Nobody knows how many North Koreans celebrated the birth of Christ last Christmas. For them, any display of faith can lead to prison or worse. And nobody knows either who will remember the death 150 years ago of a missionary on the banks of the Taedong river. The Welshman, Robert Jermain Thomas, was one of the great figures who brought Christianity to the Korean peninsula. His death, around the end of August in 1866, has been marked with loud and joyous celebrations in churches in Cardiff and Seoul.
At a time when Western influence was feared and rejected, Thomas voyaged on an American ship to spread his faith. There was an altercation and fierce fighting broke out between the crew and the Koreans ashore. In one version of the story, Thomas abandoned the burning ship and was captured by hostile troops on shore. He is said to have kneeled and given his executioner a Bible before being killed. That legend resonates loudly 150 years later in South Korea, where Christianity thrives, and in Wales, where Korean missionaries now work in a reversal of the old role – once Welsh missionaries tried to convert the “savages” in exotic lands; now missionaries from prosperous countries like South
Korea settle in Wales to spread the faith that once was strong.
South Koreans think Thomas, and his example, were very influential in spreading Christianity. Gi Jung Song, the Korean pastor of the International Church in Cardiff, told the BBC: “Korea was in darkness spiritually and this young man from Wales brought the Bible. He was killed soon after his arrival but his death influenced the whole of Korea.
The person who killed him became a Christian and his house became a church.” The influence grew after Thomas’s death. Pyongyang became a strong Christian centre with a hundred churches just fifteen years later. As the century turned, Korea started looking to Wales for inspiration, so the Welsh Religious Revival of 1904 was echoed by a revival of Christian belief in Korea in 1907.
One Korean in Wales, Jacob Park, said he had met North Korean defectors who said they had known of the death of Thomas but not of his significance. When they learned the truth, they accepted him as a hero.”
Source: BBC News; Revival Media
Bible Study: Revelation 12:11
APRIL: Just as revival fires blew through the North of Korea 110 years ago, pray WIDER for a new, unstoppable revival across the whole of Korea.