Tok Bot, Toma
Tok Bot was not only one of the earliest converts of the Berom ethnic group on the Jos Plateau, but he was also the first pastor of the Berom Church. According to his own testimony, he was about seventeen years old in 1913 when the first missionary, Rev. C. N. Barton, of the Sudan United Mission (British Branch), took up residence in his village of Foron. Tok Bot heard the gospel from Barton. He began to visit the mission house and Barton employed him as a gardener. Barton returned to England and was replaced by the Rev. Thomas L. Suffill who worked among the Berom for thirty years.
Through Suffill, Tok Bot and three other young boys committed their lives to Christ, making a public declaration in 1915. Their local chief was present in church to see if the boys would dare to renounce their ancestral tradition. In 1921, Tok Bot was baptized and took the name Toma (Thomas), which was also the name of his mentor, Suffill.
Tok Bot was intelligent, zealous and hardworking and he was soon hired as a missionary assistant. He trained as an evangelist/teacher at Teachers’ College, Toro, one of the oldest teachers’ colleges in Northern Nigeria. At that time, it was called Class for Religious Instruction (CRI). In 1921, he was sent to the evangelists’ school in Kabwir about 100 kilometres east of Foron. He married Chatong Dung in 1922 and the Lord blessed the marriage with ten children.
Du was the preaching site where Rev. Barton and other missionaries had lived and worked since 1909 without making a single convert. The situation changed when Tok Bot, preaching in the Berom language, influenced many young Berom men to become Christians. By 1926, Tok Bot’s leadership qualities had become clear and he was, unquestionably, an ideal candidate for the established Pastors’ College in Gindiri. In 1937, three candidates were admitted to this program, namely David Obadiah Vrengkat Lot, Bali Falang Macit and Toma Tok Bot. Tok Bot graduated from Pastors’ College in 1938 and was ordained into the ministry the same year. In the Berom district, as in other districts, SUM tried to implement the indigenous church policy by creating self governing, self propagating and self supporting churches.
One of the early young Berom converts under Tok Bot’s ministry was the future chief of Jos, Mallam Rwang Pam. Before the colonial authorities mad Rwang Pam chief of Jos in 1949, Tok Bot was suggested as a possible candidate as he was better qualified and was from a royal family, which was not true for Rwang Pam. But Tok Bot refused, preferring to remain a pastor.
District Head Pwajok Vwos invited Tok Bot to Kuru in 1926 because he wanted him to start a school in his domain. So Tok Bot moved to Kuru with his family. A school was opened, but in 1930 Tok Bot began to have trouble with Pwajok Vwos. The young men who attended Tok Bot’s school would not go to the farm on Sundays because of his teaching against work on the Sabbath. The chief had them flogged to force them to comply but they would not. The District Officer had to intervene to avert a serious conflict. The other problem was Tok Bot’s condemnation of local beer. As Pwajok Vwos was uncomfortable with this position, he invited the Catholics to the area as a means of escape.
By 1938, Tok Bot had become the leader of the SUM churches among the Berom people. He was both pastor of the church in Kuru where he had been posted in 1926 and an administrator of the Berom district church until he relinquished the position to a younger pastor, Rev. Jatau Piyo, in 1971. In spite of the fact that he had become too old to manage the district, he was forced to do so due to the opposition from the younger pastors opposed to his conservatism. Tok Bot had opposed the split of the Berom district despite its growth. He had opposed the transfer of pastors and had argued that the younger pastors were being materialistic in asking for a salary pay scale. He believed that pastors should live by faith and accept any payment the church could afford to give them.
As an administrator, he had to travel the length and breadth of Beromland visiting churches. Tok Bot lived in Kuru but the headquarters of the district was in Foron, about thirty kilometres away. Tok Bot ordained a number of pastors in the Foron headquarters, among whom was a British veterinary doctor, Tom Owens. Prior to this time, the only known African church leader who had ordained a white man was Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther when he ordained Thomas Philips, a recent graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, on June 29, 1882. It should be noted that when the Sudan United Mission handed its work over to the Nigerian church, all expatriates become church workes. So the ordination of Owens was symbolic of this historic development. Tok Bot also taught the Scriptures in both primary and secondary schools in Kuru.
He translated parts of the Bible into Berom, namely, the gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and the Acts of the Apostles as well as 1 John and some stories in the Old Testament. He also translated the Berom hymnal. The Catholics employed him to translate their catechism which was published in 1950.
Even after he retired as an administrator of the Church of Christ in Nigeria among the Berom in 1971, Tok Bot still continued as the pastor of the Kuru church until he took his final bow in 1976, having served the Kuru church for 50 years! He was a man of prayer. He prayed night and day until the day he died.
Even at the age of 80, Tok Bot was known to preach in the market square in Kuru. However, December 2, 1995, Toma Tok Bot went to be with Lord at the age of ninety-nine after an asthmatic attack. He was buried December 11, 1995.
Musa A. B. Gaiya
Toma Tok Bot, “Tahirin Da Toma T. Bot” (unpublished), 1976.
Bulus Tok Bot, “Takaitacen Tarihin Rayuwar Rev. Toma T. Bot” (unpublished), 1991.
D. P. Dung, “Pastor Toma Tok Bot: A Life Entirely Committed to God,” (unpublished).
Musa A. B. Gaiya, “Missionary Activities on the Jos Plateau, 1900-1960,” Ph.D Thesis, University of Jos, 1996.
This article, received in 2003, was researched and written by Dr. Musa A. B. Gaiya, Senior Lecturer in Church History at the University of Jos Department of Religious Studies, Jos, Nigeria, and 2003-2004 Project Luke fellow.