Stone, Moses Ladejo
The Baptist Mission first came to Nigeria in 1850 when Rev. Thomas J. Bowen, the pioneer American Baptist missionary (First Baptist Church, Lagos was originally known as American Baptist Church) arrived in Nigeria. The efforts of this singular man opened up Nigeria for other American Baptists who came after him.
From 1855 when Bowen made his first convert (according to entries in his diary) he began to nurse the hope of starting a native African pastorate to minister to Africans. Not long afterwards God provided a man who would become the first Nigerian to be ordained as a Baptist minister: Moses Ladejo Stone.
In March 1860, longstanding hostility led to war between lbadan and Ijaye. The Alaafin of Oyo declared his support for Ibadan. The Alake of Abeokuta, fresh from a military success over his archenemies, the Dahomeans, supported Ijaye while the Ijebus followed the Egbas. Henry Townsend, a C.M.S. missionary in Abeokuta anxious to appear as the champion of the Egbas, threw his weight behind the Egbas. The British officials were at first inclined to take Townsend’s line of action, but when they realized that the war involved practically all Yorubaland and was likely to prove costly and protracted, they avoided any direct involvement. This left Ijaye open to a full Ibadan offensive which in March 1862 led to the subjugation of Ijaye and the departure of the missionaries for Abeokuta.
Moses Ladejo might have been born around 1850 at Ogbomoso. In 1855 Rev. T. J. Howell was said to have converted a woman called Ofiki who was barren. Ofiki had adopted her brother-in-law’s son, Ladejo. The woman became a firm believer in the Scriptures and followed the missionaries’ teaching despite her husband’s constant beatings. Though persecuted, she remained true to her new faith and providentially helped to preserve Ladejo’s life. During the Ibadan-Ijaye war, young Ladejo was taken for protection to the American Baptist mission house at Ogbomoso and handed over to Rev. W. H. Clarke. Later, he was taken to Ijaye where he stayed with Rev. Bowen for some time and when Mr. and Mrs. R. H. Stone arrived at Ijaye, Ladejo was taken into their custody and became a mission boy.
These missionaries stayed at Ijaye until the 1862 sack by Ibadan. As noted earlier the missionaries R. H. Stone, Vaughan and Russell (two Liberian carpenters who arrived with Sierra Leone immigrants) left Ijaye for Abeokuta and camped at the place later known as Ago Ijaye (Ijaye quarters). Some refugees and over a dozen children, among them Ladejo, followed the missionaries. These children were either orphans or had been given to the missionaries for safety reasons.
At Abeokuta a small school was started for the children and Ladejo was one of the first pupils enrolled. He was further apprenticed to Vaughan to learn carpentry, a skill in which he excelled. Rev. R. H. Stone said of him:
He was one of the school children at Abeokuta when our station was destroyed there in 1867. When I began a station and school at Lagos in the year 1868, I found it convenient to take him into my household together with several other boys. In a few months he gave such evidence of genuine devotion that I baptized him. (…) I believe that he will become as great a blessing to Yoruba as Bishop Crowther, if he receives anything like the aid and encouragement that Crowther received.
In 1867, mission properties at Abeokuta were confiscated by the Egbas who had become hostile to the missionaries. The Baptist missionaries then left for Lagos. In 1868 another school was established. In 1869, before R. H. Stone left for America he baptized Ladejo. Doubtless, as a token of gratitude, this young African took the name of his missionary parent and became known as Moses Ladejo Stone.
With the departure of R. H. Stone there were no American Baptist missionaries left in Nigeria. But M. L. Stone and Sarah Harden, wife of a Negro missionary and a liberated slave, R. M. Harden, carried on the school and church work until the arrival of Rev. W. J. David in 1875.
When W. J. David started his work, M. L. Stone was called from his job to serve as an interpreter and assistant to David, and because of his exceptional abilities, David began to give him lectures in theology.
In 1876, David went to Ogbomoso and organized the church there. Two years later, when David went on furlough to America, he sent M. L. Stone, who had become indispensable to him, to pastor the church at Ogbomoso. Before Stone left for Ogbomoso David said of him, “I have lost my right arm.” M. L. Stone arrived in Ogbomoso in the last two weeks of 1878.
Despite his being a “son of the soil,” Moses did not escape severe persecution in those early days of missionary work in Nigeria. Writing from Ogbomoso in February 1879 to W. J. David he said:
Since my arrival I have written four letters to you telling you how great were my troubles, pains and fears on my journey to this place. (…) I suffered twenty-one days of virtual imprisonment, and almost starvation in Oyo, I met with trouble from town to town. I was severely beaten and had wounds made in my flesh with the point of their knives, but I cannot tell of our troubles, pains and fear with pen and ink.
Stone’s ministry was very successful and the church witnessed a spiritual and numerical growth. He later wrote to Rev. W. W. Colley asking if he could baptize converts since there were no ordained ministers around.
The following year, 1879, David returned from America with about $2,500 and building materials with which the First Baptist Church in Lagos was built. It was completed and finally consecrated in 1887.
In February 1880, Stone left Ogbomoso to go to Lagos for his ordination. The trip to Lagos was made through Ondo and Ilesa to escape the threat of robbers. He was accompanied by a small girl, Phoebe Adeniyi, who would later become the first president of the women’s organization in Ogbomoso. It was most likely that the question of Stone’s ordination had been discussed between the missionaries Colley and David and possibly with the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, because by the time Stone left Ogbomoso for Lagos arrangements for his ordination had been concluded.
There are two possible reasons for the ordination of Stone in 1880 as the first Nigerian Baptist minister. First, M. L. Stone was in Ogbomoso and the missionaries were at Lagos. It has been acknowledged that Stone won many converts and so there was a need to baptize and confirm them as Baptist church members. The converts could not be brought to Lagos for this and the missionaries could not go to Ogbomoso for various reasons so it became expedient to ordain Stone. Second, denominational rivalry might have made his ordination urgent. Among the Anglicans, there had been ordained African priests and a bishop. Thus to bring the Baptist Mission up to the same level of honor with other missions, it became necessary to ordain the leading native pastor. It will be recalled that Rev. R. H. Stone had once prayed that he would become as great a blessing to Yoruba as Bishop Crowther.
On the 22nd of February 1880, Moses Ladejo Stone was ordained into full Gospel ministry in the First Baptist Church, Lagos (originally known as American Baptist Church) by Reverends W. J. David and W. W. Colley. The next day he baptized two converts who had accompanied him from the interior.
L. M. Duval in his book Baptist Missions in Nigeria wrote that after his ordination Stone reluctantly returned to Ogbomoso though it was his wish to remain near the coast with the missionaries so as to get the opportunity to further pursue his studies. If this account is true, Stone probably did not seriously consider the implications of his ordination especially if he placed greater premium on his studies than on his pastoral responsibilities. By 1881, Stone had baptized twenty more converts.
Stone was called to Lagos in 1884 to become a teacher at the Elementary School of Baptist Academy and an assistant pastor at First Baptist Church, Lagos. He was succeeded in Ogbomoso by Rev. L. 0. Fadipe.
In 1888, when Stone was still assistant pastor of First Baptist Church, Lagos, an incident occurred which was to have tremendous impact on the work of missionaries in Nigeria.
The spirit of nationalism was being awakened throughout Africa and educated Africans were beginning to express the desire for self-determination. Those of them who had taken their white masters’ names changed them. There was a drive to return to African names. Thus, David Brown Vincent became Mojola Agbebi, Lewis Stone became Lewis Fadipe and Lajide Mills became Lajide Tubi. These Africans felt that authentic African names must reappear from beneath that cultural imperialism of the west with which Christianity has undoubtedly been most closely linked.
At this time, a misunderstanding between Stone and David provided an opportunity for a manifestation of this inner desire.
The misunderstanding arose over M. L. Stone’s salary. He was receiving twenty-five shillings which was being paid jointly by the Foreign Mission Board and the church in Lagos. Having lived in hardship for a long time and not being able to bear it any longer, Stone asked for a salary increase of five shillings which David flatly turned down. Consequently, Stone, with the help of his houseboy, took to chopping firewood from Mekume and Iru on the road to Victoria Beach.
One account states that it was David himself who suggested it to Stone, but there is no evidence to support this claim. It certainly could not be true since his dismissal by David was on account of his alleged engagement in trading. Before this problem however, it has been said that David envied Stone’s eloquence in preaching. Stone’s only problem was his poor knowledge of the English language. His desire to go to America to further his education was frustrated by David who refused to grant him the required permission to go. Thus, there was already tension in their relationship before Stone started his firewood business. Then, one Sunday at church, the congregation discovered that their native pastor had been dismissed. A delegation led by J. C. Vaughan met David to ask for an explanation, but David rebuffed them claiming that he had the authority to dismiss Stone. At the church business meeting the matter was retabled but David was adamant. One elder was said to have threatened to pull out of the church, if David would not cooperate.
By the Sunday after the incident, Stone’s sympathizers had indeed pulled out of the church without referring the matter to the home mission in America. The breakaway group held its first service under a temporary shed in Rev. Ladejo Stone’s yard at Wesley Street, Lagos. Before the end of the week, J. C. Vaughan had put up a bamboo shed in Rev. Stone’s yard and it became their place of worship for many years before another site was acquired.
It is significant to note that the rift occurred shortly after the dedication of the First Baptist Church building, the construction towards which both Stone and David had worked very hard. One would have thought that it was a time to forget all differences and worship together. About two hundred members pulled out, leaving only twenty-four or twenty-five worshippers in the First Baptist Church, Lagos.
It was strongly believed that the group was going to establish another denomination. But this move was stopped by J. C. Vaughan who strongly advised the congregation not to leave the Baptist fold. This group later formed the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Dr. Mojola Agbebi played a key role in preventing the Ebenezer Baptist Church from becoming a syncretistic sect.
S. M. Harden, a witness and party to the schism said:
Dark days were in store for us, of which we had no foreboding. They came in the shape of differences between Rev. W. J. David and our native pastor, the Rev. M. L. Stone. Some of us,–by far the greatest majority of us,–sided with Mr. Stone, whom we felt had been unfairly treated. The result was a division in the church: Mr. Stone was dismissed, Dr. Agbebi (then Mr. David Vincent, a teacher in the elementary school) and the rest of us resigned our respective posts, and severed our connection with the church, and with a large number of adherents, proceeded to form what is now known as Ebenezer Baptist Church.
David actually had no authority as he arrogantly claimed either to dismiss or accept the resignation of Stone without any reference to the congregation. But American missionaries were a long way from Nigeria. Like Rev. J. B. Wood and some other Anglican missionaries who humiliated Bishop Ajayi Crowther about that same time, they were used to taking the law into their own hands. David had spent thirteen years in Lagos and was an inspiring and enthusiastic leader. It was therefore easy for him to assume that his word was law. He had secured large sums of money for the mission from the United States of America by displaying a young Yoruba man in Egungun and Oro Costumes. He must have felt that he who pays the piper must invariably dictate the tune.
This schism gradually spread to other denominations. The Baptist secessionists continued to be loyal to their doctrines and were eventually reunited with the Baptist convention organized some years later.
The movement for self-determination eventually spread to Ogbomoso, and so the Baptist Mission decided to locate the Smiths there, ostensibly to minimize the effects of the Lagos schism. G. W. Sadler later wrote: “Our work in Ogbomoso was so disrupted by the spirit of self-determination that the mission deemed it advisable for Mr. and Mrs. Smith to establish themselves in that inferior city.”
The posting of the Smiths to Ogbomoso caused another revolt in the church there. Rev. (then Mr.) Lewis Fadipe pastor of the church took the equivalent of $7.00 from the church’s coffer to pay the carriers who helped the Smiths, but some church members led by Daddy Barika demanded to know the right the pastor had to do so. They consequently withdrew from the church to form another one. They however returned much later to fellowship with the mother church.
When the two hundred members withdrew from the First Baptist Church, Lagos, David and the missionaries made very frantic but futile efforts to get Stone isolated. They called on the congregation to exclude him from the pulpit and accused him of persistent untruthfulness. Stone behaved with dignity. He questioned the missionaries’ right to withdraw fellowship. He pointed out that the charge of untruthfulness had never been mentioned and reiterated the right, according to Baptist principles, to set up an independent church. Stone officially became the pastor of the seceding members.
The effects of the schism in Lagos were numerous. First, it caused a rapid expansion of Baptist Mission work in Nigeria. The Baptists broke from their restrictions in the American Baptist Church (First Baptist Church, Lagos) to found other churches of the Ebenezer group in Lagos and other towns. S. M. Harden wrote: “Looking back now after the lapse of years, we can trace God’s purpose, for out of seeming evil, good has come. (…) Instead of there being three Baptist Churches in Lagos, there might have been only one.”
M. L. Duval who arrived Nigeria in 1901 and got the news of the schism from an eye witness said: “But that which in the eyes of man is a calamity is often used of God for the expansion of His Kingdom, and thus it proved in this case.”
The schism was a test of the Baptist faith brought to Nigeria by America missionaries and nurtured by God to grow in the hearts of men, to see whether the doctrines of this democratic church could really withstand the test of time and faith. Secondly, the schism was also an opportunity for the Africans to demonstrate their leadership and organizational abilities. The breakaway party first chose Rev. M. L. Stone as their pastor and immediately formed a new church which later superseded the old church in numerical strength.
Rev. M. L. Stone was able to fully use his ministerial talents following the schism. After he was reconciled to the missionaries and called back to the First Baptist Church, Lagos, his gift for preaching sound and inspiring sermons and his inexhaustible store of humor helped the church to grow. Louis M. Duval saw a demonstration of this on the day he arrived. It was a Sunday evening, and he and Mr. Lumbley who had come from Abeokuta to meet him saw a great congregation listening to Stone’s sermon in the First Baptist Church. The Lagos Standard newspaper of February 17, 1901 reported:
The popularity of Rev. M. L. Stone is well-known, (and) so great as to attract a large congregation to his ministrations, so that the First Baptist Church, Broad Street, notwithstanding that its location is not in the center of the population, is invariably the most crowded place of worship in town every Sunday evening.
Rev. W. J. David did not stay long in Nigeria after the schism though he was given a vote of confidence by the Foreign Mission Board. It was likely that he was not happy at the turn of events. He went on furlough that same year, 1888, and did not come back, though he lived till 1894. His successor was C. C. Newton who arrived Nigeria in 1889. Did the Foreign Mission Board diplomatically recall David? Did he leave out of frustration? We cannot really say. All we know is that when he left, he was immediately replaced,–a move which aroused some suspicion.
C. C. Newton obviously made great efforts to reconcile the breakaway group (The Ebenezer Baptist Church) with the mother church.
The Ebenezer Church had insisted that its members would only accept reconciliation on certain conditions:
(a) That all the members would be received back as a body.
(b) That Stone, Harden and Vincent would be reinstated.
(c) That the church building would be regarded as the property of the church.
(d) That the church would be properly constituted as independent of the mission.
Newton, while he was not opposed to these conditions tried to insist on a confession of guilt by the schismatics but this was not acceptable to the Ebenezer Church. However, six years later, in 1894 the breach between Stone and the Baptist mission was healed and Stone was restored to full fellowship. He was asked to pastor his old church, First Baptist Church, Lagos.
From 1888 when the secession took place, Moses Ladejo Stone served for a few years at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Lagos before moving to Abeokuta at the request of W. T. Lumbley to take charge of the church there.
It was not unlikely that Stone in his last days with Ebenezer Church did not take the church into confidence with regard to his restoration because there is nothing on record to the effect that Stone informed the church that he was going back to the mission when he did.
Before the crisis was finally resolved, Stone took a leave of three months and went to Ogbomoso and Mr. J. B. Clay took over the pastoral care of Ebenezer Baptist Church in his absence. The leave was later extended to six months, the last three months without salary. (Could it be that Stone had been placed on the payroll of the mission by that time?) He never returned to Ebenezer Baptist Church after that because he was completely reconciled with the missionaries, and in 1894 he accepted the call to minister at First Baptist Church, Lagos.
It can therefore be said that Newton’s effort yielded results. But if Stone had been reconciled with the missionaries what about the people who left with him? They refused to follow Stone back to the mission insisting that they did not leave First Baptist Church because of Stone. However, it was not long before the people were brought back to the mission. In 1914, Dr. Agbebi was elected first president of the Yoruba Baptist Association, and the healing of the division became a spiritual reality, although the administrative differences lingered on for many years.
Stone’s return to First Baptist Church, Lagos, in 1894 was a most outstanding achievement. His subsequent nineteen years of pastoral activities at First Baptist Church (1894 - 1913) became a God-inspired manifestation of his many talents in ministry, preaching and human relations. Under Moses Ladejo Stone’s influence and with God’s blessings (I Cor. 3:6), First Baptist Church witnessed tremendous and phenomenal growth from 1894 onwards.
While serving as the pastor of First Baptist Church, Stone led the congregation to raise funds with which the church building was purchased from the mission. By 1900 the congregation could announce that it was self-supporting. At the time of his death in 1913 the membership of First Baptist Church had increased from fifty-two to two hundred and twenty-five, while contributions went from close to nothing to $1,200 and the sum of $1,300 was spent on the purchase of a pipe organ.
His preaching gift helped to draw a large congregation to First Baptist Church every Sunday. During Stone’s pastoral work at First Baptist Church, I. 0. Gilbert became a Baptist and later contributed immensely to Baptist work in Nigeria. Another notable man in his congregation was Thomas Falope who went back home to establish Otun Gbede Baptist Church in 1906.
Rev. Ladejo Stone was present at the first Native Workers’ conference held at Oyo in 1897 under the chairmanship of L. M. Duval and this was the nucleus of the Yoruba Baptist Association formed in 1914.
On March 28, 1906, M. L. Stone left Lagos for a visit to Ijebuland. There were three Baptist Churches in Ijebuland at that time located at Ogbogbo, Idesse, and Ilishan which was the most recent. He visited twenty-six villages, preached and baptized sixty-six converts.
Among his achievements at First Baptist Church, Lagos, is the production of the first Hymn Book in 1907, the addition of a sacristy to the church building, and the installation of electric lights in the church.
He continued his pastoral work at First Baptist Church, Lagos until late 1912 when due to ill health, he left Lagos for Ogbomoso where he died on April 30, 1913.
He was a man who remained true to the Baptist Faith and whose singular achievements placed African ministers on the same level with the white missionaries in Africa.
M. A. Ojo
Jan Boer, A History of Christianity in Nigeria (Lagos, Nigeria).
The Yoruba Baptist Association Year Book for 1915.
Foreign Mission Journal, July 1913, pp. 9-10.
Stone’s letter to W. J. David dated February 7, 1879.
S. G. Pinnock, The Romance of Missions in Nigeria (FMB Richamond: Education Dept., 1917).
G. W. A. Sadler, Century in Africa (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1950).
M. L. Duval, Baptist Missions in Nigeria (FMB Richamond: Education Dept., 1928).
Lagos Standard of February 17, 1901.
J. Cauthen et al., ADVANCE - A History of Southern Baptist Foreign Missions (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1970).
Cecil F. Robertson, Some Observations on the Ministerial Career of the Rev. M. L. Stone,– historical pamphlets of Nigerian Baptists.
The Diaries of Isaiah 0. Gilbert, Vol. 1, 1887- 1934.
NBTS, Ogbomoso, donated by C. F. Robertson.
Interview with Deacon J. L. Ladipo, a cousin of Rev. M. L. Stone.
This article was researched and written by Dr. M. A. Ojo, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Religious Studies at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife-Ife, as a chapter in the book Makers of the Church in Nigeria, edited by J. A. Omoyajowo (Lagos, Nigeria: CSS Bookshops Ltd., 1995), pages 69-81.