Samuel Morris, born a prince in West Africa, escaped tribal warfare, found Christ and was a missionary to both sides of the Atlantic.
Taylor University's Class of 1928 sponsored this ornate marker for Morris, and Fort Wayne residents contributed funds as well.
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As collegians go back to school across the USA, they likely will neglect the 125th anniversary of the entering into their ranks of one of the greatest students ever, a young man uniting the races in Christ.
Samuel Morris, who went to Indiana’s Taylor University, was born into royalty in the early 1870s but gained his notoriety by becoming a child of the King of Kings. He was originally “Prince Kaboo” in Liberia, West Africa. In this royal’s day, the country’s interior was still in the grip of feudal warfare among tribes. A neighboring chieftain defeated the prince’s people and captured Kaboo.
“Each month, my father brought gifts to the enemy chief, but they were never enough,” Morris said. “The chief beat me daily with a poisonous, thorny vine he used as a whip. The poisonous thorns infected the wounds on my back, making me sick with chills and a fever.”
The chieftain’s patience began to wear thin, and he planned to bury alive his captive if the next payment from his father weren’t enough. However, a certain Someone had a different plan.
Kaboo, as he was bound one night, had the ropes miraculously fall off his hands and feet. “I heard a voice call my name, and it told me to run!” he recollected. “All of a sudden, I felt strong. I ran as fast as I could into the jungle and hid in a hollow tree until night came.”
Morris eventually arrived in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, and found work at a coffee plantation. A friend invited him to church, where a female missionary related the story of the apostle Paul’s conversion. The account reminded the former prince of the voice who spoke to him in the African wilderness, and he converted to Christianity. Missionaries baptized him about 1887 under the English name “Morris.”
The young man found a new job painting houses and a new calling in leading people to Christ. As he studied Scripture, he became very interested in the ministry of the Holy Ghost.
The missionaries could only tell him so much about the Spirit. They instructed him to get more information from the Rev. Stephen Merritt, a Methodist Episcopal pastor in New York City who had been secretary to Bishop William Taylor, after whom the present university in Upland, Indiana, is named.
Morris went to Robertsport Harbor to try to persuade a captain to put him on a ship for America in exchange for work. One allowed him on board in spite of the lad’s odd insistence that his father – God – wanted him in the USA. Even though treated harshly and given dangerous jobs, Morris prayed for the sick and saw healings, and most of the crew accepted Christ as Lord and Savior through his witness.
Coming to the bustling Big Apple around 1890, Morris found Merritt, and the pastor took the young African into his own home. Before the two retired their first evening together, they prayed, and the Holy Ghost fell on them. This gave added empowerment for both.
Morris continued to learn about the Spirit and grow in faith. He ministered in Merritt’s church and many people responded to the youngster’s call to faith in Jesus. An estimated 10,000 people were born again at that house of worship from Morris’ visit.
The pastor was more shepherd than selfish and realized his protégé could prosper by in-depth instruction. He arranged for Morris to go to Fort Wayne College (later Taylor University), with the youth arriving there at about 20 years of age.
Faculty members decided Morris required special tutoring to complete his schoolwork, but spiritually, he seemed to school them. He prayed loudly and continually in his room, speaking with God and hearing instruction from above. His campus ministry led to conversions and miracles in others, who came to love him dearly.
Meeting a fellow student who had lost faith in Jesus, Morris witnessed: “My dear brother, your father speaks to you, and you do not believe him? Your brother speaks, and you do not believe him? The sun shines and you do not believe it? God is your father, Christ your brother, the Holy Ghost your sun."
Morris contracted a severe cold in January 1893, succumbing in May and going to be with his beloved Lord. Buried first in the black section of a Hoosier cemetery, his grave later was moved to the facility’s center, making him an instrument of God’s unity in diversity in death just as in life. He still continues to minister in spirit.
“One day after walking into a Christian store in Miami, I fell upon a book called ‘Heroes of Faith’ which talked about Samuel Morris,” reads a testimony on Taylor University’s website. “As I'm reading this book I realize that this Prince is from my home Liberia. Being a born again Christian and being in the midst of a trial season right now, this book has increased my faith to a new level.”
Samuel Morris’ simple but strong faith has touched both sides of the Atlantic and innumerable hearts. He needed no title, no consort, no trust fund, just Jesus – and Christ was more than enough.
Morris, named after a key supporter of the missionary converting him to the faith, in 1908 had his name put on a residence hall at Indiana's Taylor University, his alma mater.
The Samuel Morris Statue Garden is a focal point of Taylor's campus, now in Upland.