(Compiled by Dennis B. Horne)
Mission President Matthew Cowley (Part 2)
Note: Below is a continuation of reminisces by Glen Rudd about his personal
experiences with his mission president Matthew Cowley, who, as Brother Rudd
explained, was a somewhat different but wonderful mission president, unlike
what is usual today. Most of the material is self-explanatory; there may be a
little repetition present.]
We saw great miracles happen in those days. My testimony to you is that miracles do happen! They are happening on the earth today, and they will continue to happen, particularly to those who believe and have great faith. Miracles occur frequently in the lives of humble, fine Latter- day Saints who have the faith to make them possible. My feeling is that the greatest of all miracles is the one that happens in the life of a person who really learns how to pray, who exercises faith to repent, and who lives the gospel in a simple and obedient way.
President Cowley said, “The gospel of Jesus Christ is simply beautiful and
beautifully simple.” President Cowley spent his whole life trying to explain
that there isn’t anything very complicated about the Church. The Savior has
always been direct and plain in giving commandments to us. In fact, most of the
Church leaders I have known have taught the same thing. I am convinced that
understanding increases when we talk or teach in a direct and simple way.
But many of
us complicate simple things to the point of causing confusion. For instance, we
are told to do missionary work by following the promptings of the Spirit. We
could complicate this by writing books on how to follow the Spirit in doing
missionary work, but that is really unnecessary because the Lord has a manner
of communicating with us in a very simple way. Generally, all that a person has
to do is to pray in faith and wait for the answer. Sometimes we need to do a
little more than just wait, but the more simple we can keep our prayers, the
more simple and more direct the answers will be.
Now, let me
say a little more about Matthew Cowley. He was a very uncomplicated man. Some
who couldn’t understand his simplicity became confused about what he did and
found it difficult to understand him. I had the opportunity of being his close
associate for fifteen years.
died, some people asked me about him. One man said, “I just can’t understand
how Brother Cowley did all the things he did.” The real answer is that Brother
Cowley went directly to the Lord, told the Lord what he wanted, and received
the answer. There wasn’t anything hard about that; Brother Cowley just did it.
presidents today must be well organized in order to hold district and zone
meetings and all the necessary appointments and interviews. They have made
plans for almost every day weeks in advance. But Brother Cowley rarely planned
anything; he just lived by following the promptings of the Spirit of the Lord.
President Cowley’s traveling companion in the mission field, I received instructions
from him to keep my briefcase packed with a couple of changes of clothing. He
said, “When I say ‘We’re going,’ you grab your bag, beat me to the car, and
don’t ask any questions.”
would happen, I would grab my bag and go to the car. Being a young, eager
missionary, I often wondered where we were going—but I didn’t ask.
we had driven a few miles, he asked, “Would you like to know where we’re
said, “So would I! I’m not sure just where we’re going, but we’ll keep going;
and when the Lord tells us to turn, we’ll turn, and we’ll end up where He wants
us to be.”
Maori people in the New Zealand Mission needed help, they prayed for President
Cowley to come to them. One day he drove up to a post office in a rather
distant city in New Zealand. There were two sisters standing by the post
office, waiting. When he got out of the car, one said to the other, “See, I
told you he would be here soon.”
Cowley said, “What’s going on here?”
One of the
sisters said, “We needed you, and we’ve been praying. We knew you would come,
and you always go directly to the post office, so we decided to wait here until
It was just
that simple. People would tell the Lord what they wanted, and somehow or other President
Cowley was led by the Spirit to go to where they were. He wasn’t disorganized,
but I have never known anyone who planned less and accomplished more, simply by
doing what he felt impressed to do.
last several months while I have been speaking at stake conferences, I have had
difficulty myself getting past the simple principles of personal and family
prayer, faith, and repentance. I believe in these things; I think they are as
plain and simple as anything in the whole world can possibly be. So I am going
to tell you three simple stories about prayer, faith, and repentance.
the way we talk to the Lord. We bow before Him, and in humble prayer we pour
out the feelings of our heart, thank Him, and ask Him for special blessings. If
we have simple faith, those answers will come.
illustrate this, I will tell you about one day when President Cowley and I were
traveling. We arrived at the home of Brother Stewart Meha, a great and
wonderful Maori man. He presided over his large family as a true father and
leader. President Cowley and Brother Meha spent all afternoon sitting on the
porch and talking about the Church and other interesting things. I listened to
them part of the time and visited with the children and others who lived in the
area near Brother Meha’s home. Incidentally, there were two or three other
homes in this little Maori village, but I discovered that most of the people
living there belonged to Brother Meha’s family; they were his children or his
When it came
time for the evening meal, Brother Meha stood on his front porch and, in the
Maori language, shouted out to all of his large family, “Haere Mai Ki Te Kai.”
Then he said, “Haere Mai Ki Te Karakia.” These phrases meant, “Come on home for
supper, Come on home for prayer.”
members came from every direction. We all assembled in his home in the big
front room. The room had very little furniture in it, and everybody gathered in
a large circle. Brother Meha was at the head of the circle, President Cowley
was on his left, and I was next to President Cowley. On Brother Meha’s right
was a little child about eight years of age. All around the rest of the circle
were the other children, with some adults in between.
Meha said to the little boy on his right, “You start.” I bowed my head in
anticipation of the little boy’s prayer. Instead of praying, he quoted a
scripture, after first reciting the chapter and verse. Then the young person
next to him recited a scripture with the reference. After about four scriptures
had been given, I realized that we were going around the circle, with each
person quoting a different passage of scripture. One youngster started to quote
one that had already been used, and he was quickly corrected.
immediately began to think of a scripture that I could quote when my turn came.
I had been in the mission field just a little over a year, and I had mastered
two wonderful passages of scripture. I mentally polished up my first scripture,
and had no sooner silently rehearsed it than one of the young people gave that
exact scripture. This, of course, slowed me down for a minute, but I thought it
was all right because I still had one in reserve. I worked a little on it, only
to hear someone directly across from me quote it. I then panicked as I realized
that I could not think of another scripture that I could give.
My turn was
coming closer and closer, and I felt tension building up within me. My mind
went totally blank. In my moment of greatest concern, President Cowley nudged
me with his elbow and, out of the side of his mouth, said, “Quick—tell me a
scripture. I can’t think of a single one to say.” I then realized that the two
of us were in the same desperate situation.
moment, it was my turn. I bravely said the first article of faith. President
Cowley followed by quoting the second article of faith, and then Brother Meha
prayed. I think that that night he prayed for the mission president and the
missionaries a little harder than usual. When the prayer was finished, a little
boy about eight years of age came over to us and said, “I guess you two guys
don’t know that the Articles of Faith are not allowed in our scripture study.”
and sisters, that was an excellent example to me of family prayer and how
children can be taught the scriptures! If we gather together and have prayer,
it is probably the finest teaching experience that a mother and a father can
provide for their children. Prayer is simple and should remain that way.
Prayers do not need to be long or complicated; they need only to be simple and
sincere. If we want to talk to the Lord, we do it through prayer. If we listen
with faith, we will hear His answers. We can also search the scriptures, for in
them we are given, in an uncomplicated way, the answers we need.
in 1940, President Matthew Cowley poked his head in the secretary's office and
said, "Let's go." I grabbed my
briefcase that was always packed and ready, and beat him to the car. After a
few minutes of driving he said, "We are going to the city of Tauranga
where I started my mission over twenty years ago, when I was just seventeen
years of age."
a three-hour drive, we arrived in Tauranga. We drove about three miles to a
little Maori village called Judea. This village was nearly all Latter-day
Saints. Down the road a short distance was a town called Bethlehem which was
mostly Catholic. Brother Cowley had spent most of his first year as a
missionary in this district headquartered in Judea.
As we were
driving Brother Cowley said, "I have to go visit my Maori mother." He
explained that she had been the sister who had helped teach him the Maori
language while he was recovering from a serious illness. He had lived with her
family and she had nursed him back to good health. He would read out loud every
day from the Maori Bible and try to learn Maori words. She would correct him
whenever his pronunciation was not right. She began tutoring him and really
ended up being his Maori language teacher. She did not speak much English; and
that was a blessing because it forced Brother Cowley to concentrate more on
Maori. It wasn't long before he was able
to speak Maori very fluently.
wonderful woman took care of him and mothered him until he was able to resume
regular missionary work.
arrived at the little house
where she lived-just a small, humble home-we went in.
We were told the woman was in bed in the back room; which was nothing more than
a lean-to. When we got back there we had to get on our knees because the room
was only about four feet high. We crawled
on some Maori woven mats to where she was laying. She was seriously ill
and quite old. I didn't fully sense what was going on inside of Brother Cowley
until we reached her. Then I knew that he truly loved her for what she had done for him as a young boy.
Now, as the
president of the mission, he had come to give her a blessing. What a privilege
it was to be with him. We knelt beside
the mats upon which she lay and put our hands on her head. Brother Cowley gave
her a magnificent blessing, as only a loving son could give to his mother. It was marvelous to feel the spirit on this
occasion and to see this wonderful old Maori sister and a very humble mission
president meeting each other again after so long a period of time. This was one
of the most spiritual experiences I had on my mission.
Cowley got up early one morning while in Samoa to find a single file line of
people standing outside his little sleeping house, all waiting to receive blessings.
He blessed those people, one after another, for a long period of time. He
watched one man in particular, who stood against a tree nearby, but never got
into line. After Elder Cowley had blessed quite a number of people, he went
over and acknowledged the man’s presence, and asked what was wrong with him.
The man said nothing was wrong; he was just standing there wishing he was sick
so he could receive a blessing like the rest of them. Elder Cowley told him
there was no need to be sick to receive a blessing, and he promptly placed his
hands on the man’s head and gave him the blessing he desired.
when the First Presidency called the missionaries home because of the war, we
had one week to gather all the missionaries to headquarters to catch the
Mariposa. It was a hectic week, but we managed to get everyone into Auckland on
time, including the last group of missionaries from Australia who sailed into
New Zealand for a one- day layover. That particular day, we had another funeral
and President Cowley requested that about five of them accompany us to the
funeral. They were astounded at the things we did, which not only included
speaking, praying and singing, but also assisting in the actual burial of the
deceased. One of the missionaries said, “I think I did more real missionary
work today than I did in the whole two years in Australia.”
before we were to leave, President Cowley wanted to hold meetings all day.
Priesthood meeting was with just the missionaries, during which he spoke with
great tenderness. He hated to see us go home. “Up to now,” he said, “I have
been your mission president; but next time I see you, I’ll just be your friend.
If any of you have any legal problems or run into difficulty, be sure to call
on me. As a friend, I would love to help you.” He also reminded us to be active
in civic affairs and politics; at least enough to know what was going on. He
gave excellent instructions on honoring our priesthood and serving the Lord.
The rest of
the meetings that day were attended by more than five hundred saints, who came
to bid the missionaries farewell. Every missionary was called upon to give a
short talk in at least one of the meetings.
day arrived to leave on the Mariposa, as we left the mission home, we shook
President Cowley’s hand and bid farewell. My companion and I, who were the
secretaries of the mission, were two of the last to leave. Brother Cowley,
however, did not follow us down to the boat. He was “too busy vacuuming” the
carpets in the mission home, which he had been doing for the last hour, and
just couldn’t quit. How lonely he seemed, as we walked away. He was a very
tender man. He enjoyed having missionaries around and he truly loved them.
Cowley (along with the other mission presidents in the Islands) stayed on. He
wrote me on occasion to bring me up to date on what was happening in the
mission. In one letter he said, “I now know what was wrong with our mission,
why we didn’t do very well and baptize very many. It was you missionaries. You
were the ones who were holding up the work. Now that you’re gone, local
missionaries and local people are doing better than ever. Tithing and fast
offerings have greatly increased, activity in the Church has grown, and I am
now convinced where our problem was.” This was part of President Cowley’s
humorous way of expressing himself.
ago, President Matthew Cowley told a story about blessing a little baby boy who
had been born blind. President Cowley was visiting the small village of Porirua
one Sunday, when the father asked him to give him a name and blessing. He
also asked President Cowley to give him his eyesight while he was at it. While
giving the blessing, the thought came into President Cowley's mind that the boy
could not hear either, and that he had a problem with balance. So he blessed
him that as he grew, he would gradually overcome the problems he had at birth.
It took the
boy quite a while to learn to walk and get around; but eventually, he overcame
all the physical difficulties he had a birth.
Cowley repeated this story two times, once at BYU and once in General
Conference. For over forty years, the story has been told and retold as one of
the great miracles of our time.
visited with Junior on several occasions. He is now over fifty years old. All
of his life he has been active in the Church, although very retiring and quiet.
He has never taken a real leadership position, but always wanted to support and
sustain. He is very sincere in his desire not to be looked upon as being a
miracle person, just a good normal person.
son Lee was on his mission to New Zealand, I took him to Porirua one day to
visit Junior. Lee and I were both wearing dark horn-rimmed glasses. Junior has
never worn a pair of glasses in his whole life.
Marva and I visited in Porirua a couple of times, we had pictures taken with
him. There he stood, without any glasses and with, I think, the best eyesight
of anyone I have ever known.
year ago, Junior was honored with a big birthday cake and party for his
fiftieth birthday, a rather special occasion in New Zealand.
mother, who just recently passed away, was always very friendly and
considerably active in the branch; but she never did join the Church. The rest
of the family are fine, faithful Latter-day Saints.
Cowley’s patriarchal blessing, he was promised that he would never get motion
sickness. This turned out to be a tremendous blessing for him because he
traveled on all kinds of boats, ships, small airplanes, etc. Once, he left on a
ship from Samoa which did not allow passengers. He talked the captain into
letting him sign as a member of the crew, perhaps the chaplain. When they went
to bed on Saturday night, they crossed the dateline and it was Monday instead
of Sunday. So he never did much work as a crew member on that ship.
trip was taken on a converted submarine chaser. The weather was terrible and
the ocean was rough. Of that trip, Brother Cowley said that “the submarine
chaser does everything but turn a double back summersault with a half twist. I
expected it to go down at anytime to start chasing subs.” On the deck, there
were 110 pigs, 1,000 chickens and several other animals enclosed. In addition,
there were 38 native saints and Brother Cowley, their mission president.
Everyone was seasick but him. He said some of the dark-skinned natives almost
turned white because of seasickness—“not a snow white or lily white, but a
greenish-yellow tinted white.” He continued, “Tahiti is probably the only place
on earth where the roosters crow all night, pigs squeal, roosters crow, hens
squawk, natives retch—this was a symphony I will long remember.”
He did not
take his clothes off for six days. Everyone was sick, things were unsanitary,
and he was unable to eat food. There happened to be a large shipment of oranges
on board, so he became “a guinea pig for vitamin C.” He concluded by saying,
“This converted submarine chaser made me wonder if it ever had really been
business was unbelievably popular in New Zealand when I was on my mission.
Every city, even the small towns, had far more theaters than we had ever seen
in America. Most members of the Church who lived out in the Maori districts had
no electricity in their homes, so often the missionaries went into the nearby
cities to visit the saints and ended up in the theater.
evening, my companion and I arrived at the home of Brother and Sister Wi Duncan
right at suppertime. After a wonderful meal, Brother Duncan asked if we would
like to go with him to the “flick.” We both jumped at the opportunity.
Immediately, I noticed that his wife Polly was distressed. We were unaware that
they had just had a big argument about the frequency of his visits to the picture
show and he had just promised that he would not go anymore. However, as soon as
he saw a couple of elders, he just couldn’t restrain himself from taking them
to a show. Polly quickly forgave us, but let us know of the trouble she
continually had in keeping her husband away from the theater.
later, we missionaries living in the mission home decided that there was a show
in town that we needed to see. One morning, the two elders that worked on the
mission magazine went to the print shop at 10:00. Two others left to go
tracting at 10:15. That left the other two of us. We went downtown to pay the
bills and do some other important things. All six of us ended up in front of
the theater at 10:55 and promptly went in for the 11:00 showing of “Angels with
Dirty Faces,” starring Jimmy Cagney and Pat O’Brien. It was a really wonderful
picture show, about a preacher and a gangster and their great love for each
other in spite of the different paths they had taken.
through the movie the lights came on for intermission. We stayed in our seats
and waited. One of us turned to look around; there, on the back row, sat our
fine mission president. He pretended not to see us; but we knew that we had
been caught once again. We stayed for the rest of the show, and when it was
over, President Cowley ducked out quickly. We took our time getting out before
continuing on with our respective errands.
evening, halfway through supper, President Cowley said, “Brethren, I’ve noticed
that you’re working too hard. I want you to ease up just a little time and go
to an afternoon picture show.” He continued, “Incidentally, I went to one today
and I would like to tell you about it.” He spent fifteen minutes telling us in
the greatest of detail all about the movie that he – and we – had seen that
day. He concluded by again telling us, “I appreciate the great work you do, but
I am worried for fear that you’re overdoing it. I would like you to know that
you should get out once in a while and see a good picture show.” He had a great
way of lowering the boom when he needed to.