The growth of the Korean Church, among the greatest legacies of modern Christianity, came at a cost. The first Catholic missionaries were persecuted in the 1700s, and the first Protestant missionary, Carl Gutzlaff, stayed only a month in 1832. The next, Robert Thomas, arrived in 1876 to become the first Protestant martyr there. Finally, on July 11, 1886, missionary Horace Underwood secretly administered the first Protestant baptism on Korean soil to Mr. Toh Sa No.
But was Mr. No really the first convert?
In his book What in the World Is God Doing? Dr. Ted Engstrom relates a story told him by a veteran Korean Christian. In the early 1880s three Korean workmen, laboring in China, heard the gospel and embraced the Lord Jesus. The three soon conspired about getting the message of Christ into their own country, an action forbidden by the government. Since the Korean and Chinese alphabets were similar, they decided to smuggle in a copy of the Chinese Bible. They drew straws to see who would have the privilege of bringing the gospel into Korea.
The first man buried the Bible in his belongings and headed toward the border, a journey of many days by footpath. There he was searched, found out, and killed. Word reached the others that their friend was dead. The second man tore pages from his Bible and hid the separate pages throughout his luggage. He, too, made the long trip to the border only to be searched and beheaded.
The third man grew more determined than ever to succeed. He ingeniously tore his Bible apart page by page, folding each page into a tiny strip. He wove the strips into a rope and wrapped his baggage in his homemade rope. When he came to the border, the guards asked him to unwrap his belongings. Finding nothing amiss, they admitted him.
The man arrived home, untied the rope, and ironed out each page. He reassembled his Bible and began to preach Christ wherever he went. And when the missionaries of the 1880s fanned into the country, they found the seed already sown and the firstfruits appearing.
Our Lord, you are eternal!
Your word will last as long as the heavens.
You remain faithful in every generation,
And the earth you created will keep standing firm.
Brutal enemies are waiting to ambush and destroy me,
But I obey your rules. (Psalm 119:89,90,95)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). July 11.