By Peyton Jones
“You can’t fail if you never start” – every business/entrepreneurial guru out there
The failure that many would-be-witnesses fear hinder them from ever taking a step of faith. For all of our imbibing of entrepreneurial webinars, and motivational books, we still haven’t learned to the savvy wit and wisdom of the “nothing ventured, nothing gained” philosophy that we’re hearing in the business world.
We weigh the risk of failure against the likelihood of success and opt out, telling ourselves that “it probably wouldn’t have made a difference anyways”.
Such is the lie that keeps the gospel as the best kept secret that nobody ever heard.
Thankfully for an entire nation, one man didn’t think that way.
Korea’s spiritual history is nothing short of an illustration of the mustard seed growing to a massive plant as the Kingdom stretches out its branches. The legacy of Christianity in Korea shares the humblest of beginnings in the person of Robert Jermain Thomas.
Born in Wales, UK during the 1800s, he set the course for his life aimed at the Korean mission field in an age where the Prince Regent issued a death sentence for any Koreans that helped outsiders. 10,000 Catholics had been killed under his rule, and many Western ships were docked in China, too fearful to risk life and cargo.
Boarding an American ship, the General Sherman Thomas carried a trunk full of Bibles, dressed in Korean garb, ready to give his life to serve the Korean people. He gave his life, but not quite in the way that he had imagined. There was a confrontation on the beach between the ships officers and Korean soldiers. Accounts of what really happened, very, but one source says that General Sherman fired shots on innocent civilians, and when the ship ran aground later, the Korean soldiers attacked. When it was all over, the crew of the General Sherman had been massacred…including Robert Jermaine Thomas.
His body lay littered in the sand among the guns, and carnage in the aftermath, the waves lapping the blood and memory of a tragic day. Witnesses say that Thomas had attempted to intervene as a peacemaker, and kept holding out a Bible to the Koreans, asking them to take it.
We can only imagine Thomas’s last thoughts as he lay on the beach, dying from bullet wounds, wondering where God was in it all.
He may have questioned providence.
There may have been confusion in his last prayer uttered with his dying breath.
In his final moments, he may have felt he had failed.
We would have understood if he’d asked if it had been a waste of his abilities, talents, and life.
Years of preparation, practice, and study had come to naught.
Or so it seemed.
Talk to a Korean, and they will point to a Presbyterian Welshman named Robert Jermaine Thomas as their spiritual ancestor, and the key to unlocking Christianity in Korea.
As the ocean breeze stirred on the beach at Pyongyang, the pages of Thomas’s bible fluttered in the wind. And so, the Spirit also moved upon the waters. God was not finished with the life, death, and legacy of this obscure Welsh missionary.
As the local villagers came down to the beach, a man by the name of Pak, the local official, seized the bibles and pulled out the pages to wallpaper his house as a trophy to their victory over the General Sherman. As a result, he became converted, and people began to visit the house to read the words on the walls.
An awakening broke out, and Pak’s church became the first Protestant church ever planted in Korea.
From earth’s perspective Thomas was a failure, but from heaven’s vantage point, Thomas’s sacrifice of blood was the seed of the church.
Our failures in mission often aren’t failures. The seed of the gospel will always be sown. God often uses our seeming failure as the greatest victory he has ever performed. Just like he did on a hilltop outside the city walls of Jerusalem, two thousand years ago.
The only failure in eternity will be the ones who never tried…
This has been a musing of mine as I write a future book. My next book out is Reaching the Unreached: Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art. It’s for the reluctant evangelist wallflower in all of us that the Holy Spirit is trying to tease out onto the dance floor. You can pre-order it here: https://www.amazon.com/Reaching-Unreached-Becoming-Raiders-Lost/dp/0310531101/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1487872329&sr=8-1&keywords=reaching+the+unreached