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Korea its Land and Early Missionaries

Korea’s Earliest Known Protestant Evangelism 1828+

In 1807, Dr. Robert Morrison of the London Missionary Society, though employed by the East India Company, became the first Protestant missionary to China. By September 1813 assisted by fellow missionary, William Milne (who had arrived in July 1813) they had finished translating the Chinese New Testament and by November 1819, the entire Chinese Bible was completed.

Dr. Morrison was so viewed by suspicion by the Roman Catholics on one hand and the Chinese officials on the other that by the end of 1827 he was entirely unable to preach or teach the gospel to anybody, except the few Chinese workers who he employed. Thus he was compelled to reach them through the press. He employed many means of disseminating the Bible and religious tracts and succeeded in sending large quantities to Corea [Korea], Cochin China, Siam [Thailand], and the island of the Archipelago and by means of traders, into the very heart of the interior of China.

In 1835 Dr. Morrison published an English and Chinese dictionary and afterwards he prepared vocabularies for Corea (as it was then spelt), Japan and China.

The Presbyterian Board of America arrived in China in 1843. Sometime after 1854 though prior to 1892 - 1892 (the year of publication of my source, ‘Robert Morrison – The Pioneer of Chinese Missions’ by W. J. Townsend) its Shanghai extensive printing operations of several presses were carried on and the foundry where seven sizes of Chinese type, beside English, Corean, Manchu, Japanese, Hebrew, Greek and others were cast.

First Protestant Missionary to land in Korea 1832

In the summer of 1832, Charles Gützlaff of the East India Company, a good friend of Dr. Robert Morrison, accompanied by H. H. Linsay arrived in Korea. Thus Charles Gützlaff became the first Protestant missionary to land in Korea.

The East Indian Company had first sent them to the northern port of China, to see how they might be opened to British trade and Dr. Morrison had sent Gützlaff a large stock of Chinese Scriptures and tracts (which could be read by Koreans, Japanese and Chinese) for distribution.

At Basil’s Bay on the west coast of the Ch’ung Ch’yong Province a request, accompanied by presents was sent via local officials to the king of Korea requesting an opening of commercial interests. Whilst Charles Gützlaff was waiting for a reply he planted potatoes, met the locals and distributed Bibles and tracts. After a long delay the petition for trade along with the presents for the king were returned and he was informed that no trade could commence without first consulting China.

Charles Gützlaff reported: ‘According to all accounts which we could collect, there are at present no Europeans at the capital and Christianity is unknown, even by name.’ But before leaving for Korea, Gützlaff had known the ‘detailed accounts of persecution’ of Catholicism in Korea, but ‘could discover no trace of it.’

Charles Gützlaff with great faith with revivalistic foresight wrote: ‘At all events it is the work of God, which I frequently commend in my prayers to His gracious care; can the divine truth, disseminated in Korea be lost? This I believe not, there will be some fruits in the appointed time of the Lord. In the great plan of the eternal God, there will be a time of merciful visitation for them. While we look for this we ought to be very anxious to hasten its approach, by diffusing the glorious doctrines of the cross by all means and all power…The Scriptures teach us to believe that God can bless even these feeble beginnings. Let us hope that better days will soon dawn for Korea.’

Roman Catholics in Korea from 1794+

The book, 'The Catholic Church in Korea' (1924) by an unnamed author, states that Roman Catholic's first arrived in Korea in 1794. In 1794 the Korean Catholic Church had 4,000 adherents.

The year 1801 was the beginning of the first wave of persecution which lasted thirty years (1801-1831). In 1801 there were 10,000 adherents to the Catholic faith. In 1857 there were 15,206 adherents. During 1836-1890, missionaries used to wear mourning costumes as a disguise so as to be able to enter Korea.

In 1845 a native of Korea (it is believed) was ordained to the priesthood who may have been the first Korean to enter into Christian ministry.

Persecutions arose in 1839, 1846 and 1860. A second wave of persecution began in 1866 which lasted a decade (1866-1876), which was the year that the Rev. Robert Jermain Thomas, the first Protestant Missionary to Korea was martyred. A memorial tablet (about five feet in height) in the Chinese script was erected to commemorate the “destruction” of Catholicity which was erected during the persecution of 1866 when there had been 23,000 adherents.

Beginning in 1867 and for the next three years, were the first attempts of Catholic Missioners to re-enter Korea followed by the Catholic harvest from 1867-1911. In 1883, the first statistic after the second wave of persecution revealed that adherents had dropped by nearly half to 12,035. By 1890 there were 17,527 and in c.1898 there was 42,441 Korean Roman Catholics, 78,850 in 1910 and 93,046 in 1920.

In 1923 Korea had a population of 17,626,761 of which 96,351 were Catholics. The Korean Catholic Church from 1884-1923 had baptised 324,191 people.

First Protestant Missionary to Korea 1865 and 1866

The first Protestant missionary to Korea was a Welshman, the Rev. Robert Jermain Thomas (1839-1866) who went to China under the London Missionary Society in 1863. In 1865 he met two Roman Catholic Koreans from Chefoo, China. He first arrived in Korea in 1865, though being unable to go inland he returned to China.

A year later in 1866, employed as a translator for an American owned merchant-marine schooner he made it to Korea. He briefly distributed classical Chinese Bibles (which could be read by Koreans, Japanese and Chinese) and risked decapitation if caught. Korea, known as the Hermit Kingdom was still a closed land to foreigners though in 1876 she started diplomatic relations with Japan who first introduced foreign products into Korea.

On the 2 September 1866, fifty miles inland up the Tai Tong River, Rev. Robert Jermain Thomas was martyred on the river bank alongside all the crew of the schooner that he was travelling on, outside of Pyongyang. The present capital of North Korea and the centre where the Korea’s second revival broke out in 1907 – the Pyongyang Great Revival (1907-1910). More on the life of Rev. Robert J. Thomas.

Early Missionaries and Translation Work 1884-1911

In September 1884, Horace Newton Allen (1858-1932), an American Presbyterian medical missionary arrived in Seoul under the Treaty of Amity and Commerce between America and Korea. The freedom of church was not mentioned (therefore not legally permitted) which in reality enabled missionaries to only be involved in social work, establishing schools, relief houses, medical work etc. Newton Allen served as the medical officer to the Korean Court and held various government positions. He is considered the pioneer Protestant missionary to Korea and wrote a number of books on Korea. He was also a missionary in China.

In 1877, John Ross (1842-1915) and J. McIntyre (who in 1872 first went to Manchuria) published a Korean grammar book called Corean Primer. The missionaries first translated and published the book of Luke in 1882 with the help of Korean assistants, Lee Woong-Chan, Baek Hong-Jun, Kim Jin-Gi, Choi Seong-Gyun and Seo Sang-Ryun. Ross is known as one of the most effective missionaries of his generation who understood eleven languages! He was based in China for four decades and became the father of Protestant churches in both Korea and Manchuria.

On Easter Day 1885, (5th April) American missionaries, H. G. Underwood, a Presbyterian and Henry G. Appenzeller, a Methodist landed in Incheon. With the help of Korean language instructors they got the book of Mark published in Yokohama, Japan in 1887. A year previously in 1886, the first Korean was baptised and by the following year there was seven converts.

In May 1885, W. B. Scranton, an American Methodist missionary arrived in Korea with his mother, Mrs. Scranton.

In 1888, thirty-nine year old Lillias Horton Underwood, an unmarried Presbyterian medical missionary arrived in Korea.

In 1908 she wrote ‘Fifteen Years Among the Top-Knots or Life in Korea,’ an account of her first fifteen years as a missionary.

The Korean New Testament was published in 1887. But an early translation was published in Manchuria in 1882 – probably by J. Ross of Manchuria and his helpers as they had completed the Gospel of Luke in 1882. He had completed a translation in the Corean dialect by 1892 and ‘the United Presbyterian Missionary Society of Scotland were expected to begin work shortly,’ so wrote W. J. Townsend, author of ‘Robert Morrison – The Pioneer of Chinese Missions’ (1892).

The translation of the Old Testament was begun in 1906 under the Bible Translation Committee which in 1887 had been jointly organised by Underwood and Appenzeller who had published their New Testament translation in 1900 based on the Chinese, English and Greek versions. The Old Testament was complete in 1910 and published in 1911. In the same year, 1911, The British and Foreign Bible Society through its Bible Colporteurs sold 666,000 books to the people of Korea, most of them single gospels!

H. G. Appenzeller laid the foundation for modern education by establishing Paicha School and Chungdong First Church. In 1902 he drowned, along with his assistant Jo Han-Gyu after the ship he was travelling in, due to fog collided with another.

Missionary Graves

Some of the early missionaries were buried in the Yanghwajin Missionary Graveyard in Seoul: as were American medical missionary John W. Heron, who arrived in June 1885 and died on the 16 July 1890; Canadian, William J. McKenzie arrived in Korea in 1893 and died on the 23 June 1895, and Daniel L. Gifford and Mary E. Haydon arrived in December 1888, (they married in 1900) while Daniel died on the 10 April 1900 and Mary died a month later, leaving behind a young daughter.

Other prominent early missionaries were the first Australians, Henry J. Davis and his sister who arrived in August 1889; he died in either 1900 or 1901 in Pusan leaving behind a wife and two little sons. Canadian, George Leck arrived in 1900 and died on Christmas Day 1901 in Shincheon leaving a wife and daughter behind.

The Years 1904-1919

Korea saw its first revival in 1903; known as the Wonsan Revival Movement (1903-1906), but by the middle of 1906, after 30,000 new converts in that year alone, it had waned and died out.

The second Korean Revival is known as the Pyongyang Great Revival (1907-1910). Pyongyang in 1907 was known as a city of wine, women and song. It was a dark city with sin abounding and even had its own Gisaeng (Korean geisha) training school. At the beginning of the Japanese Russian War of 1904, American missionaries were initially confined to Pyongyang by government order.

In the autumn of 1906, the threat of Russian invasion had passed, but the Japanese did not withdraw. This caused anxiety amongst Korea’s oppressed people who were constantly being fought over by Japan or China. William Newton Blair, a missionary at Pyongyang wrote: ‘With the Japanese occupation accomplished, patriotism was born in Korea.’

At the same time a number of young Korean Christian ‘big heads’ returned from America and caused problems with their personal ambition and true stories of American corruption. Also, America, following Britain’s example hastened to recognise Japan’s control which caused an anti-American sentiment to sweep over the land.

In 1907, during the revival, the Korean Church (Presbyterian) which had been practically self-supporting for several years became independent of its American Board of Foreign Mission when the Pyongyang Theological School saw seven Koreans graduate and they became the first Korean Presbytery of Korea.

Three years after the beginning of the 1907 Pyongyang Great Revival, in August 1910 Korea was annexed by Japan which was the beginning of organised persecution, though during this time Protestant churches grew. More than half a million migrants fled to the north of Korea.

In 1919 after the March First Movement (a signed Declaration of Independence) on the first March whilst still under Japanese rule, Korea's Christian population was estimated to be at one percent.

Korea – 1920s-1950s

During the 1920s Communism spread to many Korean intellectuals who favoured it rather than Christianity as it was easier to digest whilst under harsh Japanese rule. During the 1930-40s, friction and mixed views over shrine worship which was commanded by the Japanese Emperor (who was believed to be a god) caused those looking inside of the Church to wonder whether Christianity could offer them anything.

The Presbyterian churches declared shrine worship idolatry whilst the Methodists (and Catholics) generally accepted it merely as a ceremony. Many people outside of the Church turned to mysticism and pessimism. The Baptist and Holiness churches lost their status due to their resistance whilst the Presbyterians continually resisted strongly.

The War Years 1946-1953

Prior to the defeat of the Japanese during World War II, leaders from China, Russia, Great Britain and the United States split the nation of Korea along the 38th parallel. Since 1945, the north has been run as a Communist state.

The Korean War (1950-1953) began on the 25 June when the Communist crossed the 38th parallel and swept down into the south causing mayhem and chaos. During this war around 240 churches were destroyed (152 Presbyterian, 84 Methodist, 27 Holiness, 4 Salvation Army and others) and 232 Christians were either abducted (taken to North Korea) or martyred.

In 1952 the Presbyterian Church split, followed by the Methodists in 1954 and then the Holiness and Baptist churches. In 1953 there was about 300,000 Christians living in North Korea, fifty years later it was estimated to a just a few thousand.

In Recent Years

Find out about the years 2002-2005 here.

In October 2006, North Korea performed an underground nuclear test deep in the mountains of North Korea which alarmed the international community, but by February 2007, it was reported that North Korea after long negotiations has decided to forgo its nuclear power programme in exchange for free electricity and fuel from South Korea and America. In August 2008 they negated on their promise and resumed their nuclear production, but in October their policy changed again as they allowed weapons inspectors as the USA took their name off the ‘Axis of Evil’ list. In mid April 2009, North Korea resumed its nuclear programme because of the United Nations condemnation of their testing of a long range "satellite" rocket.

At the end of January 2007, SKY NEWS reported on the financially bankrupt nation of North Korea where thousands are trying to flee to safety into China and then onto South Korea. They filmed along the Chinese border into a town which was more reminiscent of a industrial prison camp than a community, not a vehicle was in sight, but poor, starving North Koreans, some of whom were at the river, breaking the ice to get fresh water for the day, whilst those more ‘well off’ trundled along with their horse and cart.

Other documentary makers have filmed inside North Korea mostly by using pinhole cameras. One North Korean, filmed dead people in the streets, children delirious with starvation, clothed in tattered and dirty rags picking up dropped grains of rice, while North Korean soldiers ate at a roadside food stall which was part of a market. All of this was in sight of a stall where rice was sold which had been given to the people of North Korea for humanitarian aid as revealed by the red cross on the rice sack with the words, donated by the USA!

September 2008, was the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of North Korea but its leader, Kim Jong-il was not present at the ceremonies. Some news agencies reported that he had died, but this was later found to be erroneous information. In fact on the 9 September 2008, the National Intelligence Service (NIS) reported that the 66-year old leader who suffers from diabetes and heart problems suffered a stroke, though his condition was not life threatening, but it was reported that French and Chinese surgeons performed some surgery on him.

Please pray for North Korea - especially the brethren - 'Remember the prisoners as if chained with them and those who are mistreated since you yourselves are in the body also' (Hebrews 13:3).

The Circle of Christianity in North Korea

In September 1866, Rev. Robert Jermain Thomas with his clothes on fire leapt overboard the vessel he was on outside of Pyongyang with his remaining Bibles and wadded to the bank and frantically gave them out. The entire crew were executed. Thomas’ executioner accepted the last red Bible from this martyr, and as Tertullan said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

The executioner used the Bible as wallpaper for his house and one day was converted as he read the decorative classical Chinese Scriptures. During the Pyongyang Great Revival (1907-1910) an old man, Chu Won Park, who attended a Presbyterian Church in Pyongyang; during a time of public confession went to the front and confessed that he had been Rev. Thomas’ executioner, forty-one years ago.

In 1893, this house was turned into an inn which was later bought by three western missionaries and turned into the Chowlangli Church (also known as Nuldali Church), the Thomas Memorial Church, in memory of Rev. Robert Jermain Thomas. As the number of indigenous Christians grew they bought more land and built the Jangdaejae Church. Numbers increased again so they moved location and built another church, called Jangdaehyun Church which was where the 1907 revival first broke out. This church was eventually demolished sometime after 1957 under Communist rule in what became known as North Korea.

After the Korean War (1950-1953) which divided the Communist run North and the democratic South (who had been fighting since 1946), a Boy Schools Palace (slightly similar to the Scout Movement) was built on the foundations of the Jangdaehyun Church. Next door is the recently built Pyongyang Science Technology University (PSTU) which is financed and run by Christians and is known as project Zerubbabel – “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

When workmen were digging the PSTU foundations they found a bell tower, which in Korean tradition sits next to a church building and not on top of it as in the West; (some reports say they found the remains of the bell) which would have belonged to the original and subsequent churches which were built in memory of Rev. Thomas; thus completing a circle from the beginning of Korean Christianity to the re-birthing of Christianity in North Korea.

There are probably only a few thousand Christians in North Korea today and they are the most persecuted in the entire world. It is firmly and widely believed that Communist North Korea, the last ultra-extreme Communist bastille cannot hold out for much longer. God, may its walls come down peacefully, allowing the gospel of salvation and hope to flood in, bringing the healing balm of Gilead and salvation of Jesus Christ for all who call upon Your name. Amen.

From Revival and the Great Commission and 150 Years of Revival by Mathew Backholer.

South Korea

In December 1954 Christian Broadcasting System (CBS) went on air as South Korea’s first Christian radio station and in 1995 Korean churches set up Christian Television System (CTS) and CBS began TV broadcasting.

In December 1956 The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) began radio broadcasting HMBN (revised to HLKX which in 1977 was taken over by the evangelical Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC). They broadcast in the Korean, English, Chinese and Russian languages to Communist countries such as North Korea, China, Manchuria, Soviet Russia and Mongolia where missionaries were no longer permitted.

From the rapid industrialisation of the 1960s onwards there was an explosion of growth amongst Evangelical churches (and other religions). The evangelical movement held campaigns under the banner of “Thirty Million to Christ” in 1965 and held “Explo 74.”

Over the past six decades, South Korea has had a mega spiritual explosion where some churches have seven or even nine services a day. Still multitudes of believers meet for prayer at 5am, and many churches have tens of thousands of believers with multiple services every Sunday.

The Christian Council of Korea (CCK) was founded in 1989 and amongst many things; the CCK promotes revival, renewal, peaceful reunification and mission to North Korea.

By 2005 more than twenty-five percent of South Koreas 48 million inhabitants were Christian with some more recent estimates as high as forty percent, though many of these would be nominal Christian; those not having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

In 2007, Korea had 50,000 churches with 12 million members (approximately 13 million Christians) and still is the second largest missionary sending nation in the world. They have 13,000 missionaries in 160 countries, with a vision for 48,501 missionaries by the year 2030. A recent census revealed that Korean protestant are beginning to decrease in numbers.

There are 76 million Koreans in total, six million of whom live outside of South and North Korea.

In 2007, the centenary of the Pyongyang Great Revival (1907-1910) church leaders across South Korea designated the week of 25 June to 1 July 2007 as a special week of prayer for North Korea, especially the group, Again 1907.

Find out more about Korea. Go
History of revivals in Korea! Go