All his life Matthew had known that his family expected him to go on a mission for the Church. He looked forward to being nineteen when he would be old enough for a mission call—which he felt sure would be to Hawaii. Yet when he was only seventeen, a call came for him to serve as a missionary in New Zealand.
It was a long way from home for such a young missionary. Matthew didn’t understand the language of the Maori people. He didn’t even know exactly how to teach the gospel.
Matthew had been in New Zealand only a short time when a native woman came to him and asked him to go home with her. “Come, please,” she begged. “My boy is hurt. You fix him up.”
One look at the boy lying on the floor told Matthew the boy was badly hurt. “You must get a doctor,” he told the mother.
“The doctor isn’t home. He’s not even in town. Anyhow we don’t need him. You pray and fix up my boy,” the woman insisted.
Her complete confidence amazed Matthew. He had never administered to anyone before, but he could not refuse.
The young missionary got down on his knees. Before offering a prayer for the injured boy, Matthew gave a silent but fervent prayer for himself, that he might be able to do and say whatever was expected of him. Then he administered to the woman’s son.
The boy recovered quickly. This almost miraculous healing through the power of faith and prayer was only the first of many experiences that Matthew Cowley had in the islands of the Pacific.
His first mission lasted for five years. Nineteen years later Matthew returned to New Zealand as mission president. The saints there were thrilled to have him back with them and welcomed him as their tumuaki (great leader or big chief).
In November 1950 Tumuaki Cowley wrote the history of the New Zealand Mission for his missionaries. He told of a convention that was called for representatives of certain tribes of the Maori race in March 1881. Many problems were discussed at the meeting, but the problem of greatest concern was the need to decide which church the Maoris should join so there would be a unity of religious belief among them.
Those attending the convention could find no answer to this great problem, so it was agreed that the matter should be decided by Paora Potangaroa, the wisest chief and the most learned man they knew. His immediate answer was just one word, “Taihoa” (wait). He wanted three days to think about the problem.
For three days Paora Potangaroa fasted and prayed for direction. Then he went before the people and said, “The church for the Maori people has not yet come among us. It will come soon. You will recognize it when it does, for its missionaries will travel in pairs. They will come from the rising sun. They will visit with us in our homes. They will learn our language and teach us in our own tongue.”
At this time the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had not yet taught the Maori people, although a few missionaries had been teaching the gospel to Europeans living in New Zealand.
In that very year, 1881, W. M. Bromley of Springville, Utah, was sent to preside over the New Zealand Mission. Before leaving home, he was told that the time had come for the missionaries to take the gospel to the Maori people.
When Tumuaki Cowley returned to New Zealand as mission president, he adopted the words Kia Ngawari as a slogan for all the Saints there. He had the phrase printed on little signs that could be taken into every home. Each talk Tumuaki Cowley gave ended with these stirring words. There is no exact translation for them in English. Some say the meaning is “be sincere”; others, “be loving and kind.”
Today the Maoris sing a song that has this slogan for a title. It was written in honor of Tumuaki Cowley, and as they sing it they remember him with special love.