Last month, I started a series looking at the contributions of black Baptists to mission. I began by considering the ministry of Rev Peter Stanford and then that of Joseph Jackson Fuller. Today, I want to look at the ministry of Thomas Lewis Johnson. Thomas L Johnson as popularly known was born in Virginia as a slave and remained a slave until around 1865 when the Civil War ended. He later became a Christian and a Baptist minister. His goal in ministry was to serve as a missionary in Africa. In order to achieve this dream he came to London in 1876 and studied at The Pastor’s College now known as Spurgeon’s College. Johnson studied at the College from 1876-78. He recalls how nervous he was when he was asked at the College to deliver his first sermon.
My anxiety as to my first sermon in College was very great, as any student could imagine, for I had heard other sermons criticised. I preached from Acts16:31. I studied up the subject night and day…………… (Thomas L Johnson, Twenty-Eight Years a Slave or the story of my Life in Three Continents (Bournemouth, 7th edition, 1909).
In 1878, after finishing his theological education, he went to serve as a Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) missionary in Cameroun. He was contemporary with Rev Peter Stanford, Joseph Jackson Fuller and Dr Theophilus Scholes, medical missionary in to the Congo. Along with these other men, he believed that black missionaries were better as missionaries in Africa than white missionaries. This was an idea championed and cherished by these men. They were all convinced that the slave trade, superior attitude of some white missionaries and the racial inequality and discrimination that pervaded their time were injustices that had negative effect on the relationship between white missionaries and Africans. He lost his wife while serving as a missionary in Cameroun. Henrietta, his wife died of fever in 1879. He wrote about the death of his wife and how he continued to trust in God to C.H. Spurgeon. Johnson also became ill and had to go back to Britain. He came back to Britain and after he was much better started preaching in different churches all over the country. He went as far as Scotland and Ireland travelling along side Dr Theophilus Scholes. They were speaking and raising money for the missionary work going on in Africa. Johnson was also an abolitionist campaigning against the evils of slavery and its effects. He was part of the Foreign and Anti-Slavery Society. Thomas L Johnson had a fruitful ministry both in Africa and Britain. He was possibly one of the first black students at Spurgeon’s College. He died in 1921 at the ripe age of 85.