Robert Jermain Thomas

The First Protestant Missionary to Korea, Robert Jermain Thomas
and the 1907 Korean Reviva

1. A Missionary, Robert Jermain Thomas

Robert Jermain Thomas was born in Rhayadar South Wales in 1839. His father was a minister in Hanover Church in Llanover near Abergervenny from 1848~1884. Under a devout Christian family, he had decided to be a missionary from childhood. On June 4th 1863, he was ordained at Hanover Church to be a missionary with the London Missionary Society. After getting married to Caroline, he embarked for Shanghai in China. Unfortunately, his wife, Caroline died after four months, and Thomas resigned from the Missionary Society in unbearable sadness. He went to Beijing and became a lecturer in English and Chinese.

    However, Thomas regretted giving up his ministry and began his missionary work again. At that time, he came to have a vision to evangelize Korea after meeting two Korean traders who told him that there were about 50,000 Catholic converts who were instructed by eleven priests and met in houses. In 1865, Thomas went to Korea and propagated the Word of God by distributing Bibles. He conveyed the Gospel to the hermit land, Korea, with a religious passion. He wrote: "they (Koreans) were very hostile to foreigners but by a little chat in their own language I could persuade them to accept a book or two." He left Korea after four months. Even though he had no choice but to leave, he has never forgotten about his mission in Korea.

2. The Missionary Thomas on the General Sherman

   Then, Thomas got employment as a translator on an armed American merchant-marine schooner called the Gerneral Sherman. It sailed up the river to Pyongyang but was warned to leave as Korean did not want foreign trade. In spite of this warning, the captain of the General Sherman opened fire. The crew of the General Sherman kidnapped a Korean government official, whose name was Hyon Ik Lee. The unreasonable demand incurred the Korean government's anger. As a result, the General Sherman was sank by the attacking Korean army.

     In the vortex of the battle, Thomas enthusiastically gave out Bibles to evangelize the Korean people until he was captured and taken before the governor. Giving out Bibles, he prayed, "Please, God help me to hand over the Bible to every Korean." He even gave the Bible to Choon Kwon Park who captured him. At the place of execution, Thomas begged the executioner to accept the last Bible. Then, he shut his eyes and prayed. He was beheaded at only 27 years of age. Some Koreans who witnessed his execution admired his faith and then accepted Jesus as their Lord. Actually, Choon Kwon Park was an elder, and played an important role in establishment of the Pyongany Church.

He was a mission pioneer who opened the door of the hermit land with ardent passion about the Gospel. His martyrdom was not a fruitless effort. It became the seed of the Gospel of Korea. In the 19th century, Robert Jermain Thomas came to Korea a spiritual savage land and became the first martyr in Korea. Hence he was a cornerstone of Korean church history. The Koreans gradually came to believe in that Jesus was their personal Lord and Saviour.

Meanwile, after Thomas' martyrdom, the great awakening occurred in Walse which is his homeland in 1904. It swept through the valleys and sparked off a revival in parts of India as well as other places.

3. The 1907 Korean Revival

Holy Spirit came to Pyonyang. At that time, the Koreans were hungry for a spiritual awakening. A week of fasting and prayer was set aside for the church in Pyonyang. The church wanted God to come and touch their community.

     In 1906, Rev. H. A. Johnston came Korea to convey the news of the 1904 Welsh Awakening. Hearing Johnston's testimony, missionaries and pastors was greatly moved. At once they began to pray for the revival of Korea to be like Walse. Before long, the fire of Spirit descended Korea from the outset of Changdaehyun church of Pyongyang in 1907. Convert and spiritual awakening occurred in every church, and confessing their sin, many people accepted the Gospel. This is the one of the huge events in the Korean church history.

     In conclusion, Thomas' martyrdom was the foundation of the revival of Korean church. In 1932  Thomas Memorial Church was erected at the place of his martyrdom by Korean Christians.

     The year 2007 is the centennial anniversary of the revival of the Korean Church. Today's Christians are in the midst of a spiritual crisis. Above all, we need the second fire of revival. Now, we should  pray for the Holy Spirit to fill in us again.


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