The second Protestant missionary was also a European: the Welsh ordained Congregationalist Robert Jermain Thomas. In the autumn of 1865, 33 years after Gützlaff’s mission, he spent an initial two and half months on the west coast, handed out Bibles and religious writings in Chinese script and learned the basics of the Korean language. In the Korea of the time that was by no means a safe undertaking; the kingdom had largely closed itself to influences from abroad. Foreigners were forbidden to enter the country and Christianity, at first represented by Catholics, was banned and persecuted. When Thomas returned to Korea in the summer of the following year, sent by the USA to persuade Korea to open up, once more the timing could hardly have been worse: shortly before his arrival Korea had begun drastic persecution of Christians. His ship was set on fire before it could dock in Pyongyang and the entire crew was killed.
Vernacular Korean Bible translation
The development of the first Protestant communities can be traced back to the work of two Scottish missionaries to Manchuria, John Ross and John MacIntyre. Ross came into contact with Koreans at a market close to the Korean border in 1873. These Koreans sought him out repeatedly in subsequent years and took an active interest in Christianity. Together with these men the Scottish missionaries in Shenyang (China) translated the New Testament into Korean, using the Hangeul alphabet, which could also be understood by the common people. Some of the translators were baptised from 1879 on, and can be considered the first Protestants in Korea on record.
Between 1882 and 1887 the first individual gospels appeared in Korean, followed by the entire New Testament. Chinese writings were banned in Korea, so the translators smuggled in the Bible texts and distributed them among the people. As a result of their work, the first small Protestant communities were formed in Korea, first in the far north of North Korea, in Euiju (in 1882, today the area corresponds to the Sinuiju Special Administrative Region, planned as a Special Economic Zone), and later further south in Sorae and Seoul (Saemunan district, both in 1887).
North American missionaries dominate
In 1871 the persecution of Christians ended and gradually greater religious freedom was permitted. While the Protestant mission had been begun by European missionaries, it was mainly North American Protestants who took the initiative once Korea became open to the West in 1882. Their work initially centred on the capital city Seoul. The first Protestant missionary living in Korea was the Presbyterian Horace Newton Allen, who worked as a doctor at the American embassy. He gained the trust of the royal family and thus paved the way for the mission.