The Story of Robert Thomas – Martyr in Korea
Mar 31, 2020 5723
Born in 1839 in Wales, Robert Jermain Thomas was ordained as a missionary with the London Mission Society. His heart burned within him with a passion for the preaching of the gospel, and for seeing people accept Jesus Christ. He married the love of his life, Caroline, and immediately the newly-weds set off to China, a five-month journey. Shortly after arriving in Shanghai, Robert Thomas was devastated when his wife died suddenly. Later that same year he went to Beijing where he worked teaching English and Chinese. At that time, Korea was known as the Hermit Kingdom because it had cut itself off from the rest of the world. Some Catholic priests had arrived in Korea in 1785, but in 1863, the Korean authorities massacred around 8,000 of the converts.
In 1865 Robert met two Korean traders who told him about the need for the gospel in Korea. This was a need that Robert Thomas could not ignore. He disguised himself heavily and went into Korea. He stayed there for four months, preaching the gospel and selling many Chinese Bibles. All the time he knew that he risked death if he were discovered.
The following year, Robert returned to Korea with crates of Bibles. He sailed up the river to Pyongyang on the American trading ship, the General Sherman. The Koreans warned the ship to leave, but the vessel continued on its course until it became stuck on a sandbank. The Koreans sent fire rafts against the ship, which caught on fire. All on board tried to escape the burning ship, but they were killed by the soldiers on the river bank as they tried to make their way to safety.
Robert stood on the deck of the burning ship, opening the crates of Bibles and flinging them to the people who lined the banks of the river. Finally, with his clothes on fire, Robert leaped overboard, and as he reached the shore, he offered his last Bible to a soldier, begging him to receive it. Instead the soldier, although he hesitated, killed Robert with his spear. Robert Thomas was 27 years of age.
A few of the people on the riverbank managed to rescue some of the Bibles, and taking them home, used them as wallpaper. Over time, the people began to read what was written on their walls, and as a result, gradually Koreans started converting to Christianity. Today the church in South Korea numbers in the many millions, and includes some of the largest evangelical churches in the world. And it all started with one young man (literally) on fire with the gospel of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life to share the gospel with the Korean people!
It’s the same with all who follow Jesus. We must all be consumed by the gospel. It might not be through martyrdom, but one way or another we will all lay down our lives down for it. Every follower of Jesus is a 100% evangelist; the gospel must consume 100% of your life. Just as you can’t be half-pregnant, there is no such thing as a 50% ambassador for the good news of Jesus. It just doesn’t exist. The news is too good.
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– Eliezer Gonzalez