Samuel Kaboo Morris (1873-1893)
The Early Life and Trials of Kaboo
Kaboo (Samuel Morris) was born about 1873 as the son of the king of the Kru tribe, who were poor farmers in Western Africa.
As a 16-year-old boy, Kaboo was taken prisoner in a conflict with the Grabos, a rival tribe. They held him ransom for livestock while they enslaved and abused him.
His father and king could not pay the ransom, so he offered to give Kaboo’s sister instead to get back his son and the future king of his tribe.
But Kaboo begged his father not to make this bargain. He insisted he was older and stronger and could endure the hardships in order to protect his little sister. Finally, his father agreed not to make the trade. So the enemy tribe punished Kaboo and kept him for ransom.
Kaboo reported, “This cruel man whipped me every day; he whipped me without any cause, and every day the whipping got harder and harder.”
He said he “had no coat, no vest, no shirt, no pants” and that this was typical in his country. Nearly naked, he was beaten with a rope vine (p. 11).
One day, when the Grabos were about to whip him again, Kaboo prayed. A brilliant and intense light shined on him like a lightning bolt! Just then, a voice urged, “Get up and run! Run Kaboo!”
So he ran like crazy into the woods. He did not know where he was or where to go. He’d been starved for days, but he outran his captors and hid inside a hollow log.
For over two weeks, he kept walking. He said the same glowing light led him onward in a direction he later learned was the opposite direction from home. He walked barefoot several hundred miles through the jungle of wild animals.
Finally, he found his way into a coffee plantation and met a former member of his Kru tribe who knew his language!
Isn’t it remarkable how the Holy Spirit guides us down seemingly strange and “random” paths, right into the center of God’s will?
Trusting in Jesus and the Father
The first Sunday on the plantation, he found himself in a church service. The woman preacher told the story of Saul’s conversion: the light and voice. He was so struck he jumped up and said, “That’s what happened to me!” He didn’t know not to interrupt the sermon.
Kaboo asked who God was and was told that God was their Father. So from that day on, he referred to praying as “talking to my Father.” Every day and even late at night, he talked to his Father out loud with a very loud voice.
One night he was out in the woods crying out to his Father who he desperately wanted to know and be loved by. He prayed until after midnight. When he finally came back to his tent, he laid down. Suddenly, a light glowed in his room.
“His burden disappeared and his heart was full of joy and body seemed as light as a feather,” his biographer wrote. “He said he thought he could fly. He began to shout and leap and praise God like the lame man who was healed at the Beautiful Gate in the temple. He soon waked everybody up.”
After this, “whenever he spoke of his conversion, his eyes flashed and his whole frame quivered with emotion” (pp. 14-15).
I love that Kaboo saw his own life experience in Scripture and wasn’t afraid to claim it! Sometimes those paths seem strange and “random.” His story also reminds me that the Spirit of Jesus is always present, lighting up our lives with God’s love, even when we are not able to feel that.
A woman who was a missionary on the coffee plantation tutored Kaboo. She gave him the Christian name of Samuel Morris and affectionately called him “Sammy.” She taught him English, how to read the Bible, and taught him many lessons from the Gospels.
Sammy wanted to preach to people about Jesus. The missionary urged him to go to America to learn from Stephen Merritt, one of the leading anointed preachers of New York City.
“Sammy hastened to the woods, his usual place of prayer, to ‘talk to his Father’ about it.”
“‘Now Father,’ said he, ‘you have called me to preach to my people, but the missionary says I can’t preach without an education, and that to be educated I must go to America; and Father, you know I have not a single cent — please make a way for me to go.’”
Later he insisted he knew his Father would provide a way (pp. 15-16).
He was determined to learn about the Holy Spirit. He kept pleading with his teacher and in prayer, “I need more of the Holy Spirit. Teach me more.” He was determined to learn from Stephen Merritt and be prayed for.
So Kaboo went to the seaport in Liberia. He found a ship captain and told him, “My Father wants you to take me to New York.” The captain refused because he had no money but later agreed to take him as a helper.
Kaboo endured storms and abuse from the sailors on the ship, but his faith in God prevailed.
His determination and steadfastness are inspiring. Talk about a walk of faith—he stepped out of the boat to follow Jesus!
In America, In the Holy Spirit
When he stepped foot on American soil in the big city of New York, he walked up to the first man he saw and asked, “Where’s Stephen Merritt?”
There were over two million people living in New York City at that time, but incredibly, this man actually knew him! He offered to take Kaboo to him for a dollar and then led him four miles by foot through the city right to where he lived!
Kaboo stepped right up to pastor Stephen Merritt. “I am Samuel Morris; I’ve just come from Africa to talk with you about the Holy Ghost!”
Then the guide asked for his dollar. Kaboo replied, “Oh, Stephen Merritt pays all my bills now.”
Stephen paid the guide and sent Kaboo into the mission building to wait till he finished a scheduled meeting.
Afterward, he recalled, “I hastened over, and found him on the platform with seventeen men… he had just pointed them to Jesus, and they were rejoicing in His pardoning favor. I had never seen such a sight.”
Kaboo was “under the power of the Holy Spirit, [his] first night in America [he was] winning souls for Immanuel… the altar was full of our young people, weeping and sobbing” (pp. 6-7).
A group of people started a faith fund to provide for Kaboo to go to a Christian college for training.
Again, I am struck by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He had prepared the circumstances such that the right person was there to guide him at the moment of Kaboo’s arrival. Then we see that Kaboo was ready to share Jesus with anyone who would listen.
Praying With Stephen Merritt
One day, the great preacher took Kaboo in a horse-driven coach driven to show him all the sights of the big city. Kaboo had never been in a coach or seen a city with such enormous buildings, the Grand Opera House, Central Park, and crowds of people.
Finally, Kaboo interrupted the tour, “Stephen Merritt, do you ever pray in a coach?”
“He placed his great black hand on mine,” Stephen smiled, “and turning me around on my knees, said, ‘We will pray;’ and for the first time I knelt in a coach to pray.”
“He told the Holy Spirit he had come from Africa to talk to me about Him, and I talked about everything else, and wanted to show him the church, the city, and the people when he was so desirous of hearing and knowing about Him.”
“He asked [God] if He would take out of my heart things, and fill me with [the Spirit of Jesus] that I would never write, or preach, or talk but only of Him.”
“There were three of us in that coach that day. Never have I known such a day — we were filled with the Holy Ghost, and He made [Sammy] the channel by which I became instructed and then endured as never before.”
“Bishops have placed their hands upon my head, once and again, and joined with elders of the church in ordaining services, but no power came in comparison… the abiding of the Comforter was received in the coach with Sammy Morris, for since then I have not written a line or spoken a word, only for or in the Holy Ghost” (pp. 7-9).
Kaboo came seeking the Spirit from Stephen Merritt, and yet it was Merritt that was reached by the Spirit residing in Kaboo! Isn’t this a great example of the upside-down ways of the Kingdom of God?
Studying in College
After this, Kaboo went to Taylor University in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to study the Bible and learn more about the Spirit of Jesus.
He told the dean, “Any room is good enough for me. If there is a room that nobody else wants, give that to me” (p. 26).
Sadly, the students back then were more focused on Aristotle’s rationalism than the New Testament. But Kaboo continued to pray out loud to his Father, and he loved his Bible. In class, he shared astounding insights about living by the Holy Spirit.
One time, he told an atheist that God was his Father, and Jesus was his brother. Later, that man became a Christian and a bishop.
Kaboo was invited to speak in churches and crowds flocked to him because they felt the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Kaboo desired formal training, and yet God used him as his mouthpiece without waiting for him to complete his training. Like the disciples, it was not their education that qualified them–it was their experience of being with Jesus.
Kaboo’s testimony inspires me to ask for a fresh igniting of the flame of the Holy Spirit! And that I might live from that surrender to the Spirit in every step of faith that I take.
Tragically, in the severe winter of 1893, he caught a terrible cold that took his life prematurely, while he was still a student and only 20 years old.
His friends said he bore his sickness patiently and cheerfully. Regarding the ministry he was preparing to do, he explained, “Others can do it better. It is not my work, it is Christ’s work” (p. 24).
Another time, he explained his peace and joy, “Since I have found Jesus, death is my friend” (p. 25).
In his last hours, he glowed radiantly. “I’m so happy,” he beamed. “I understand it now; I’ve seen the angels and they will come for me soon” (p. 29).
He is remembered as a missionary from Africa to America. His life and ministry revolutionized Taylor University, even to this day. His life story of what Jesus did for him has inspired countless people around the world.
It is hard to understand his early death and easy to say, “Why, Lord? He could have done so much more!” And yet, he stepped into glory in heaven and his testimony for Jesus continues to bear fruit in this world.
Samuel Morris: A Spirit-Filled Life by Stephen Merritt and Thaddeus Constantine Reade (1908)
Sheridan McDaniel’s Reflections
I am thankful to have Sheridan McDaniel as a friend. He pastors A Place For Worship in Fullerton, CA and serves on Soul Shepherding’s staff as a coach and advisor.
Overcoming Prejudice To Be a Powerful Tool for Christ
After reading about the life of Kaboo, my (Sheridan’s) desire to continue my pursuit of the presence of Jesus has become even more narrow and focused. Other things in life are secondary and the person of Christ is primary. Like Kaboo, knowing God must be my top priority.
But, knowing the Lord does not come without a cost. Kaboo’s relationship with God reassures me that whatever price I have to pay to know Him, it is so worth it.
Kaboo overcame both black-on-black and white-on-black prejudice. In both cases, he learned to forgive and became a powerful tool for the cause of Christ.
As an African American man, I’ve experienced the same type of discrimination and prejudice. From Kaboo’s life, I’m encouraged not to use my struggles and disadvantages as an excuse for not advancing in life. I can learn to suffer well, outlast my trials, and be ready for God’s use in any and all situations.
When I read about Kaboo’s journey, 1 Corinthians 2:2 comes to mind: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
The thread running through Kaboo’s life was to talk with His Father, to walk in the Spirit, and to be with Jesus. His testimony encourages me that my life (and yours!) can have the same foundation.
– Sheridan McDaniel, Pastor Relations Advisor and Coach for Soul Shepherding, Pastor of A Place for Worship in Fullerton, CA
Soul Talk Questions
How does the story of Kaboo impact you personally? You can use these questions to prompt your personal reflection, prayer, and/or sharing with a friend:
- Kaboo listened to and trusted the guidance of the Holy Spirit to light his path. What is a challenge you are facing or a decision you need to make? Pray for guidance and strength from the Spirit of Jesus.
- It’s sad that Kaboo died at such a young age. Being emotionally honest with God in losses and trials helps you to receive divine comfort and wisdom. What is something that you or a loved one are suffering? Talk to Jesus and ask for his comforting presence.
- God provided for Kaboo in powerful and inspiring ways. How has the Lord blessed you in your life? Offer a prayer of thanks and praise.