(Compiled by Dennis B. Horne)
Between the north and south islands of New Zealand is a very rough body of water known as Cook Strait. Out of this rough water are many small and beautiful islands, one of which is D'Urville Island, where lived a large group of wonderful Maori people, mostly members of the Church. They comprised an excellent branch of the Church and lived the gospel well. All were related to one another and were mainly professional fishermen.
The missionaries were allowed to visit the island once a year during the Christmas holidays, but two of my companions and I were unable to go. Some months later, however, President Matthew Cowley gave me that opportunity, while he and I were on a trip to perform a rather distasteful duty [interviewing and disciplining a wayward missionary that had to be sent home]. When we had finished our work in the city of Wellington, both of us felt spiritually down. He said to me, "Let's go fishing!" I immediately agreed. I had never had the chance to go fishing as a young boy because of my bad headaches which came when least expected.
We left Wellington on the inter-island steamer that sailed between the north and south islands. The only way to get off the ship anywhere near D'Urville Island was to climb down a rope ladder lowered from the side of the ship at about two o'clock in the morning, when it was the calmest. This little maneuver didn't frighten me too much until the time to perform it approached.
It was a dark night with no moon and few stars. As the ship slowed down to stop, President Cowley and I could see off in the distance a little light bobbing up and down in the water. It was a lantern held by one of the Maori men who was rowing out to pick us up. As it got closer, we could tell that the water was very rough. Before long, we heard one of them shout for us to come down. The deck steward on the ship opened a gate in the railing and threw down the rope ladder. I looked down into the water that dark night, turned to President Cowley, and said, "You are the mission president. You go first." He looked down that rope ladder into the darkness of the night and said, "I am the mission president. You go first."
Fearfully, yet bravely, I started down the ladder of twenty or more rungs. Never in my life had I ever climbed a rope ladder more than two or three rungs long. The first and second steps were easy because I could still feel that I was near the side of the ship. But the farther down I went, the farther the ladder hung away from the side of the ship. After I had gone down about six steps, I felt very much alone and was hanging on for dear life, praying with each step. I think that in the darkness of that night, thousands of miles away from home, I learned how to pray all over again. I was frightened, but I hung on and slowly and carefully took it one step at a time. Finally a large Maori hand grabbed me by the ankle, and a voice assured me, "You've made it!" I managed to get into the rowboat and put on a raincoat to keep from getting wet. I sat down and relaxed, then looked up the long rope ladder to watch my wonderful mission president begin to climb down. I am sure he prayed just as hard as I did, and finally he made it into the boat. We were then with friends, feeling safe and secure.
In a short while we were on dry land on D'Urville Island. The whole branch was out to greet us in the middle of the night and to fry fish and other things for our midnight breakfast. The following morning, after a good sleep, we visited with some of the saints, then attended to our first order of business—fishing! President Cowley and I, along with another elder, John Grant, went out with two Maori men who took care of all the fishing gear. All we had to do was stop the boat, drop our lines, hook onto a blue cod, and bring it in. The blue cod were about 18-24" long and good fighters. But every so often, we hooked onto a baby shark, which was at least 3' long and fought two or three times as hard as the codfish. The minute we got one on the line, we knew it; and everyone in the boat would stop to see who had the shark.
That day I caught about three baby sharks and seven or eight blue cod. Brother Cowley and Elder Grant caught their share, and we all returned back to the island. It was the greatest fishing that anyone could ever do. It was my first and by far the best time I ever had doing something like that.
When our visit was over and it came time to return to the North Island, it dawned on me that we needed to climb up a much longer rope ladder, as we were to board a large steamer. I discovered that a climb like that would be just as dangerous and treacherous as the climb down and would require practically the same amount of prayer and effort.
I will never forget that one dark night in the islands of the sea. And the wonderful, momentous day following, in which I experienced the greatest fishing of my life.
After a rather long trip, Elder Cowley desired to take a small vacation to Yellowstone. My wife had been in bed for the last couple of months, hoping to have another baby. She was too sick to do anything around the house. But he insisted that we go with him, along with Dave and Rosemary Evans and his boy Toni. The night before we were supposed to leave, I was still positive we couldn’t go; but he came to our home and gave Marva a blessing, promising her that she would be well enough to take the trip. The next day we left for Yellowstone and had a wonderful time. Marva felt good the entire time.
Toni, the Evans, Marva and I slept on the floor of a cabin in Island Park, and Elder and Sister Cowley slept on the balcony. Early one morning, as the sun came up, Brother Cowley woke us with a mighty sermon which he preached over the balcony in his pajamas. None of us paid much attention to it, but we were glad and amazed to see him having such a wonderful time on our short vacation.
While there, we went fishing in Yellowstone Lake. Elder Cowley stood on the shore and watched Dave Evans and I cast out unsuccessfully time and again for fish. Finally, Brother Cowley donned a pair of hip boots, walked out just a few steps into the lake, threw out his line, and caught a fish. He turned and said, “See, you brethren don’t have enough authority!”
He waded out a little further in the lake. Suddenly, he started getting shorter and shorter. He legs were spread out, his feet slowly slipped further and further apart, and he was sinking. He yelled for help; but we couldn’t move, because we were laughing so hard. When he was about to go under, we finally managed to quit laughing long enough to rescue him.
[A humorous bonus story:]
For years I really felt sorry about the pioneers coming across the plains. I had read all about their hardships and troubles. Then I read The Life of Wilford Woodruff by Matthias Cowley, and I realized that they had a wonderful time in spite of their hardships and difficulties. Every night when they came to a place to stop, they would organize their wagons and Wilford Woodruff would grab his fishing pole and go to the nearest stream. Almost every night, he caught fish to take back to cook for his supper. His real expertise was that when others were sitting around talking, he was fishing. Later, as President of the Church, he shipped fish in from California almost on a weekly basis. He loved fish.