In the early hours of the morning, a wife, hearing her husband’s footsteps, expectantly opened the door to welcome him after his long hours of labour in mission work in New York City. She could not conceal her surprise, when she saw with him a shabbily-clad youth of the Negro race. "Who is this, Stephen?" she queried in a most expressive tone. "An angel in ebony", he replied, at the same time escorting the lad into the hallway of his comfortable home. The man of the house was none other than Stephen Merritt, a good Methodist minister and home secretary to Bishop William Taylor.
The boy was Samuel Morris, who through strange and miraculous ways, by God’s guidance alone, had been brought from the African bush to the crowded city of New York and from the depths of paganism to the heights of divine grace. And no more fit appellation than that of "angel in ebony" could have been given him.
Kaboo, an African prince, was born in the Ivory Coast in 1872. His father, a petty chieftain, became involved in several tribal wars. It was the custom at that time for the oldest son of the vanquished chief to be taken by the conquering tribe and retained until payment of the war indemnity. Should it be deferred, the unfortunate hostage was subject to physical torture of the most brutal type. Care was taken that the father of the pawn be notified of the punishment.
Kaboo was first carried away when a small child. The tribute was brought promptly, so he was returned to his home. The second time the boy was held for several years. He never talked of the dreadful treatment he had received, apparently trying to erase it from his memory. On the third occasion of his father’s defeat, the victors were headed by a brutal savage whose ability to devise cruel and ingenious forms of torture would seem to have been almost unparalleled.
Fifteen-year-old Kaboo was carried away captive and, as soon as possible, ivory, nuts, rubber and sundry articles were brought to the conqueror. Though accepted, it was not enough for the ransom, so with aching hearts the people of the boy’s village parted with everything possible to redeem him. In addition to quite a varied cargo of goods, the father, fearing that the youth would die under prolonged torture, decided to offer one of his daughters in exchange for his son. The amount brought was declared still insufficient and Kaboo, knowing the fate that awaited his sister, refused to return to his home.
Since no further indemnity seemed to be in the offing, Kaboo was given a daily beating. Each time the punishment was more severe, and the thorny poison vine used reduced his back to shreds of torn bleeding flesh. When the boy would be unable either to sit or stand, the fiendish plan was that he be laid over a cross tree and beaten into unconsciousness. The next form of torture was to be a burial to the neck. His mouth, kept open by an inserted stick would be smeared with something sweet. This would attract ants and cause the most exquisite pain. Driver-ants, which consume human flesh, would then be permitted to do their worst, and Kaboo’s skeleton was to be placed where all defaulters could view it and be suitably warned.
What happened after the youth was placed upon the cross tree can be explained only by the fact that there is a God in Heaven Who can, when He so wills, exert His power in man’s behalf. Kaboo afterward said that a bright Light appeared, enveloping his bleeding form, and a Voice, also heard by those around, told him to flee. With the command, came the ability to obey, though his natural strength was almost depleted.
He found shelter in a tree hollow until darkness settled down upon the jungle. With the coming of day, a "kindly Light" illuminated his path and, by its aid, for a matter of weeks he was led, he knew not where. But he was guarded from wild beasts and poisonous serpents, as well as from cannibals who inhabited the tropical forests. Nuts and fruits provided sustenance, and one never-to-be forgotten day he found himself on a plantation outside Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. Here Kaboo found employment.
It was on a Friday he had escaped from his would-be murderers, and it was on the same day of the week that he reached the one place in Liberia where the laws of civilisation were enforced and he was safe. From that time, every Friday, his "Deliverance Day", he abstained from both food and drink.
On Sunday, Kaboo attended church and heard the account of the conversion of the apostle Paul. As the missionary, through an interpreter, spoke of the Light that shone about him on the Damascus road, the lad exclaimed, "I have seen that Light! It is the same Light that brought me here." The missionary, Miss Knolls, a graduate of a Christian college in the United States, only recently had come to Liberia, and her prayerful interest in the attentive African youth before long was rewarded by his entrance into the kingdom of God. He became a humble learner at the feet of Jesus and showed daily evidence of a divine touch upon his life.
It was not long, however, before Kaboo became awakened to the need of a still greater change. His dark past had left desires to revenge upon those who had so cruelly tortured him. He yearned for deliverance from innate and nameless fears. Hungering and thirsting for more of God, after a day’s toil, he spent much time in prayer. His companions in the small quarters where he slept failed to understand the deep longings that caused him at times to break out in supplication to God, and he was forced into the woods to talk to his heavenly Father.
Late one night, he returned to his bed, his heart still lifted in prayer when, he said later,
"All at once my room grew light. At first, I though the sun was rising, but the others were sound asleep. The room grew lighted, until it was filled with glory. The burden of my heart suddenly disappeared, and I was filled with a sense of inner joy. My body felt as light as a feather. I was filled with a power that made me feel I could almost fly. I could not contain my joy, but shouted until everyone in the barracks was awakened. There was no more sleep that night. Some thought I had gone crazy; others, that a devil had gotten into me.I was now a son of the heavenly King. I knew then that my Father had saved me for a purpose and that He would work with me."
Kaboo by no means understood the theology of what had taken place. But, in response to deep longings after God, a complete commitment to Him, and his simple faith, the Holy spirit had come to this unlettered, ignorant African boy in such power that the lives touched by his saintly and almost other-world influence are more than can be numbered.
He became a member of the Methodist church in Monrovia and was baptized under the nameof Samuel Morris. It was chosen by Miss Knolls in a gesture of gratitude to an American banker of that name who, during missionary training years, had assisted her financially. Samuel spent two happy years in Monrovia, supporting himself by doing odd jobs. Miss Knolls and others gave him lessons in English and reading, and he proved to be an apt pupil.
By a most peculiar and yet providential coincidence, his path crossed that of a young slave boy who had witnessed his torture as a pawn. He had escaped from his masters and made his way to Monrovia. Through Samuel’s influence, the lad was led to Christ and baptized under the name of Henry O’Neil. He, too, had seen the Light that shone around Kaboo on the cross tree and had heard the Voice that bade him rise and flee. The youths became fast friends, as well as worthy ambassadors of the Lord Jesus.
One of the missionaries. recognizing Sammy’s potential for spiritual leadership, advised him to go to the United States for further education, so that eventually he could be a greater help to his own people.
As the matter was engaging the boy’s thoughts, someone read to him the fourteenth chapter of John’s gospel, where Christ told His disciples of the future coming of the Spirit of God to the world. This was the first occasion that what he himself had experienced in the plantation bunk house was defined. For hours at a time, the lad pondered the subject and went from missionary to missionary in Monrovia, asking questions about the Holy Spirit. Finally, one friend, unable to answer his queries further, said that most of her knowledge had been gleaned from Stephen Merritt of New York City.
"I will go to New York to see him," declared Sammy. As soon as he could, he walked to the seacoast where a sailing vessel was anchored in the harbour. When the captain came ashore in a small boat to bargain about the cargo to be assembled, great was his astonishment upon being confronted by a young native, who greeted him with the words, "My Father in Heaven told me you would take me to New York. I want to see Stephen Merritt who lives there."
"You are crazy, boy," was the captain’s rejoinder, turning away with an oath.
He came to the shore several times, and on each occasion Sammy repeated his plea. Before the scheduled sailing, however, the captain was forced to replace some deserters. The lad approached him again with the confident assertion, "My Father told me you will take me now."
"How much shall I pay you?"
"Nothing. Just take me to New York, so I can see Stephen Merritt." And Sammy Morris began another chapter of his book of life. As he boarded the vessel, he saw a youth lying on the deck, unable to walk because of an injury. Sammy knelt at his side asking God to heal him. At once the prayer was answered. The captain supposed that the boy he had taken aboard was an experienced sailor and, when he learned otherwise, was about to send him ashore. "Please keep him. He has done so much for me," pleaded the lad for whom prayer had been answered.
Consent was gruffly given but, as occasion offered, the captain rained cuffs and blows on him as well as on the crew, who presented the most ungodly array of men that could be imagined. A veritable giant, a Malay, whom everyone feared, took an especial dislike to Sammy, vowing to kill him. During a drunken brawl, the Malay, cutlass in hand, was advancing on some of his shipmates, when Sammy quietly stepped in front of him with the words, "Don’t kill! Don’t kill!" A strange power seized the half-crazed man and, dropping his weapon, he retired to his bunk.
Hearing the commotion, the captain appeared, ready to shoot the miscreants but, when he saw that Sammy had stopped the fighting, followed him below deck. As the lad knelt and prayed for all on board, the Holy Spirit sent a shaft of conviction to the heart of the wicked man, and kneling, probably for the first time in his life, he thanked God for sending this boy among them. His whole manner of life was renovated. Rum no longer was distributed to the crew; fighting gave way to prayer services and to Sammy’s singing of the old Gospel hymns that never fail to reach the heart. When the Malay was stricken with an illness that seemed fatal, Sammy’s prayers were answered in his restoration to health. The boy he had hated then became the object of his devotion.
When the ship reached New York after nearly six months at sea, the crew provided Sammy with clothing. Though by no means the best, it enabled him to go ashore fully clad. The parting with his friends, for that was what these rough sailors had become, was painful, and many wept as they bade the lad good-bye. This humble, Spirit-filled boy, by his influence and prayers, had opened their eyes to a higher plane of living than they ever had believed possible. Some of them became true penitents at Calvary’s Cross.
On Friday, the ship was docked and, as Sammy set foot on American soil, he called out to the first person he saw, "Where can I find Stephen Morris?"
The tramp, for so he was, had attended a city mission where he had met that gentleman and knew exactly where to find him. "I’ll take you to him for a dollar," he offered. After a long walk, Sammy and his companion reached Mr. Merritt’s office, as he was locking the door to leave for the day.
"I am Samuel Morris. I have just come from Africa to talk with you about the Holy Spirit," was the lad’s greeting. Mr. Merritt conducted the youth to the Mission next door to his office, promising to see him later.
"I want my dollar," called out the tramp, who had been completely forgotten in the strange meeting.
"Stephen Merritt pays my bills," replied Sammy. And his newly-found friend smilingly handed the guide his fee.
After attending to some business, Mr. Merritt returned to the Mission. He never forgot the sight that greeted him. Seventeen men on their knees, with tears streaming down their cheeks, were humble suppliants for God’s mercy. Sammy stood in their midst, his dusky face aglow with the light of Heaven. At the conclusion of the service, Mr. Merritt took the boy to his own home, where he gave him the bedroom reserved for the Bishop when he came to New York. The surroundings were so bewildering to the African lad that Mr. Merritt, much to his own amusement and enjoyment, had to help him prepare for the night. At breakfast the next morning, Sammy, having had no food since Thursday evening, did full justice to Mrs. Merritt’s culinary skill.
It was Mr. Merritt’s duty that day to officiate at a funeral, and he decided to take his young guest along. Two other ministers were to assist and to be conveyed to the service in his carriage. The sight of a poorly-clad black boy in the coach of the home secretary of the Bishop was startling in the extreme, and they climbed into the carriage with a reluctance they could not hide. To relieve his own embarrassment and to put his friends at ease as they drove along, Mr. Merritt pointed out to Sammy various places of importance in the metropolis. But the interest of the youth in these wonders was slight and, suddenly turning to his host, he questioned, "Have you even prayed in a coach?" No, he had never done so, was the admission.
"We will pray," said the lad and, as Mr. Merritt stopped the horses and knelt, Sammy talked to God after this fashion: "Father, I wanted to see Stephen Merritt, so I could talk to him about the Holy Ghost. He shows me the harbour, the churches, the banks and other large buildings, but says nothing to me about this Spirit I want to know more about. Fill him with Thyself, so that he will not think, talk, write or preach about anything else."
In all the former years of his religious life, never had the presence of the Holy Spirit been so real to Stephen Merritt, as when this African youth, his soul aflame with the love of God, prayed for him in such untoward surroundings. From that time, he was a changed man, and his ministerial friends caught a vision of holiness they never before had seen.
When they proposed to buy clothing for Sammy, they thought the best was none too good for this "angel in ebony". Never had such a sermon leaped from the lips of Stephen Merritt, as the one he delivered at the service that day. So powerful was the movement of the Holy Spirit that many persons knelt at the casket, repenting of spiritual deflection.
In view of the lad’s purpose in coming to America, Mr. Merritt decided that Taylor University, then located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, would be the place where Sammy could best receive a Christian education. He recommended him to the school authorities as "a diamond in the rough".
On Sunday, the boy accompanied Mr. Merritt to a Sunday School and was asked to talk about the Holy Spirit. The mirth of the scholars, when the Negro youth mounted the platform, soon was changed to weeping, as the presence of God came into the group. A "Sammy Morris Missionary Society" was formed, which made itself responsible for clothing, books and other things the boy would need at the College. Three trunks of gifts resulted.
Within a few days, Sammy was on his way to Fort Wayne, which he reached on Friday, his "Deliverance Day". Dr. Reade, the President of the College, asked him if he had any preference as to living quarters. "If there is a room nobody else wants, give it to me." Dr. Reade, writing to a friend, said, "I turned away, for my eyes were full of tears. I was asking myself whether I was willing to take what nobody else wanted. In my experience as a teacher, I have had occasion to assign rooms to more than a thousand students. Most of them were noble Christian young ladies and gentlemen, but Sammy Morris was the only one of them who ever said, ‘If there is a room nobody else wants, give it to me.’"
The College was in the throes of a financial struggle, and an appeal was made for funds to educate the lad who had come from the west coast of Africa to learn about the Holy Spirit. The response was disappointing, until a butcher, Josiah Kichler, donated five dollars for what he termed the "Faith Fund". This act and name suggested a way to arouse interest in Sammy’s education and, when the "Faith Fund" was advertised as such, money was given in even increasing amounts.
One day the boy asked Dr. Reade if he might secure employment.
"I want to earn money so that Henry O’Neil can come here to be educated. He is a much better boy than I. He worked with me for Jesus in Liberia."
It was decided that they pray about the matter, and the next day, Sammy, face wreathed in smiles, exclaimed, "Henry O’Neil is coming soon my Father tells me." Within a short time, Dr. Reade was informed that a missionary who had known both boys in Africa had returned to America and was arranging for Henry’s education in the United States.
Sammy’s schooling posed serious problems, for what he had learned in Monrovia had been extremely elementary. He required special teachers, but the matter was settled when several young Christian women assumed the responsibility.
The Sunday after his arrival at the College, Sammy learned of a Negro church in Fort Wayne. He set out to attend it, but it was so far he reached it late. Introducing himself as Samuel Morris who had just come from Africa, he astounded the minister by saying he had a message for the congregation. That gentleman, about to discount such an unusual statement, was restrained, however, by the glow of Heaven on the boy’s face. He said later that, although he did not remember a word of what had been said, he felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as never before. The entire congregation went to its knees, some weeping over their sins, and others rejoicing at what God was doing in their midst.
The results of such a revival could not be hidden, and the local newspapers made known to a wide area the name of Sammy Morris, the young African attending Taylor University. Many persons came from far and near to visit him. Always courteous, but not interested in mere chit-chat, he handed each caller a Bible, with the request that a portion be read aloud. In this way, he hid the Word of God in his heart.
A student in the College, with atheistic principles, thinking he could confound the African lad by his arguments, asked for a personal confrontation with Sammy. When he came into his presence, the boy in accordance with his usual custom, handed him the Bible, requesting that he read a chapter. The older man instead threw the Book on the table saying scornfully, "I never read that Book any more, for I don’t believe a word it says."
Sammy, astounded, was silent for a few minutes. Then, the tears coursing down his cheeks, he asked incredulously,
"My dear brother, when your Father speaks to you, do you not believe Him? When your Brother speaks, do you not believe what He says? The Sun shines, and do you not believe it? God is your Father; Jesus is your Brother, and the Holy Spirit is your Sun. Kneel down and let me pray for you."
The Spirit of God smote the heart of the proud man and, before the end of the term, he was converted and eventually became a Bishop.
During Sammy’s career at the College, the financial condition became most acute, and it seemed the school must be closed. Interested persons felt this could not take place, with such a Spirit-filled student as Sammy Morris in attendance. And the "Faith Fund" saved the College. So many donations were given that the trustees were able to purchase ten acres of ground for a new school in Upland, Indiana. And there Taylor University stands today, a memorial to the Negro youth who exemplified to his generation and all succeeding ones the possibilities and power of God’s grace.
Sammy loved the country that had taken him to its heart. The changing seasons were sources of enchantment and gratitude. He interpreted the falling snowflakes as messages from Heaven and once in prayer fervently exclaimed, "A year here is worth a lifetime in Africa."
But the winters of the United States proved too rigorous for this child of the tropics, and a severe cold weakened his naturally frail constitution. He continued to attend classes and church services, but the fact that he was ill could not be concealed. He was taken to a hospital in Fort Wayne, where loving care did all possible for the "angel in ebony".
At first, Sammy did not understand why prayer for his healing was unanswered. But when his heavenly Father tenderly revealed to him the fact that soon he would be in the City where "the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick," he accepted with joy the knowledge that the purpose of God in his life had been fulfilled. In May, 1893, quietly and peacefully, he fell asleep in Jesus.
But death did not end all. Although the youth himself never reached his native land, other hands than his carried the Gospel torch into its darkness. At a prayer gathering soon after Sammy had passed away, a young man said, "I must go to Africa in his place. It is my prayer that the mantle of his simple faith will be thrown over me." At the same time, two others volunteered their services.
At interesting supplement developed in connection with the atheist student who had been converted during college years. He had entered the ministry and, while conversing with a radical unbeliever, the latter became so angry that he struck a blow which felled the clergyman into unconsciousness. With returning senses, naturally enough, he would have been retaliatory. Instead, however, came a vision of Sammy, under the blows of the drunken sea captain; then praying him into the kingdom of God. "If Samuel Morris could forgive that man," he said, "cannot I have the same spirit?" Struggling to his knees, he lifted his voice in prayer, with the result that the atheist soon was asking forgiveness for his display of temper and crying to God for mercy on such a sinner as he.
Several years after Sammy’s death, the captain who had brought him to America, visited Stephen Merritt. When he heard that his young friend was in Heaven, he burst into tears, saying that most of the sailors who had known the lad were still manning the ship, and that his saintly influence had brought about permanent transformations among them.
After his brief contact with Sammy, Stephen Merritt himself entered into a new era of spiritual life. In a ministry among the mentally disturbed, he was especially blessed, many healings resulting in answer to his prayers.
Sammy’s last resting place in Linden Wood Cemetery in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has become a "Mecca" for many of both the white and black races. The sacred influence of the Holy Spirit seems to linger around the spot, and conversions there have not been unusual.
To any who doubt the validity of the remarkable incidents in the life of the "angel in ebony", the words of Dr. Reade are worthy of thought: "Most of us have gone too far away from the simple faith of childhood, and God cannot do many mighty works in us because of our unbelief."
God Is Working Out His Purpose
Through men whom worldlings count as fools,
Chosen of God, and not of man,
Reared in Thy secret training-schools,
Moves forward Thine eternal plan.
And now, though hidden from our ken
In Midian desert, Sinai’s hill,
Spirit of God, Thou hast Thy men
Waiting Thy time to do Thy will.
When blazing out upon our night
Flashes the Pentecostal flame,
May I be found with heart alight,
Burning to magnify Thy Name
Not as Thy prophets who declare
The Word that thousands hear and own,
If I may have the smallest share
In settling Christ upon His throne..
Bishop Frank Houghton
SI Moderator - Greg