I’m going to tell you a story about a man you probably never heard of before but after reading this you will never forget him.
In 1873, in the country of Liberia in West Africa, a baby boy was born named Kaboo. He was the prince of his village, inhabited by the Kru. His royalty did not offer the relief from everyday woes and worries you might expect. In fact, it made him a target. As a young teenager he was abducted and held for ransom by a rival tribe, the Grebos. The tactic was repeatedly employed by the Grebos against the citizens of the Kru village. Young Kaboo was beaten, humiliated, and half-starved at the hands of his captors. There was no relief in sight during this particular abduction because the Kru did not have the resources to fulfill the ransom.
Kaboo’s father, the village chief, desired to rescue his son from the torment and was concerned about the impact his abduction was having on the village since Kaboo was his successor. He decided to send another to take his place as a captive, Kaboo’s sister. As his father entered the Grebo village to initiate the exchange, Kaboo immediately cried out in protest. Kaboo wanted relief but his sister’s safety and virtue was too high of a price to pay for it. He ordered his father to return his sister home.
The Grebo’s tolerance had been exhausted and Kaboo was scheduled to be executed. As was customary, he would be beaten, half-buried, and left to be eaten alive by animals. He was tied up in the village center to await his execution when suddenly a bright light appeared above him. His bonds fell off and he dropped to the ground. A voice called out to him and said, “Kaboo, get up and run”.
He obeyed the voice and ran. His captors pursued him but, miraculously, he was able to outrun them and hide despite his frail condition. The same light that appeared in the Grebo village began leading him through the predatory-filled jungle to a coffee plantation in Monrovia, far from his village. The plantation was owned by Mr. Davis, a former slave. Amazingly, Mr. Davis could speak Kaboo’s language even though he was far from the Kru region. Kaboo was cared for and the following Sunday he found himself at a Christian worship service for the first time. The woman speaking that day was giving the account of Apostle Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-6). When Kaboo heard the details of the story he jumped up in the middle of the service and yelled out, “That’s what happened to me!” The speaker and other listeners were astounded as he began to tell his story of his encounter with a bright light.
Kaboo immediately became a believer in Jesus Christ and continually referred to God and Jesus as his Father. He would pray out loud for hours everyday, talking to his Father into the late night. For a few years he lived and worked on the coffee plantation but his priority was to learn as much as possible about God and the Holy Spirit in order to return to his people and teach them. Lizzie McNeil, a missionary, took on the challenge of nurturing his tenacious appetite for God’s word. McNeil had been sent to Africa by a patron, Samuel Morris, a lawyer from Fort Wayne, IN. Kaboo desired to change his name, like the Apostle Paul, to signify his spiritual conversion. He decided to take the name Samuel Morris to honor McNeil, his mother in the faith.
After some time, Samuel (formerly Kaboo) made inquiries about God’s Word that extended past McNeil’s knowledge. She told him jokingly that she had taught him all she knew and the only one that could tell him more was Stephen Merritt, her professor back in New York City. Samuel did not hesitate to ask his Father if he should go. The answer was yes. He decided to immediately leave the comfort, safety, and pleasantries of his new home to travel alone and penniless to an unknown place called the United States.
Samuel headed to the nearest port to cross the ocean, a concept he barely understood. In the harbor he found a ship called the Liberia owned by a business man from…you guessed it, New York City. He approached the captain to ask to be taken to the United States. The captain immediately kicked him to the ground and told him to leave. Samuel was not dissuaded by the pain his rejection and remained next to the ship in prayer with his Father, trusting the God who provided for him before would do so again. Despite the captain’s adamant refusals, circumstances arose leaving him shorthanded on crew members to make the journey back to NYC. He took Samuel on as crew member, assuming since he was Kru, he was well versed in sailing.
Samuel set sail on the Liberia but it didn’t take long for the captain to realize his assumptions were wrong. Samuel had never even been on a ship. The captain grew furious and violent toward Samuel and approached him to strike him. Samuel dropped to his knees and began praying to his Father. The captain’s anger relented as the scene of young Samuel kneeling in prayer reminded him of his days as a child being taught to pray by his mother. The captain’s heart softened toward Samuel and he began to listen to him tell his story and all about his Father. The captain became a believer in Jesus Christ.
As was common, the crew was made up of many men from various cultures with violent and aggressive reputations. Being together months at a time on a ship made sea-crossing treacherous with incidents of bloodshed and mutiny. One particular time, a crew member threatened to kill another with a sharp knife. While other men retreated away from the oncoming murder, young Samuel stepped forward and told him to put the knife down. The man approached Samuel to kill him instead but his arm was suddenly seized and he could not bring the knife down against Samuel. Many of the crew members that witnessed this began to listen to Samuel and all about his Father. Half of the crew members became believers in Jesus Christ.
Upon arriving in NYC, the captain entreated Samuel to come and stay with him but Samuel would not be deterred from seeking Stephen Merritt. Shortly after leaving the ship, Samuel encountered a homeless man and immediately asked him to take him to Stephen Merritt. It just so happened the homeless man had just been to the mission where Merritt had been preaching. He offered to take Samuel to him for the fee of $1. Samuel told him his Father would pay him. On the way they encountered Merritt. Samuel introduced himself and the amazing story of why he had come. Merritt was surprised but requested he wait at the mission for him to return from a meeting. The homeless man confronted Samuel regarding his fee. Samuel told him that Merritt would cover his expenses. Merritt inexplicably found himself reaching into his pocket to pay the fee. He then departed to attend his meeting. Samuel continued on to the mission. Much later that night Merritt remembered Samuel was waiting at the mission. He rushed back and found Samuel praying with seventeen men that he had just led to follow Christ.
Samuel immediately moved in to Merritt’s home and stayed several months. On one occasion Merritt took him to a youth Sunday School meeting. The attendees took one look at Samuel and began to laugh and snicker about him. Merritt was suddenly called away from the meeting but when he returned he found people at the altar weeping and calling out to God as Samuel prayed with them. The room was thick with the presence of God’s glory. Shortly after, a youth group formed the Samuel Morris Society in order to collect travel funds and clothes to send Samuel to Taylor University in Fort Wayne, IN. There efforts were successful. Merritt sent word to university president, Thaddeus Reed, to expect Samuel’s arrival.
Upon Samuel’s arrival, the school was in a dire financial crisis due to debts. Taking on a student with no means and no family connections was seen as an unwise decision but Reed proceeded and placed Samuel in a dorm and registered him for classes. As Samuel pursued his studies he began interacting, praying and holding Bible studies with professors, students, and town residents. He awed and inspired everyone he encountered. A spirit of revival rushed through the campus and town. Even atheists would come to speak with Samuel, inquisitive of his Holy Spirit focused life.
The spiritual revival was paralleled with new hopes for the university’s future. Land had been offered to the school in a nearby town. The groundbreaking ceremony had been scheduled and Samuel was listed on the program to pray and give a message in Psalms. However, shortly before the ceremony, Samuel became ill after walking in a winter storm to attend a church service. The illness developed into a respiratory infection and Samuel was taken to the hospital. Although the doctors were confident the infection would relent and he would recover, Samuel began informing them that he would be going home to his Father.
In May of 1893 Samuel Morris passed away. The news devastated the entire town of Fort Wayne. Carriages lined up for miles at his funeral, one of the largest turnouts in the town’s history. A few weeks later at the ground breaking ceremony, President Reed announced the death of Samuel Morris to a bewildered crowd. The group dispersed in eerie, solemn silence.
Samuel Morris’ story does not end with his death. The university published a small pamphlet about Samuel’s life. Nearly 250K copies were sold which the university used to fund its programs to teach and graduate several classes of students. Upon graduation, an unprecedented number of the students chose to commit their life to missionary work in…you guessed it, Africa. Samuel’s mission to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to his people would be fulfilled.
There is so much to take away from this story but as I reflect what captivates me most is how Samuel lived out the scripture in Romans 8:18:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Samuel’s life was full of difficult and often downright terrifying situations. They came one after another, after another. There was never a time of sustained relief from his difficulties. Yet, the account of his life shows that had an undeniable sense of peace that defied logic. But how did he do it? Samuel valued the eternal redemption he had found in Jesus more than comfort and relief in his daily life. As a result, when sufferings came his way he was not devastated because his eyes were fixed on the rest he would have in eternity with his Father. He was able live in the rest of his redemption even when circumstances offered little relief.
What do you focus on more, relief or redemption? Is eternal redemption enough to sustain you? What about our society leads us to habitually seek out relief and comfort?
To learn more about the Samuel Morris legacy at Taylor University, click here
Now that you have finished reading it’s time to SyncUP with God. Start by reviewing the “Weekly SyncUP Guide”. It provides 5 daily guides on scripture reading, reflection questions, life application steps, and prayers to help you have your own daily SyncUps with God for the rest of the week.
DON’T FREAK OUT…if doing all 5 this week is overwhelming, set a goal of 2 or 3 and work your way up from there. Enjoy and God Bless!