Robert Jermain Thomas is perhaps one
of history’s most overlooked missionary
martyrs. I was unfamiliar with much of his
life until I had the chance to watch Torch-
lighters: The Robert Jermain Thomas Story.
If you’re not familiar with the Torchlighters
series, it’s a series of DVDs that masterfully
share the stories of heroes of the faith with
children through realistic animation, pow-
erful storytelling, and a sensitive approach.
Robert was a Welsh missionary who arrived in China in December 1863 to begin
his missionary work. But when his wife
died only a few months after their arrival,
he found himself weighed down by deep
grief. He had a gift for learning languages
that had already become widely known,
and when a customs office approached
Robert about leaving the mission work and
coming to work for them, he agreed.
In the port city of Chefoo, Robert
established a good reputation, did his work
well, and began to discover God was not
finished with His plan for Robert’s life yet.
Robert met new friends, one of whom introduced him to two Korean men who had
come into port. These men were Christian
believers who had a strong faith in God but
did not have any Bibles.
Robert was commissioned by the mission
society to take Bibles to Korea and left his
customs job. This was not an easy assignment. Korea at the time was very hostile to
foreigners. The penalty for a Korean to be
caught with a Bible was death, and foreigners trying to enter the country often met the
Robert would not be dissuaded, however, and made a very successful trip to
Korea in 1865. He had learned enough of
the Korean language to engage in conversation with the people he met, and one by
one, he convinced them to take a Bible and
read its truths for themselves, despite the
incredible risks. In 1866, the regent of Korea had 10,000 Christian believers executed
for their faith. When two missionaries escaped Korea and shared the story, the decision was made to once again try to smuggle
Bibles into the country.
Robert made plans to go with a French
ship but, through a series of events, found
himself eventually going on an American
ship whose interest in Korea was trade.
The regent in Korea firmly rejected the
offer. A battle quickly broke out. Robert tried to throw the Bibles to any who
would take them. Finally, he came to
shore, attempting to deliver the Bibles he
had brought. Once he arrived, however,
the order was immediately given that he
be executed. Robert gave his last Bible to
The executioner wallpapered his home
with the pages of Scripture. Some saw them
as a trophy; others saw them differently.
One of the witnesses of Robert’s death was
a 12-year-old boy named Choi Chi Ryang.
He later bought the executioner’s home and
read the Scriptures. That same home became
the first house church in Pyongyang. What
everyone, including the mission society who
had sent Robert, saw as a failure, God used
in ways beyond anyone’s imagination.
Torchlighters does a beautiful job sharing Robert’s story through the memories
of Choi Chi Ryang, a boy who desperately
needed to know what treasure was contained within the pages of the Bible and
Robert Jermain Thomas:
The Man Who Gave a Bible
to His Executioner
by Bonnie Rose Hudson
What strikes me most about Robert’s story is seeing how God
used an ordinary man to do extraordinary things.