Witnessing the Return of Samuel Morris Back to Liberia
By Jim Garringer h16Published: Nov 10, 2016
As we touched down at the airstrip in Greenville, Liberia, I was struck by how primitive the place looked. The airport was little more than a gravel road and an inexpensive structure of wood and plaster surrounded by barbed wire. The fence separated the runway from onlookers, but what struck me and the rest of the group from Taylor University was that there were hundreds of onlookers.
Many of them were schoolchildren dressed in crisp, neat uniforms. Some were people from the village who had followed the processional from Greenville the mile-and-a-half to the airstrip. It stands to reason that whenever a group of people are headed to the airport, someone special is coming to town.
The schoolchildren were standing in the hot sun, but they seemed especially excited. They were holding signs. One talked about Samuel Morris; one talked about Taylor University; one just said, “Thank you.” Members of the Taylor group began to cry. Even 125 years after his death, the story of Samuel Morris continues to touch people’s lives—especially in Morris’s home country of Liberia.
Morris was a tribal prince named Kaboo when he fell into the hands of a rival tribe in the late 1880s. He endured all manner of mistreatment, and as members of that rival tribe prepared to kill him, a bright light shone around him and he heard a voice telling him to flee.
How he simply eluded his captors is perhaps as miraculous and inexplicable as the light itself, but it was through those jungles over which our plane had just flown that Kaboo raced until he arrived at a rubber plantation on the Liberian coast. And at that plantation, he met an alumna of Taylor University who led him to faith in Christ. In the coming weeks as he read his Bible, he arrived at the New Testament story of a bright light shining from the heavens on a Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus and a heavenly voice calling out to him. Morris would not rest until he learned more about this God who performed such miracles—specifically the Holy Spirit whom Jesus promised in the Gospel of John would teach all things.
And it was that quest that changed not only Morris, but many people he encountered. From men on the ship that carried Morris to the United States, to those in the mission in New York City where he briefly stayed, to his classmates and friends at Taylor University in 1891-93, people found themselves kneeling in tears to offer prayers of repentance as they begged God to save them.
Morris’s impact on Taylor University was so profound that the school has had no less than three residence halls in the years since that have borne the Morris name. Twenty years ago, a statue garden of his life depicting the moment he saw that light, his flight through the jungle, and his holding an open Bible was commissioned and dedicated. Scholarship programs have commemorated and honored his life. Yet it was on this little gravel airstrip as we saw the faces of these children that we began to grasp the story in a new way.
Samuel Morris’s dream had been one day to return to Liberia to tell his countrymen of his faith in Christ. The Morris Center in Greenville, complete now with a statue of Samuel that once stood on the Fort Wayne campus and later in Morris Hall, is a physical reminder of that hope and the fulfillment of that dream.
In many ways, I’m still processing what happened during that brief stay in Liberia. But the worst thing I can imagine is to consign it to the category of “nice memories” and never do anything else with it. Lord willing, I will return to that little airstrip again one day and to those faces in that crowd.
Editor’s Note: To purchase Samuel Morris—Angel in Ebony written by Jorge O. Masa, click here.