‘except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die it abides alone….’
One of my claims to fame is to be Welsh by Marriage.
Had I not married Joel it is unlikely I would have come to settle here in the land of Our Fathers, and I might never have heard of this brave Welshman who is so greatly honoured by the Christians in Korea.
I had heard of a group from Korea who felt it their responsibility, year after year, to travel to Wales, always coming via Jerusalem, to seek to bless the church here in thanksgiving for this, their first missionary, Robert Jermain Thomas, who, now 150 years ago, gave his life in seeking to bring them the Gospel. But had it not been for the Koreans themselves I doubt if any of us in the UK would even have heard of this brave Welshman. But in the land of Korea they know that, though this brave young man had been martyred on arrival, it was he who had brought them these Bibles, written in their own language, which had so miraculously survived.
I have heard several versions of how it happened, but part of the story is indisputable, and that is that Thomas had taken ship to Korea, with crates of Bibles. Herein is the first miracle. Does anyone know who first was burdened to translate God’s Word into Korean? Who was the first contact who had taken on this mammoth task of translating the whole of the bible in this strange tongue, and with such a strange alphabet? This was no small task.
Many years ago Connie had been asked to help a tribe in Congo to have God’s word in their own mother tongue. Thirty years later, what a celebration as at last the task is completed! Those who translated the bible into Korean may not be remembered, or even the stranger from Korea who possibly had been brought to our shores, that helped them in this task. But we do remember Thomas, because he was willing to live or die that Christ be known, and God’s word heard.
I know how I have pictured the story as it was first told to me :- the sighting of this land of Korea, from the ship which had already carried him so far, but not the welcome Robert had hoped for. Seeing the angry mob on the sea shore the captain has the guns manned, and so, in order to avoid any loss of life this brave young man orders the sailors to throw his crates of bibles onto the beach, leaping over with them while the captain, no longer responsible, sails away from their danger zone.
How long was it before the sad news of his death reached his family? Was there a sweetheart who had been waiting to hear that it was safe for her to travel out to join him? I have no idea. And how long was it before other Christian missionaries had ventured to that previously closed land? Maybe not until the Welsh revival? But we have heard from the now vibrant church in Korea that eventually other Christian missionaries had arrived to find these previously warlike people now already with hearts softened and changed, and worshipping Jesus Christ, as Lord and Saviour.
Here was another miracle. Robert Jermain Thomas had expected to explain to them the gospel, for ‘how shall they hear without a preacher?’ And how could they understand the purpose of these heavy loads? But God had not allowed them to destroy Thomas’s cargo.
Instead of destroying the books, someone had thought to line their walls with the precious paper, helping to keep out wind and weather, and as others then followed suit, somehow they came to realise the significance of the words written thereon, now plastered all around them. And today, through the precious life of one young man, the Word of God has been sown into the hearts of the people of Korea, and this year, 150 years later, some of them have again visited the little county of Wales, not only in thanksgiving, but to pray for us that again we may know the flame of revival that first ignited one to translate the word, Thomas to willingly give his life and then later those so filled with the Holy Spirit to come as teachers among them that as a nation they all might run with the Word .