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Korean choir’s missionary tribute

May 05 2011

 A children's choir from Korea lead a weekend of celebrations of Christian links with Wales.

A rural Monmouthshire chapel which is a place of pilgrimage for Korean Christians is staging an Easter celebration of Wales-Korea links.

The former manse at Hanover Chapel in Llanover, near Abergavenny, was the home of Robert Jermain Thomas, a 19th Century missionary executed in Korea.

The building is being renovated to include a welcome centre for up to 800 Koreans who visit the chapel each year.

Manse owner Stephen Price said Koreans had not forgotten Thomas's sacrifice.

A Korean children's choir will perform there on Sunday while an exhibition of Korean artwork is on show in Cardiff.

"They want to come back to Wales to say thank you ... they've never forgotten his sacrifice ”

Dr Stephen Price Hanover Chapel manse

The events have been organised by the Reverend Jacob Park and his wife Sookyi of the Wales Korean Church in Cardiff with the help of retired doctor Stephen Price and his wife Stella.

Originally from Pontypool, the Prices bought the former manse and barn in Llanover from the chapel's congregation in 2009 when they returned to Wales after 35 years in north America.

Dr Price, who served as a medical missionary in Korea, said he had been intrigued by references to Thomas and Korea in the chapel while his wife has written a book about Thomas's life.

Protestant martyr

Born in Rhayader, Powys, in 1839, Robert Jermain Thomas moved to Llanover at the age of six when his father became minister of the chapel.

After leaving college he joined the London Mission Society and set off for China.

In 1866 Thomas joined an armed US trading boat bound for the Korean city of Pyongyang, intending to spread the gospel in a country with little contact with the outside world.

Robert Jermain Thomas
Robert Jermain Thomas is a hero to Korean Christians


When the ship ran aground on a sandbank, Thomas began to throw his consignment of bibles onto the shore.

As uninvited trading boats were forbidden in Korea, Thomas was executed along with members of the crew as the country's first Protestant martyr.

However, the bibles he threw overboard were picked up by locals and are credited with fuelling a revival of Christianity in Korea fifty years later.

The Prices say Llanover has become a place of pilgrimage for Korean Christians and they are currently renovating the 17th Century Grade II-listed buildings with a view to creating a 'welcome centre' for Korean visitors.

"They want to come back to Wales to say thank you to the South Wales Borderers for giving them their freedom (in the 1950s Korean War) and also for the life of Robert Jermain Thomas," said Dr Price.

"They've never forgotten his sacrifice."

Korean Christians built the Thomas Memorial Church in 1931 on the riverbank in Pyongyang where the Welsh missionary died.

The church was destroyed in 1946 and is now the site of a Christian university in what is now communist North Korea.

Hanover Chapel, Llanover
Hanover Chapel is a place of pilgrimage for Korean Christians

Many of the pilgrims who visit Llanover are from families who fled Pyongyang for Busan in present day South Korea during the 1950s civil war.

The Easter events follow two previous gatherings hosted by the Prices for local churchgoers, neighbours and Korean visitors.

The Korean Ghaonnuri Mission children's choir will take part in morning worship at Hanover Chapel on Sunday, and were also performing in Newbridge, Cardiff, Abergavenny and Cardigan from Friday until Tuesday.

An exhibition of work by Korean artists is being shown at Thornhill Church Centre in Cardiff from Sunday to Thursday.

 "They are a 'thank you' for the Welsh contribution to our national and church life," said Mr Park.