Alma Hazel Rohm fondly referred to as “Mama Rohm” was the longest served American missionary from the Southern Baptist Convention to Nigeria. Though an American by birth, she was a Nigerian by choice, by mission and by purpose. She lived the greatest, the longest, and the most meaningful part of her life in Nigeria. She eventually died and was buried by her choice in Nigeria. Without a doubt she was a devoted and outstanding missionary with a caring heart. She excelled in evangelistic and missionary activities. She was an achiever, author, administrator, philanthropist, teacher of teachers, educationist, and music legend.
Conversion and Education Background
Alma Hazel Rohm was born into a Christian family on November 11, 1925 in Waco, Texas, United States of America. She attended La Vega Primary School and La Vega High School in Bellmead, Waco. She followed her parents to Bellmead Baptist Church, Texas. At eight years old, she became so sick and sensed death was knocking at the door of her life. She then realized the need to be saved and to become a member of Christ’s family. During a revival program in her church, the Holy Spirit touched her heart. She surrendered her life to Jesus, became a full member of the church and she was baptized at the age of nine. After her conversion, she felt God calling her to go to Africa as a missionary and as a single woman. As she was reflecting on the task ahead in her mind, she continued her Secondary School education. At this stage, she made up her mind to serve the Lord as a missionary in Nigeria.
She received her University education at Baylor University, Waco and graduated with a Bachelors of Arts (Honors) in Education, English, and Biology in 1947. In order to fulfill her ministerial and missionary call, she attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas and graduated with a Masters in Religious Education (M.R.E) in 1949. While processing her missionary appointment with the Missions Board, she taught at Buckner Baptist Academy in Dallas, Texas for a year before her final appointment as a missionary to Nigeria in May 1950.
Decision to be a Missionary
Rohm departed the United States of America on July 15, 1950 and bade her parents, family, and church members goodbye for the sake of the gospel of Christ. She sailed on a cargo ship to Nigeria. The ship journeyed southward with stops at Daka, Senegal; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Monrovia, Liberia; Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire; Accra, Ghana; Benin, and Angola before it sailed northward and eventually stopped at Lagos, Nigeria.
Rohm arrived in Nigeria on August 16, 1950. She immediately attended the centennial celebration of the Nigerian Baptist Convention in session at the First Baptist Church, Ijaye Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria. At the Convention, she listened to the students of Baptist College Choir, Iwo as they sang so meaningfully and beautifully. The ministration of the Baptist College choir motivated her to request to be posted to Baptist College, Iwo as a missionary teacher. While the administrative process of her posting to Iwo was ongoing, Alma taught at Reagan Memorial Girls’ School Yaba for a session. In August 1951, she returned in an official capacity to the Baptist College to teach Organ, English literature and also to supervise students on teaching assignments.
A Teacher of Teachers
Rohm was a teacher and a teacher of teachers. She was a distinguished and exemplary teacher who worked tirelessly to train thousands of teachers. She trained so many Nigerians in all spheres of life. Many of her students also became teachers, lecturers, and professors in different fields, institutions, and universities. Apart from her contributions to the educational development of the nation, Alma Hazel Rohm was a dedicated teacher of the Bible. She taught Sunday School for many years. She read the Bible with great ardor, going through it many times on a yearly basis.
Never idle, Rohm was always reading and teaching, learning and developing others. She distinguished herself as an exemplary teacher and an effective administrator. She was very meticulous in all she did. She contributed immensely to the educational system of Nigeria through her books and teaching career. Some of the books she authored include My English Book for Nursery 1 & 2 (1995), My Science Book for Nursery 1 & 2 (1996), Music for the Church (1993), Noel, A History of Christmas Carols (1995), 306 Hymn writes [sic] (A Hymnody Book, 2001).
A Music Legend
Rohm loved music and was a skillful pianist and a versatile musician. For many years, she directed the Baptist College Choir, Iwo that ministered in different places and cities. The choir became so famous that the Baptist College choristers were invited by the Western Nigerian Broadcasting Station (WNBS) to record the Nigeria National anthem that was aired on radio stations at midnight on October 1, 1960 to usher in an independent Nigeria. At the request of the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), the choir also recorded indigenous Yoruba carols to represent Western State in a series of programs presented over a nine-state area in 1970.
Through the Nationwide Music Workshop that Rohm coordinated, she trained and produced the largest number of music directors and church organists for the Nigerian Baptist Convention. At the moment, the Nationwide Annual Music Workshop has become a national musical event that serves as the school of music for thousands of music lovers in all denominations in Nigeria.
For decades, Rohm was the organist and pianist for the College Baptist Church that was renamed Alma Rohm Baptist Church, Iwo in her honor on October 15, 1993. She contributed immensely to the music ministry of the Nigerian Baptist Convention. In June 2002, in recognition of her immense selfless service to the development of music ministry, the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, Ogbomoso conferred on her an honorary doctorate degree in divinity.
An Outstanding Missionary
Rohm was a faithful, outstanding, and committed Christian missionary. She sacrificed her all for the sake of the Gospel. When it came to in 2002, her passion, tenacity, and commitment was exceptional and commendable. She collaborated with students in street preaching, monthly village outreach, and frequent visitations to churches in neighboring towns. In her missionary endeavors, she faithfully associated with the people, dressing in Nigerian-African attire and eating customary meals of the people she ministered to.
Rohm’s compassionate involvement with the people and perseverance in service will forever be remembered by the Nigerian Baptists. Accidents and challenges of life could not stop her in fulfilling her mission for the Lord. She was victim of a ghastly motor accident on her way to the Nigerian Baptist Convention in-session in Port Harcourt in 1961. The accident damaged her backbone and almost made her permanently disabled. Instead of being discouraged, she remained focused and gained more strength for her missionary endeavors after her recovery.
In fulfillment of the missionary task, Rohm learned the local language of the people. She wrote and spoke Yoruba. She understood the language so well that she corrected her students’ Yoruba Lesson notes with ease. She respected and promoted the culture of the people she ministered to. This made the people love her so much and listen to her each time she preached the Gospel.
Awards and Recognitions
Alma Hazel Rohm’s selfless service was acknowledged and well appreciated by individuals, churches, associations, institutions, corporate bodies and conferences. She earned many awards and recognitions. His Royal Majesty, Oba Omotoso Abimbola II, Oluwo of Iwo Land conferred on Rohm the chieftaincy title of Iya Ni Isin Ilu Iwo (Mother in the Service of the town) on January 15, 1982. A Certificate of Honor was presented to Chief Alma Rohm by Iwo Action Council on Dec. 18, 1993 for her contributions to the development of Iwo. Chief Alma Rohm was also installed as the Iya Imo of Ola (Mother of Knowledge of Ola town) in November 1994.
Mama’s Final Moments
Rohm officially retired from active service in the Southern Baptist Convention USA, in 2003. Even though she retired from active service as a missionary, her love for missions did not die. She returned to Nigeria in 2010 to spend the rest of her life with the Nigerians with whom she had lived for almost six decades. In 2013, Rohm became a naturalized citizen of Nigeria through and was awarded her certificate of citizenship by the President and Commander in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Alma continued to visit different churches in different villages to encourage and strengthen the people until she died on October 17, 2016 in her house on the campus of Bowen University, Iwo.
Alma Hazel Rohm lived a life of service, sacrifice and selflessness. She gave her life totally to the growth and development of Christian faith in Nigeria especially in the Baptist Denomination. She was a masterpiece of what a good teacher, a true missionary, and a real musician should be.
Adebayo Oluremi Ademuyiwa
- Further tributes to her life of service include: (a) “The Life and Times of Mama Alma Rohm” was recorded by the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) on her 60th Birthday in 1985. (b) “The Life and Ministries of Chief Alma Hazel Rohm” was published by the Guardian Newspaper on Dec. 23, 2000. (c) The Baptist College, Iwo erected a statue of Chief Alma Rohm beside the school library in 1992 to immortalize her. (d) Rotimi A. Animasahun (Ph.D) wrote a biography of her life entitled Chief (Mama) Dr. Alma Hazel Rohm: A Rare Gem (2003).
Adebisi, Adesola. Tributes in Honour of Alma Hazel Rohm, 2016.
Animasahun, Rotimi A. Chief (Mama) Dr. Alma Rohm: A Rare Gem (BIOGRAPHY). Ibadan: J. Rohi Ventures, 2003.
Personal Interview and Interactions with Alma Rohm (2000-2016).
Shobowale, Olumide. Tributes in Honour of Alma Hazel Rohm.
This article, received in 2020, was written by Adebayo Oluremi Ademuyiwa, PhD, Senior Pastor, Alma Rohm Baptist Church, Iwo, Osun State, Nigeria. Michael A. Ogunewu, PhD, was project supervisor.