Yi was baptized in 1896, and worked with Swallen to establish a church in Wonsan. Yi’s dream and his conversion from bully to evangelist led some to nickname him “the Apostle Paul of Korea.” Yi helped to spread the gospel in Wonsan and surrounding region by distributing Bibles and gospel literature (as a colporteur or, in Korean, gwonseo). By answering questions, gathering interested people and establishing contacts, gwonseos played an important role in the institution of the Korean church.
Gi Pung Yi – First Korean Martyr
He was the first Korean Protestant missionary and the first Korean martyr, often remembered as the father of the Korean Protestant church. It all began through a rock and a bout of hot temper.
A Paul-like Conversion
Gi Pung Yi was only sixteen in 1885, when the American missionary Samuel A. Moffet arrived in Pyeongyang (today in North Korea). Yi distrusted foreigners. Why did this American come to Pyeongyang?, he wondered. Used to dealing with problems through violence, he gathered some friends and went to Moffet’s house, where they kicked the gate and threw rocks. The rocks broke a window and dislodged some roof tiles, but the Moffet family stayed inside.
One month later, Yi spotted Moffet at a street market, speaking in broken Korean while holding a track. Seeing his chance of protesting this foreigner’s intrusion, Yi picked up a rock and threw it, hitting Moffet in the chin. Losing his balance, Moffet fell on the ground, bleeding. No one came to his help. Yi left the scene.
Fast-forward ten years, when Yi met another missionary, this time in Wonsan, where he had looked for refuge during the Sino-Japanese war. By then, he was a young man trying to make ends meet by painting pipes and selling them on the street.
To Yi, the missionary, William L. Swallen, looked enough like Moffet to bring back a painful memory. For years, Yi’s conscience had been bothering him and Moffet had appeared in many of his dreams.
A missionary spoke to Yi about Jesus, who didn’t pay much attention. He just wondered who was this Jesus that people considered so important. That night, however, he had a dream where Jesus told him to stop persecuting him. Frightened, the next morning he ran to the house of the missionary who had talked to him.
After hearing Yi’s confession, the missionary took him to Swallen’s house, where Yi, crying profusely, continued to unburden his heart. Swallen prayed for him, and continued to teach him about Christ. Yi was baptized in 1896, and worked with Swallen to establish a church in Wonsan. Yi’s dream and his conversion from bully to evangelist led some to nickname him “the Apostle Paul of Korea.”