Kind, gentle, and self-effacing, Ralph Baker served among the Tiv people in Nigeria for 35 years. A preacher by training, he was also a curious listener and could converse with anyone. Upon hearing of his death on June 29 at the age of 94, the Tiv Christian Reformed Church in Nigeria declared a day of mourning.
Baker lived a life of gratitude. The youngest of six children, he was grateful that his oldest sister stepped in to help raise the family after their mother’s death when he was just 10 years old. He was grateful for his education at Calvin College. When World War II began, however, he volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps, serving in England. Returning to Calvin after the war, he chaired the Mission Club as part of his growing interest in overseas evangelism. After graduation from Calvin Seminary in 1952, while the Bakers waited for their visas to serve abroad, he served West Park CRC in Cleveland, Ohio, and Greene Road CRC in Goshen, Ind. Late in 1953, the couple headed for Nigeria with Christian Reformed World Missions.
He began as a traveling evangelist, going from village to village teaching the receptive chiefs and their clans about the hope of Christianity. Realizing that his personal outreach was limited, he founded the Benue Bible Institute to train Tiv evangelists. He later turned over the leadership of the Institute to a Nigerian pastor and concentrated on writing Tiv Bible commentaries for church leaders while still preaching and doing evangelism in the surrounding area. He retired in 1989.
Baker loved music and sang in the Calvin Capella Choir and the Seminary Quartet. He will be remembered for encouraging the Tiv church to use their native instruments in worship. Baker also enjoyed gardening, planting trees, taking walks, and reading.
He will be lovingly remembered by Verna, his wife of 69 years; their six children and spouses; 11 grandchildren; and 10 great grandchildren.