classes comprised of nine indigenous languages classes and ten English speaking classes. This was done to allow for the full participation of all members, irrespective of their level of education. It is noteworthy that the language classes were not named after the various languages, but named after missionaries and other people who had made remarkable contributions to Christianity in the area. It was done this way to encourage members of the classes to aspire to the qualities and vision of those persons after whom the classes were named, people such as Miss Dale Moore (the Moore Class), the Paul Class, the Ajayi Class, the Aphiphen Class, the Rev. Oteh Class, and so on.
Initially the church training department suffered from the general problem of people not being responsive to evening worship services in the church, but it later received a boost through the introduction of house fellowship groups, which brought church training closer to the members. Another area which recorded significant development during that time was the youth fellowship. Lambert started youth activities in the 1980s when the youth population became impressive, and it received a boost and even more vibrancy in the 1990s. The impact of these vibrant youth fellowships extended beyond the confines of the church to the Nigerian Baptist Convention. Central Baptist Church youths have had the privilege of holding leadership positions not only at association and conference levels but also at the convention level.
As a lover of music, Lambert organized the first choir of the church, encouraging men and women to join. He taught music and led in the singing, and as talents were discovered, he encouraged them. Several people got involved, and some who became prominent in the church choir were: Mr. Godwin Uhrorhowhq, who served for over twenty-five years as leader of the music ministry, and Preye Miebal, who developed chorus singing in the church and served as assistant choir master for a period of over ten years. From Lambert’s humble beginnings, three groups of choirs were born: the Magnificent Choir (Sanctuary Choir), the Hosanna Singers, and the Glorious Hallel. The Sanctuary Choir, now known as the Magnificent Choir, has been invited several times by the conference, the association, and the convention to render special music during their respective sessions.
Increase in church membership, departments, and organizations meant that effective counseling and guidance was needed. To meet this need, Lambert led the church to ordain the first group of deacons in 1983. Some years later (1998), another group of five deacons was ordained to complement the diaconate. He also led the church to plant and organize two churches in the area: Siloam Baptist Church Azuabie, Port Harcourt (Rehoboth Baptist Association), 1991; and Zion Baptist Church, Port Harcourt (Dale More Baptist Association), 1997, all in Rivers Baptist Conference.
Pastoral training also increased under Lambert. Through his nurturing, guidance, and counsel, several youths responded to God’s call and were trained as pastors of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. Many of them excelled in their calling, including: Rev. Wisdom O. Asita (former Rivers Baptist Conference secretary); Ben G. Avor (pastor, Carson Memorial Baptist Church, Port Harcourt); John Jacob (pastor, First Baptist Church, Jesse); pastor Helen Olomu, (lecturer, Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso); Elami Oziegbe (chaplain, Avenue Baptist Church School, Warri); Olaide G. Adeleke (pastor, Graceland Baptist Church, Port Harcourt); Ugochukwu Amesi (pastor, Blessed Baptist Church, Omagwa, Port Harcourt) and Ezekiel Nwachukwu (pastor, First Baptist Church Okoragu, Ahoada).
By 1990, an increase in church membership prompted the church to consider enlarging the auditorium. In order to reach this goal, members were encouraged to contribute to the purchase of various building materials, and they did this sacrificially. Children gave as well, as many pledged their meager allowances. Lambert led in the work at the building site, getting involved in all the labor. The members emulated him, and the work was completed in record time. Lambert pursued his vision for Central Baptist Church vigorously, contributing much to mission and church growth.
He was a good preacher and teacher of the Word of God, and he identified the talents and spiritual gifts of church members and developed them. In addition to being a pastor and leader of the WMS, the choir, the MMU, the Sunday school, Church training and so on, he also had people who could manage these organizations and even preach sound sermons. Nevertheless, he was fully in control of the pulpit. In spite of having people take over organizational and departmental leadership from him, he personally attended their meetings occasionally, so as to provide guidance when and where necessary. He would listen to their discussions, make contributions, and encourage them. He took a special interest in the Sunday school to ensure that the spiritual diet of the church was balanced and healthy. He loved children and took a personal interest in them to such an extent that his house, the parsonage, became a nursery. He also took a personal interest in the members of his church: he knew them by name, he could identify their peculiarities, and he also developed ways to counsel them individually. He was truly a father and a pastor to them.
His major weakness was anger, and when he got angry, he could be very volatile and remain angry for hours. However, when the offender apologized, it would be over.
There were some challenges in Lambert’s life and ministry. When he started, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the church was so small that they were not able to pay his salary. One of the church members got him a job, and he worked for a few years. He later got another job with the Pan African Bank in Port Harcourt. He worked there for two years, but had to quit because the job did not allow him enough time for the ministry. Another church member advised him to resign and got him a job with the University of Science and Technology in Port Harcourt as a low level clerk, in 1976.
Meanwhile, the church began paying him a salary in the same year, but his salary was very low. In order to augment it, Lambert managed to buy a used car with the money he had saved from the bank job, and began to use it for public transportation. One day, he had a problem with the National Road Transport Workers Union (Drivers’ Association), and suffered serious humiliation as a result. The church considered this a disgrace, and subsequently raised his salary to two thousand five hundred naira per month. By way of contrast, at the time of his death the church was paying him twenty-five thousand naira. While on the clerk job at the university, he was encouraged to further his education, so he completed a first degree at the University of Port Harcourt in 1989. This qualification earned him a promotion to the post of assistant registrar in the university, a post that he kept until his death.
His ordination was delayed because he was combining secular employment with pastoral work, and he was considered a part-time pastor. Occasionally, he heard comments about this situation from some leaders of the church. Sometimes it hurt, sometimes he ignored them, and on some occasions he reminded them of why he had needed to combine secular employment with pastoral work, also reminding them that his secular work had not prevented him from doing his best in God’s service, as far as the church work was concerned. He worked for the glory of God, and achieved it even more than some who were full time pastors. One scripture that often inspired him in such situations was Psalm 23, which begins, “The Lord Is My Shepherd.” This was his favorite scripture and it was often sung by the choir at his request during Sunday worship services and on special occasions.
In 1994, he was appointed chairman of his Local Government Authority, and served for 2 years. During this period, from 1994 to 1995, he planted a Baptist church (Redeemer Baptist Church) in his home town, Degema. This church has grown over the years. He had problems with the leadership of the State during his tenure as the chairman of the Local Government Authority, but God took control and the issue was resolved. During this period of time he also lost his wife, who died after a brief illness. Three years later, he married Miss Victoria Johnson (a Liberian) on May 10, 1998. This marriage was not blessed with children.
Before his death he had already notified the church that he would be retiring in 2003, so the church began the search for an associate pastor. Three pastors were invited to preach a sermon. Lambert then took time to pray, and he then suggested one of the pastors who had preached a very sound sermon, convinced that he should be called. He tried to convince the church, and stated his reasons, but some people in the leadership and in the church at large did not agree with his suggestion, so he allowed the church to make its own choice. He led the church to call the associate pastor of their choosing, but insisted that he did not want the associate pastor to suffer like he had. He therefore led the church to make donations (giving from his own salary as well) for the completion of the parsonage that was under construction at that time, which was intended as a residence for the associate Pastor and his family. He was fully prepared for, and planning to receive the associate pastor in the fourth week of December, 2001. Unfortunately, he died in the early hours of December 7, 2001, three weeks before the arrival of the associate pastor, Rev. K. K Saleh. While taking a bath, Lambert fell down in his bathroom in the parsonage, which was on the church premises, and died instantly. He was buried on Saturday January 12, 2002 in Degema, his home town.
Helen Ewena Olomu
“Church History,” Central Baptist Church, Diobu Port-Harcourt. In program for appreciation service for ordination and dedication of church building, foundation, and stone laying of the education building, June, 2007.
Ibigba Gilbert (sister), interview by author, October 11, 2009, Degema.
Osuoagbo Gilbert (niece), interview by author, October 10, 2009, Degema.
Amakie Imoko (cousin), interview by author, October, 12, 2009, Degema.
Boy Kakumuswei Lambert (son), interview by author, September 21, 2009, Port-Harcourt.
Inume Ogbowo (daughter), interview by author, September 20, 2009, Port-Harcourt.
Awaine Osuamkpe, interview by author, September 19, 2009, Central Baptist Church, Diobu, Port-Harcourt.
Walter Hines Sims, ed, The Baptist Hymnal (Nashville: Convention Press, 1956).
This story, received in 2010, was written by Mrs. Helen Ewena Olomu, a Ph.D. candidate, as part of an Interdepartmental Colloquium under the supervision of Dr. Michael L. Ogunewu at Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso, and submitted by Dr. Deji I. Ayegboyin, DACB liaison coordinator.