- October 21, 2016
- By Lori Fogleman / Baylor University
Alma Hazel Rohm, who served more than five decades as a Baptist missionary in Africa, died Oct. 17 in Nigeria. She was 90 years old.
“Chief Mama Dr. Alma Hazel Rohm, as she was affectionately known in Nigeria, gave her entire life serving and leading others to the knowledge of Jesus Christ,” said Sam Holland of Waco, Rohm’s cousin.
Early call to missions
She was born Nov. 11, 1925, in Waco, and felt God’s call to missions at any early age.
“Not long after I was saved at age 9, the Holy Spirit told me I was to be a single woman missionary teacher in Africa,” Rohm said in a 2004 article in the Baptist Standard. “I objected vehemently. I wanted to get married, have a lovely home and four children.
“When I could not escape the voice of the Holy Spirit, I finally told God I would be a missionary if I could go to China or Japan and serve as a doctor or a nurse. But that was not the task God had for me. When he kept repeating the same call, I stubbornly told God I would not be a missionary.
“When I was 12 years old, our church choir sang an Easter cantata on the seven last words of Christ on the cross,” she continued. “Between each anthem, the lights were dimmed except for a lighted cross in the baptistery, and the choir director read one of the seven last sayings of Jesus on the cross.
“As I heard those words, my heart was touched, and I said to myself, ‘If Jesus could die for me, surely I should be able to live for him.’”
Rohm earned her bachelor’s degree with honors in education, English and biology from Baylor University in 1947. She graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1949, taught for a year at Buckner Orphans Home and then was appointed a missionary to Africa in 1950.
Invested her life in Nigeria
She spent the next 54 years ministering to the people of Nigeria, serving as a teacher at a men’s teacher training college, now Bowen University, the first and largest Baptist University in Africa, and at primary and secondary schools in the towns of Iwo and Oluponna, Nigeria. She was designated “Chief” by King S.O. Abimola II, and also received an honorary doctorate of divinity from the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary.
The magazine, Organ and Music, described Rohm as a “woman of many virtues, a music icon in Nigeria especially in the Nigerian Baptist Convention, an epitome of a faithful missionary… an author, teacher and educationist, philanthropist, playwright, administrator, visionary, versatile musician, just to mention a few.”
Several ministries in Nigeria bear her name, including Alma Rohm Baptist School, which also has a statue of the missionary in front of its library, and Alma Rohm Baptist Church.
Rohm retired in 2004 and returned to the United States after serving the fourth longest tenure among missionaries with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.
“Her love of the people of Nigeria and the desire to continue the mission of leading others to Jesus Christ led her to return to Nigeria in 2008,” Holland said.
“She wanted to live out her life among the people she had come to love,” even using her Social Security checks to start and support a kindergarten in Iwo, he added.
Honored by Baylor, remembered by friends
In 2009, Baylor University honored Rohm as a distinguished alumna. That same time, the Baylor University Libraries honored six graduates, including Rohm, who served as international missionaries with the special exhibit “So Great a Cloud of Witnesses.” Baylor’s Crouch Fine Arts Library holds Rohm’s book, 306 Hymn-Writers, published in 2001.
People throughout the world took to social media to remember and celebrate Rohm’s life, Holland said. People of Nigeria who loved her spoke of her in these words: “A rare gem … God’s general… Mama to all of us… a legend… (and) lived for others.”
Another friend wrote, “The angels are having a party now that Alma is home! But we who remain are sad to lose her presence.”
“All who knew her would agree that the most fitting Scripture would be 2 Timothy 4:7-8. She indeed fought the good fight and has received her crown of righteousness,” Holland said.
Rohm was preceded in death by her sisters, Kathlyn Maxwell and Margaret Nichols, and brothers, L.V. McNamee and Ralph Rohm.
She is survived by nephews, Gary McNamee of Granbury and Robert Elton Maxwell Jr. of Houston; nieces, Barbara Tomaja and Linda Fehrle, both of Spring; and cousin, Holland.
Services will be held Dec. 8 and 9 in Iwo, Nigeria, where she will be buried.