(Compiled by Dennis B. Horne)
Matthew Cowley’s First Mission
Note: This material begins a sub-series of posts relating highlights from Elder
Matthew Cowley’s faith-promoting and interesting life experiences, as shared by
Elder Rudd. There is some limited unavoidable repetion:]
The young Elder Cowley started out among the Maori people and spent most all of his mission with them. He learned the Maori language quickly and well. In fact, it was said he spoke the language better than any of the Maoris and had a more excellent vocabulary than anyone. His English vocabulary exceeded anything I had ever known, and I was in a position to know that his Maori must have been equally as good.
Cowley's first mission took place during the entire period of World War I. He
traveled quite a bit during his mission, and I found out years later that he
was very close to his mission president and was able to have a lot of unusual assignments
traveling from one end of the mission to the other.
received the call, Elder Matthew Cowley wanted to serve but didn’t feel
especially well prepared. In particular, he dreaded the prospect of speaking in
public. Troubled by that fear, Matthew Cowley asked his father for advice as
they awaited the train that would carry him away from home. Father Cowley told
his son, “You stand up and with all fervor of your soul, you bear witness that
Joseph Smith was a Prophet of the living God, and thoughts will flood into your
mind and words to your mouth.” Matthew Cowley hadn’t even arrived in New
Zealand when his father’s counsel proved to be prophetic. Applying this
guidance as his missionary labors unfolded, Elder Cowley became a constant and able
spokesman for the gospel cause throughout New Zealand.
Cowley, who performed many miracles, was also the recipient of miraculous
blessings himself. One such he relates as having occurred on his first mission.
He had been ill for some months when he received a letter from his mission
president telling him they were having the annual mission conference, but for
him to stay where he was and recuperate. He had just finished reading the
letter when a telegram from the mission president came telling him to come to
the conference. Said Matthew Cowley in recalling this experience:
sixty-five of us there; then . . . the grand old mission president put his
chair down in the center of the hall and he motioned for me to come and sit in
it. I walked over and sat in that chair. I could hardly make it I was so weak.
I sat down there and sixty-five of my brethren put their hands on me... and the
mission president blessed me.
was William Gardner, a man seventy-three years of age. . . . He hadn’t been to
school, but he was full of common sense and the Spirit of God. He put his hands
on my head. It is the shortest blessing I believe I ever received. He said, ‘In
the name of Jesus Christ and by virtue and authority of the Holy Melchizedek
Priesthood, we command you to be made well immediately.’ That was all. I stood
up out of the chair perfectly well. The old strength came right back through me
from head to foot just as if it were being poured into me, and it was, by the
gift and power of God.”
Cowley was a great man. He taught his children to honor the Presidency of the
Church and the priesthood of God. He told them time and time again that if they
ever had to choose between their own father and the leaders of the Church, that
they must follow the leaders of the Church. Matthew Cowley grew up in that kind
of a family. They stayed true to the faith.
I got to
know Matthew Cowley on my mission as we traveled together, and he told me many
interesting things—the fact that he had stayed in the home of the President of
the Church [Wilford Woodruff] when he was just a baby, that he grew up on the
block known as "Apostles' Row," just northwest of Temple Square. He
lived next door to Anthon H. Lund, who was a counselor to President Joseph F.
Smith; two blocks away from President Smith; and less than a block away from
John Henry Smith, the father of George Albert Smith.
When he was
just sixteen years old, Matthew asked his father if he could go on a mission.
His father said that if the President of the Church would call hin1, he could
do anything. So Brother Cowley let everybody know that he wanted to go. In a
few days, a letter came from President Joseph F. Smith calling him to go to
Hawaii on a mission. This young boy, about to turn seventeen, jumped with joy
because he was going to Hawaii where two of his brothers had been and where he
wanted to go. When his next-door neighbor Brother Lund drove up from work,
Brother Cowley ran to tell him the great news.
Lund said, "It's about time!" Imagine, Brother Cowley was just
turning seventeen, but the neighbors already wanted to get rid of him! Brother
Lund said to him, "You know, you have caused a lot of trouble in the
neighborhood. You've broken my fence, my hedge, ruined our flowers, and caused
all kinds of trouble. Hawaii is not far enough away. You need to get as far
away from us as possible." And then, more seriously, he said, "I
don't think you've been called to the right place. Would you care if I took
this mission call back to the President of the Church and discussed it with
him? I'm serious when I say that I think you should go to the 'uttermost bounds
of the earth' to preach the Gospel." Then he took from this very
disappointed young boy his mission call and discussed it with the President of
the Church. [Editorial Note: Another account by written by Brother Rudd from
what President Cowley told him adds some detail to this story: “One evening,
President Anthon H. Lund, counselor to President Smith, who was our next-door
neighbor came in to see me…. He looked at me and smiled and he said to me, ‘You
know, that Hawaiian Mission isn’t too far away. The farther we can get you away
from this neighborhood the better it is going to be for all of us, and that
isn’t far enough. I think we had better get you way down there in New Zealand.
. . . Seriously, I was having dinner tonight and the Spirit told me you should
go to New Zealand. I don’t know why. That’s the way I feel. If it is all right
with you, I will tell President Smith in the morning, and you will be changed
to New Zealand.’”]
couple of days, another letter came from Joseph F. Smith asking him to accept a
call to go to New Zealand, which was definitely the "uttermost bounds of
young man went to New Zealand. He had just turned seventeen when he arrived in
Auckland, spent a little time there, and then boarded a boat for a little town
called Tauranga. About four miles south of Tauranga was a little Maori village,
all LDS, known as Judea, where he lived among the Latter-day Saints. A little
further away was another little village, all Catholic, that was known as
Cowley began to bless the people immediately. Not because he wanted to—he had
never administered to anyone in his whole life. But just the day after he
arrived, someone came rushing to him and said, "Come quick and
bless!" So he went and blessed. He had so many great experiences from
blessing numerous people during his mission that it would take a whole evening
to tell just a few of those experiences.
himself got sick from sunstroke. For eight months he was unable to do much
physical work. During that time he read the Maori language out of the Bible and
the Book of Mormon (which had been translated about seventeen years before by
his cousin). He read out loud to the older Maori woman that lived there and as
she listened to him speak the Maori language she corrected him, helped him, and
taught him. He prayed and prayed. He used to get up and visit a little grove of
trees, sometimes from 6 a.m. until dark, studying the Maori language. He became
a magnificent orator. He also knew the English language very well. His
vocabulary seemed limitless.
living in Judea he had been out in the district and was riding home on his
horse. It was a long ride, but the horse knew the way. This young man, still
seventeen, fell asleep and had an unusual dream.
"I saw myself as a little boy sitting on my father's lap, and I was
scared. My father put his arms around me and held me. A man with a big long
beard past his belt came over and put his hands on my head. I could see myself
and my father and this old man. Then I woke up, still on the horse, and the
thought came to me: I wonder if I have ever had a patriarchal blessing."
So when he
got back to Judea, he wrote his mother a letter asking if he had ever had a
patriarchal blessing. Two months later (it took one month for the mail to go
each way), he received a reply from his mother. She said, "When you were
five years old, you went with your father down into Mancos, Colorado and stayed
in the home of an old patriarch. While there, your father asked the patriarch
to give his little boy a patriarchal blessing. And he did, but you were scared.
Your father told me when he came home that he had to hold you on his lap. You
crawled up onto his lap, shivering and scared, so he put his arms around you to
hold you. The man put his hands on your head and bestowed upon you your
patriarchal blessing. Incidentally, he had a long white beard that went down
below his belt. Enclosed is your patriarchal blessing."
things, the blessing said: "My beloved son Matthew, I place my hands upon
your head and confer upon you a patriarchal blessing. Thou shalt live to be a
mighty man in Israel, for thou art a royal seed, the seed of Jacob through
Joseph. Thou shalt become a great and mighty man in the eyes of the Lord, and
become an ambassador of Christ to the uttermost bounds of the earth. Your
understanding shall become great, and your wisdom reach to Heaven . . . the
Lord will give you mighty faith as the brother of Jared, for thou shalt know
that He lives and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, even in your
I was so
grateful that I had the privilege of learning from him as a magnificent mission
president who was only forty years old. He had been home from his first mission
only eighteen years. To sit with him, to live in the mission home, to pray, and
to eat at his dinner table, and to be a close companion, was one of the great
blessings of my life.
the gift of languages. He could learn any language quickly. When he became an
apostle, we ate together often. We would go into a Greek cafe and he would want
to see the Greek chef, or the Chinese chef in a Chinese cafe, or the Japanese
chef in a Japanese café—he would go and talk to them in their own language. He
would say, "How do I say this?" or "How do I ask you about your
wife and children?" They would tell him in their own language. And he never
forgot. He had an unbelievable memory. It was wonderful to go with him and hear
him talk to the Chinese, the Greeks, the Italians, or the Japanese, and always
be able to carry on a little conversation.
conclusion of his first three-year mission, a big party was held for him in the
little village of Tahuaiti. Soon after, the President of the Church assigned
him to translate into Maori for the first time The Pearl of Great Price and The
Doctrine and Covenants, and to retranslate the Book of Mormon.
Sister Wi Duncan, with whom Brother Cowley was staying, built two new big rooms
onto their home. One was meant for sleeping and the other was for working on
the translations. Those rooms were specially dedicated for this young man, who
was now twenty years old, to retranslate the Book of Mormon, and no one else
could go in them. He made 2,500 changes from the first translation, and it has
never been altered since then. Then he translated the Doctrine and Covenants
and the Pearl of Great Price. He was there for five years, all through the
first World War.
later, when he was a mission president and I traveled with him, he invited me
to sleep with him in the room he had used for translating, but the Maori people
wouldn't let me stay in there. They said nobody but Brother Cowley could go in
there. I have been in that house many times since then and I have always
considered it a very sacred place.
Matthew Cowley’s first assignment was to the Hauraki District where he and his
companion lived with a Maori family in the village of Judea near the north
island city of Tauranga. There he became acquainted with Maori customs and
began to fall in love with these humble and loving saints.
of missionary service soon descended on the maturing elder. Companionless for
three months, Elder Cowley labored prayerfully to come to grips with
homesickness and a growing list of physical ailments. Long days walking and
riding a bicycle wore him down. Of these challenges, Elder Cowley would later
say, “For eight months I was sick. I had boils, sunstroke, tapeworms, was
kicked in the abdomen by a horse, and it was just one thing after another.”
But, to the young elder, perhaps the worst plague of all was New Zealand fleas.
fledgling elder felt strongly the need to learn the Maori language. He wanted
to converse with the Maoris in their own language. His first Maori parents, the
Halls, and their children schooled him. He later expressed thanks to Lizzie
Hall Kohu, a daughter of the couple who had given him so much valued help with
the language—“The few months I lived at your home I always regard as the most
important period of my mission, as it was here I began to learn the Maori
language. … I owe more to the people at Huria for my knowledge of the Maori
language than to anyone else. Your mother was always such a wonderful help and
inspiration to me in my work.”
Cowley described his mighty struggle to learn the language in these words—“I
would go into the grove every morning at six o’clock and study for eleven hours
and fast and pray. Finally, after eleven or twelve weeks and all by myself with
no missionary to encourage me, I had the audacity to stand up before a group of
natives and preach the gospel in their own tongue. I was using words I had
never read or heard, and there was a burning in my bosom the like of which I
have never felt before nor since in my life. ... The power of God was speaking
through me as a youngster, seventeen years of age.”
Patriarch Luther C. Burnham, in Mancos, Colorado, on May 4, 1903:
son, Matthew, I place my hands upon your head to confer upon you a patriarchal
live to be a mighty man in Israel, for thou art of royal seed, the seed of
Jacob through Joseph.
become a great and a mighty man in the eyes of the Lord and become an
ambassador of Christ to the uttermost bounds of the earth. Your understanding
shall become great and your wisdom reach to heaven….
will give you mighty faith of the brother of Jared, for thou shalt know that He
lives and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true even in your youth.”
mighty effort at the beginning of his missionary service, Elder Matthew Cowley
commenced a labor that would carry him to all corners of New Zealand, allow him
to discover the healing powers of the priesthood—including his own miraculous
healing at the hands of President William Gardner and all sixty-five New
Zealand missionaries, enable him to preach to countless congregations, serve as
the mission Sunday School president, and prepare him for what was likely his
greatest contribution to the Maori people.
Lambert informed Elder Matthew Cowley that rather than returning home, his
mission would be extended so that Elder Cowley could assist in revising the
Maori version of the Book of Mormon.
Cowley explained the assignment in a 1932 letter to his sister Laura—“The Book
of Mormon was translated many years ago into the Maori language by our cousin
Joseph Foss Richards. In 1917, at the request of President Joseph F. Smith, I
assisted the mission president in preparing a new edition . . .. I changed the
translation of some 2500 verses.” Elder Cowley worked with the assistance of
several Maori members.
Lambert instructed Elder Cowley by letter regarding the procedure he wanted
followed to complete the revision and get the book to the printer. He mailed
the June 1917 letter to Elder Cowley at the home of Wiremu and Aperata Duncan
in the rural community of Dannevirke about mid-way between Wellington and
Hastings/Napier on New Zealand’s north island.
Aperata Duncan were early converts to the Church and progenitors to a posterity
of faithful saints. The Duncan’s were devoted and prosperous and were among the
first Maoris to travel to Utah in the early 1900s to be sealed in a temple.
Aperata served two decades as Relief Society president for the mission. The
Duncan’s lived with their two children, Wi and Mini, in a spacious Maori home
that still stands and has been known for several generations as “The Grand.”
Duncan’s welcomed Elder Matthew Cowley to live with them while revising the
Book of Mormon, they added two rooms to their home—a bedroom for the
missionary, and a translation room. The rooms were duly dedicated for their
sacred purpose. Elder Cowley acted as voice. He pronounced blessings of
protection from the elements upon the house and its residents so long as they
spring of 1918, three and a half years into Elder Cowley’s mission, if the
missionary expected that his mission was nearing an end, there is no indication
in his correspondence. Instead, he came away from the April 1918 Hui Tau
(mission conference) with new assignments, not the least of which was the appointment
to a translation committee chaired by President Lambert. Elder Cowley was to
join two prominent Maori brethren (young Wi Duncan and Stuart Meha) in
translating the Book of Mormon and the other modern scriptures into Maori—the
Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. Neither scripture had
previously been translated. The new assignment prompted Elder Matthew Cowley to
quip in a letter to his parents, “With all this work before me . . . you can
expect me home sometime during the millennium.
thanks for insights into the course of the translation to the letter from
Matthew Cowley to his sister Laura, written a decade after the events
occurred—“After the Book of Mormon was completed, two native brethren and I
were set apart by the president to translate the Doctrine and Covenants and
Pearl of Great Price. The three of us would read a verse in English, then each
of us would make our own translation into Maori. We would then read the three
translations and select the best. We continued this method for two or three
weeks and then, because my translation was the one invariably that was chosen,
my two friends left me to it, and I spent two years translating these two
books.” The early months of Elder Cowley’s mission in Tauranga—dogged by illness
and discouragement—his tireless pursuit of the Maori language through more than
three years of daily preaching to and conversing with the Maori saints in their
own tongue, and his diligent labors in refining Book of Mormon language into
Maori had prepared the missionary for this signal contribution to the people he
had grown to love.
letter to Laura told the rest of the story—“The work was extremely interesting
and was comparatively easy when I had the spirit of it. At intervals, however,
I would lose the spirit, and this would cause me to spend hours over one short
verse. Sometimes I could not work at all. When I found myself in this
predicament I would lock myself in my room, and fast and pray, until I felt the
urge to continue.”
back on the lessons learned from his all-consuming investment in translating,
Elder Cowley continued—“I can say in all sincerity that I experienced, during
this work, the feeling of a helping power outside and beyond my own. Now when I
read these books, I marvel that I was the one that was supposed to have done
the translating. The language surpasses my own individual knowledge of it. This
was the great experience of my life and it will always remind me that God can
and will accomplish his purposes through the human mind.”
Matthew Cowley’s full-time missionary service to the people of New Zealand had
commenced while he was barely more than a boy and ended nearly five years
later. These were years of labor, trial, sacrifice, boundless love for the
people, and devotion to the gospel cause. When the ship Tainui steamed out of
Wellington harbor on 15 May 1919 with the future mission president and apostle
aboard, it left a land changed forever by the labors of one youth.
1919, President James N. Lambert notified missionaries and district presidents
that the Maori saints could purchase leather-bound copies of the Book of
Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price for nine
shillings apiece. For the first time, Elder Matthew Cowley’s beloved Maori
people could read the word of the Lord contained in modern scriptures in their
to Elder Matthew Cowley’s labors, President Lambert wrote to Matthias F. and
Abbie Hyde Cowley—“I was down in Hawkes Bay last week—where Elder Cowley spent
much of his time while working on the translation . . . when a farewell
entertainment was given him. Could you have seen the many expressions of love
and appreciation that were bestowed upon him, I know you would have rejoiced
and thanked the Lord. Never before have I seen such love to an elder.”
In a letter
to Matthew Cowley, returned to his Salt Lake City home and pursuing an
education at the University of Utah, President Lambert pronounced a benediction
on the young missionary’s legendary mission in these words—“I hope the lessons
you learned while in this mission will not be forgotten by you and that you
will be given some position that will keep you in the harness. The other day I
was down at the Business Printing Works and Mr. McRobie and Mr. Apperly asked
concerning you. If you only knew of the influence you have had on these men and
on numerous others, you would indeed be happy. …You will never be forgotten by
the Saints here and they hold you up as one of their ideals and should you ever
do anything that was not in accordance with the gospel plan, their hopes will
have been founded in vain.”
One of the
best Maori friends I have ever had was a man by the name of Great Price Harris.
He served as the bishop of the TeHauke Ward in the Hastings, New Zealand Stake.
He was a very prosperous owner of a ranch with many sheep. He also became a
member of the stake presidency and later the stake patriarch.
our home in Salt Lake City on a number of occasions. While he was with us he
would rather see an American football game than eat. Our whole family fell in
love with Price.
When Matthew Cowley was a young missionary and towards the
end of his mission, he was re-translating the Book of Mormon, and translating
for the first time the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. On
one Fast Sunday, during the time he was translating the Pearl of Great Price,
he was asked to name and bless two little babies, a girl and a boy. The Maoris
had a custom of asking a person to bless their children and giving them the
privilege of actually choosing the name. Brother Cowley took the little girl
and named her Pearl. Then he took the baby boy and named him Great Price. I've
always been grateful that he wasn't translating the Doctrine and Covenants at