Outside the city of Seoul, Korea stands the memorial to the martyrs of the Korean church. Interestingly, the first picture in the gallery is of a Welshman, R. J. Thomas. He was a missionary to Asia who had a big heart for Korea, but it was a hermit kingdom. No foreigners were allowed in. So he went to China instead, and bided his time learning the language and studying the Bible.
In 1866 the opportunity he had been waiting a lifetime for came along. An American ship, the S.S. General Sherman, was going to steam up the Taedong River to the city of Pyongyang in hopes of luring the Koreans into trade. Thomas bought a berth on the ship, hoping to meet some scholars in Pyongyang who spoke and read Chinese. He took as many Chinese Bibles with him as he could stash on board.
The trip was ill fated. In a port on the way to the capital some of the General Sherman’s crew killed three Korean men in a barroom brawl. When they reached Pyongyang, the rumors had grown to such an extent it was impossible to berth. The people of Pyongyang were convinced the foreigners had come for their children to make soup from their eyeballs. There was nothing to do but to turn round and head down the river; except they got stuck on a sandbank. The Koreans lashed a series of small ships together, set them on fire, and maneuvered them so they surrounded the General Sherman, which then also caught fire. Everyone on board had to leap into the river. They came ashore with their swords, but were clubbed to death by the waiting Koreans.
R. J. Thomas also waded to shore. Before he could speak, a club dashed his brains into the water. But his killer noticed he had not emerged with a cutlass, but brandishing books. He wondered if he had killed a good man, and picked up the sodden Bibles and took them home.
Being illiterate, he decided to paper the outside of his house with them. Imagine his astonishment when he returned from the fields to find a bunch of long nailed scholars earnestly reading his walls. One of these scholars became a Christian by reading a Gospel portion plastered on the wall. His son helped a Scottish missionary, John Ross, make the first translation of the New Testament into Korean in Shenyang, Manchuria a mere twenty-five years later. The Word of God is powerful!
From “Standing Strong Through the Storm” — A daily devotional of Open Doors International