In 1914, 17-year-old Matthew Cowley was called to serve a mission in New Zealand. Determined to master the Māori language, and without a companion for a time, he dedicated himself to reading the Māori Bible and learning from members. After months of prayer and study, he gave his first public sermon. He later testified of God’s help in speaking the language, saying, “I was using words I had never read or heard.”
Cowley went on to become a master of the language and kept his mission journal in Māori. While most missionaries went home after two or three years, Cowley remained and served for nearly five. During his mission, he worked with two local men, Stuart Meha and William Duncan Sr., to complete a revision of the Māori translation of the Book of Mormon. The same three men also helped prepare a Māori edition of the Doctrine and Covenants for publication and translated the Pearl of Great Price.
In 1938 Cowley returned to New Zealand and served for seven years as mission president. He was known for his great love of Māori people and culture. During the course of his missions, he spent time in the people’s homes and frequently offered healing blessings to them. They affectionately gave him the title Tumuaki, meaning “great leader.” A year after his call to join the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1945, he was appointed to preside over all the Pacific missions and was sometimes called the Apostle of the Pacific.