(Compiled by Dennis B. Horne)
Note: Below are experiences told by Elder Rudd and Elder Cowley about the Maori
people (and others) repenting quickly and sincerely. If readers would like to
watch Elder Cowley’s general conference talk where he discusses the same
subject, copy and paste the following link into your browser: https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=33ed0c94-1a66-4c72-947e-d7caf824a051&crate=0&index=0
One of my
best Maori friends, the father of ten children, deserted his wife and family
and ran away with another married woman. This was a staggering blow for the
branch of the Church they were both members of. My friend was divorced from his
wife and he and the married woman were both excommunicated. They continued to
live in the same Maori village, only a few houses from where his former wife
and children lived. While he had done a terrible thing he was not ostracized by
the Church members, which included nearly the whole village.
He continued to attend Church though he was no longer a member. After a period of time he truly repented. He was rebaptized into the Church and eventually received a restoration of his priesthood blessings. He worked doubly hard in the branch to make up for his transgression. Most everyone forgave him and they continued to love him.
When one of
the members of the Quorum of the Twelve created a stake in that area, almost
everyone in the branch (which was to be made a ward) suggested that this good
man be their bishop. The General Authority even interviewed the man's former
wife and asked, "Who would be the best man to be the bishop of the
ward?" She said, "The best man in our branch is my former
husband." When the ward was created, he was not chosen as the bishop, but
he did serve in the bishopric as a special counselor to the bishop. The newly
called bishop was married to one of the man's daughters by his first wife. My
friend was faithful and true to the Church until the end of his life.
I knew him
before the transgression and I knew him after. His life was a great example of
the power of repentance and forgiveness.
There was a
man by the name of Syd who lived in a little Maori village on the east coast of
New Zealand. At that time there was a large branch of the Church there with
about four hundred members. One Saturday afternoon, after a long, eight-hour
drive, President Matthew Cowley arrived at this village and went directly to
see his old friend, Syd.
As a young
man, Syd had been an outstanding athlete. He had attended high school and
college in the United States. He had become a well-known basketball player,
and, as an all-star athlete, he had received a lot of publicity. His picture
had been in the newspapers many times, and everybody had known about this fine
athlete from New Zealand.
been ordained a seventy while he had lived in the United States, and when he
arrived back in New Zealand, he had found that he was the only seventy in the
whole area, and he didn’t have a quorum to belong to. He had become somewhat
inactive, and he hadn’t been keeping the Word of Wisdom, but deep within his
heart he still knew the gospel to be true.
mission president and a friend, President Cowley called on Syd. (Let me explain
that among the Maori members and the missionaries, President Cowley was known
as Tumuaki, a word of utmost respect, meaning “President” in the Maori
language.) “Tumuaki” found Syd sitting in a rocking chair on his front porch,
smoking a big cigar. Syd didn’t stop chewing on his cigar as President Cowley
sat down beside him to visit.
After they had talked and laughed for
a while, President Cowley became serious and said, “Syd, I want you to come to
looked toward the old chapel, and Syd said, “I think it’ll fall in if I do. I
haven’t been there for a long time. I don’t think I’d better risk it.”
Cowley said, “Syd, I want you to be there. I’m going to do something important
tomorrow.” Syd inquired, “What are you going to do?” President Cowley answered,
“I’m going to release the branch president and put in a new one.” Syd said,
“Why don’t you just tell me who the new branch president will be, and then I
won’t have to get myself cleaned up for church in the morning.”
Cowley said, “Well, I’ll tell you who it is. It’s going to be you.” Syd pulled
that old cigar out of his mouth, looked at it, and said, “Tumuaki, you mean me
and my cigar?” President Cowley said, “No, Syd—just you. We don’t need your
threw the cigar out on the ground in front of the porch. He thought for a
minute, turned to President Cowley, and very humbly said, “Tumuaki, I don’t
break the Word of Wisdom any more. I’m a full-tithe payer. I’ll be the branch
president, and I’ll be worthy. Tomorrow morning I’ll be there, and I promise
you that I’ll be the best branch president in the whole country. You won’t have
to worry about me and whether or not I’m living the gospel.”
next several years, Syd served as one of the strongest and finest leaders in
the mission. His son became the first bishop in the ward when the stake was
created. Just recently, his grandson was released from serving as a bishop.
Syd’s whole family is strong and active in the Church today and is one of the
great families in New Zealand. Why? Because old Syd knew how to repent, he
repented on the spot. When he was called to repentance, he quit his worldly
ways. He became and remained a faithful Saint until the day he died.
In most cases,
that’s all there is to repentance. Do you see how really simple that was?
President Cowley never did ask Syd to repent. He gave him an opportunity to be
of service to the Church in a priesthood calling. Syd knew that if he accepted
that calling, he could no longer sin, so he immediately quit. It was over—just
like that! The Lord accepted his repentance, and Syd became a great leader.
told the congregation that as he stood in front of the Christus, it seemed to
come alive, and he looked up at it and said aloud, "Why would you want to
atone for somebody like me?" He said he had the greatest spiritual
experience of his life as he stood there and realized what
the atonement of the Savior really meant. He was born and raised in the Church
but had been inactive for many years.
On the way
home he said to his wife, "I have resolved never to drink again." She
said, "I have heard that many times, and we'll have to wait and see."
However, the next morning, when she fixed his breakfast, she prepared his usual
pot of tea. He refused it, saying to her again that he was now observing the Word of Wisdom. Since that day
he has lived the Word of Wisdom. He has repented.
experience in front of the Christus and the great feelings he had in seeing the
beautiful lights and the display of the birth of the Savior had touched his
life to the point where he now has a completely regenerated life. He truly came
"unto Christ" on that occasion and is now demonstrating the fact by
the way he lives.
Matthew’s best friends was Mose Miller, whom both he and his father Matthias
dearly loved. However, Mose was a confirmed alcoholic. He was left $400,000 in
his youth and drank it all up. Periodically, he promised Elder Cowley that he
would quit “next Tuesday morning.” One Tuesday morning at 6:00, Elder Cowley
came into my hospital room, where I had been for several days, and sat by my
bed. He told me that his old friend Mose had finally quit drinking; he had just
died a few minutes before.
He had been
sitting up with Mose in the hospital all night long. Just before Mose died, he
asked Elder Cowley to place a triple combination in his hands, and he died
holding that precious possession, which he loved dearly. Mose was a good and
faithful Latter-day Saint with a bad problem, but he had the love and respect
of Matthew Cowley and many others.
buried on a Thursday, and during the weekly meeting of the Quorum of the
Twelve, Elder Cowley was excused partway through. President Clark asked if he
was going to speak at the funeral of his alcoholic friend. Elder Cowley
responded, “Yes, I am, and I want you to know that he was a great Latter-day
Saint. He would have defended you or any one of the First Presidency or Twelve
with his life. However, he had a terrible weakness that kept him from being as
wonderful as he might have been.”
Cowley was a sort of patron saint watching over the Alcoholics Anonymous group
in Salt Lake City. He attended quite a few of their meetings and spoke on
several occasions. Many of the alcoholics came to his office to receive
blessings. He never gave a man a blessing while he was drunk, but asked him to
go home and come back as quickly as he could when he was sober so that the
complete man could get the blessing. Some days his office smelled like a
brewery, with one person after another coming in. This, of course, was in the
days when there was no security and most anyone could walk in off the street to