Sowing seeds in Korea
I came across this story last week in preparing to teach on the Parable of the Sower - it's the story of the seeds of the gospel being planted in Korea. I spoke to Young Bok Kim about the story and he filled in some of the details. Pretty amazing!
In the middle of the 19th century, Korea was perhaps the most closed society in the world. There was an English missionary named Robert Thomas who was serving in China. Early on in his ministry, he began to feel a burden for the people of Korea - and he was determined to bring the gospel there. He found a way to get on board an American merchant ship that was trying to establish trade with Korea.
As the ship approached, the Korean authorities (suspicious of the merchants' intentions) refused to let them port. The merchants maneuvered the ship and eventually it came to rest on a sand bank. The Korean authorities launched 2 weeks of attacks on the ship, and 20 Koreans were killed.
Eventually, the authorities set another boat on fire and floated it toward the American ship. It crashed into the merchant vessel, setting it on fire, and forcing everyone to jump ship. The Korean authorities waited on shore, and killed the Americans as they came out of the water.
Robert Thomas was one of these men. As a Korean man stood over him with a sword, Thomas held up his Bible and said, smiling, "Jesus, Jesus." The Korean man took his head off with the sword. And just like that, Thomas' attempt to bring the gospel to Korea was brought to a tragic and dramatic end.
However, the man who killed Thomas, decided this book must have been important. So he picked up the Bible and took it home. It was in Chinese rather than Korean, so he could not read it. But the words were nice enough looking that he decided to use the pages of the Bible to wallpaper the outside of his home (this was somewhat common). Shortly thereafter, crowds of people gathered around to see it, and some scholars began tracing and translating the words. One became a Christian from reading the words of the Bible, and soon others began to come to see this house. It later became the first Korean Protestant Church (Nuldarikol Church).
Young Bok Kim translates the testimony of Chunkwon Park, the man who killed Robert Thomas, who also converted to Christianity and became an elder of one of the first churches in the country: "When I killed that person, I had a very strange feeling. As I was about to stab him with my sword, he spoke some words and he smiled at me. Then he gave me a book covered with red cloth. I killed him, but I couldn't help but take the book. So I brought it home."
A century and a half later, the gospel has had dramatic effects in Korea. Korea is now one of the largest sending nations of gospel missionaries to other parts of the world. So it is with the kingdom of God - the kingdom, like a seed, starts small, but eventually grows up to yield a great harvest.