My brother has spent a lot more time than me researching our family tree but I have known for a long time that we have Irish roots. But now, thanks to his initiative and the wonders of modern science, a simple DNA test has shown that they are much stronger than either of us ever realised. It may be ‘a long way to Tipperary’ but our ancestors clearly weren’t daunted by the prospect of travelling to Wales.
I have no Korean ancestors, but the past few weeks have reinforced my conviction that I have lots of Korean brothers and sisters in my spiritual family. We had an amazing time when members of the London Central (Korean) church joined us for a week of prayer at the beginning of July. The first UK Korean Prayer Mission took place in 2010 and we have been welcoming members of the London Central Church to Pembroke for the past nine years (online during Covid) and we are so deeply grateful for their loving concern.
This year Wales had the privilege of welcoming nine prayer teams, two of which were based in Pembrokeshire, and I can tell you that when hundreds of us gathered in Cardiff for the final rally the words ‘excited’, ‘amazing’ and ‘inspiring’ seem to have been on everyone’s lips. In fact the atmosphere reminded me of those distant days when I could stand in a stadium full of supporters expecting Wales to win the Triple Crown.
Wales holds a very special place in Korean hearts, and they are deeply troubled by the fact that we are abandoning our Christian heritage. The reason for this is very simple: a Welshman named Robert Jermain Thomas is remembered as the first Protestant martyr in Korea. Given this, it would be tempting to think that his ministry was a failure, but before he died this intrepid Welshman gave out Bibles and it would seem that one of those Bibles gave birth to the church when an enterprising Korean used the pages as wallpaper and people began to read the ‘writing on the wall’. Thomas’ influence grew after his death so much so that just 15 years later, Pyongyang had become a strong Christian centre with a hundred churches.
Persecution, indifference and disinterest; the 21st century church encounters all sorts of reactions to its message, but the story of the Korean church is a powerful reminder to us that Jesus wasn’t deluded when He said, ‘I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it”.
So don’t hold your breath. Don’t panic or celebrate. The death of the church can be greatly exaggerated. History is proof of that. That’s why it’s worth pondering some words from what is known as the ‘Romero prayer’:
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take the long view… We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work… This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities… We are prophets of a future not our own.”
All of which reminds me of some advice the apostle Paul offered his friends in Corinth: “Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless”. Encouraging words indeed for the 300 million or more Christians suffering high levels of persecution and discrimination today.