Article 1 - Welcome to Wales Print
Thursday, 16 April 2009

Welcome to Wales . . . . . . the homeland of the ancient Celtic people, a deposit of rich spirituality which can be best understood through poetic and artistic form. A land of many revivals where Eternal Purpose, running through time like a submerged root, has surfaced, been understood . . . and sadly forgotten.

It is Eternal Purpose that has decided the threads that weave together into a tapestry of Korean and Welsh life. Viewed from the wrong side, the tapestry is a confusion of colour and knots. But it is the finished side, within the wide-open remit of world mission, that I want to invite you to explore with me over the next months.

Welcome to Llanelli . . . . . . a small coastal town in West Wales. It is late evening and the moon is hidden behind a veil of Atlantic cloud. It is the time I choose to walk alone and to allow the dark to enclose me in a private space. My racing mind slows to the rhythm of my measured steps. I think and I pray. This is not the time for making request but for rediscovering where He is, and spiritually and emotionally allowing my feet to turn in His direction. My prayer is not to 'bless me where I am' but to allow me to find that blessed harmony with Him where He is. I have learned that to enter His longings is to find the answer to my own. This must be one of the most satisfying experiences known to man, and to help build this understanding in another is to firmly anchor the core value of missionary life.

I lean on the sea wall and gaze across the estuary. The river runs quietly into the sea as it has done for thousands of years, but the estuary is empty. If my eyes could penetrate the dark I would see its foaming white line at the point where the sky and earth meet. In a few hours it will flood the estuary, beyond our little town, inland along the meandering riverbed.

The mood of the sea reflects every mood in the human heart as well as the mood of the town. Tonight I think that it is angrily thrashing the sand bar at the mouth of the estuary. In former years, Llanelli was the main tin-plate exporting port in the world. Elegant wooden sailing boats would move their cargoes up and down the estuary. Sadly, many would end their voyage tragically wrecked on this notorious sand bar.

On many of my lone retreats into prayer, I walk the wild coast adjoining the sand bar where the ravaging sea can, in a few days, bring dramatic changes. One day new sand dunes were born while on another occasion a complete hull of a sailing ship appeared which had lain under the sand for nearly a hundred and fifty years. Within days it had disappeared again, much like the threads of Korean and Welsh history. Important moments are uncovered and lost sight of again.

So welcome to this unusual, Welsh-speaking town, where the sea disappears twice in 24 hours, where the street language follows the fortunes of our rugby team, (when they lose, it is usually attributed to blind referees!) The town's industrial decline corresponded to the advance of South Korea's superior steel-making technology and whose attempts at modern, seafront architecture looks as if it has grown from second-hand building plans smuggled out of Soviet Central Asia by a shady salesman! Not surprisingly it is still considered a joke by neighbouring towns.

Yet, it is in this town that the skilled weave of Korean and Welsh tapestry had is first design. Once nicknamed 'Tinopolis' for its steel-exporting role, it may now rightly be 'Missiopolis' for its missionary-exporting role since, per head of population, more missionaries may have been trained and sent from here to impossible parts of the the world, than from any other towns in the UK.

It plays host to the founding and growth of World Horizons, an expanding Western-based World missionary movement, to Nations, a sister missionary movement, designed to reproduce non-Western indigenous missionary movements from Asia, Africa and the Middle East, to DestiNation, a Korean missionary movement in the Islamic world with growing missionary teams in many countries, to WildStep, a unique missionary-preparation movement designed to supply trained Korean personnel to our ever-growing missionary family teams. Quite an impressive record for one very ordinary Welsh town.

Welcome to the Robert Jermain Thomas Acadamy Like the hull of the old sailing ship uncovered by the sand, the name of this Welsh missionary - who after the death of his wife in China, in 1866, at the age of 27, gave himself as a martyr on an estuary beach near Pyongyang - symbolises the eternal design of the Korean Welsh tapestry weave.

The RJT Academy (previously the Mission Training School) is a product of the combined energies and skills of the Korean WildStep and the Welsh Nations team, which is also part Korean.

Even more unbelievably, our International Centre, home to both WildStep and Nations and which hosts the Robert Jermain Thomas Academy, was once home to the family business of a descendant of Thomas' father, an iron foundry which went into decline and closed . . . perhaps you have already guessed the reason why . . . when it lost its business to the iron works of South Korea.

Llanelli and the International Centre have become the collection point and base camp for the cultivation of vision and missionary life skills before feeding potential missionaries into the pioneering field teams. In 2009, when the three-storey annexe is added to our centre, we will be able to extend our range of nationalities to include Chinese, Middle Eastern and African, as we begin to receive disciples from the successful pioneer teams to help with their own missionary preparation.

By the time you read this article, one of the extremely successful Korean pioneer teams will, in its entirety, have returned to Wales for a month of consolidation, reorientation and refreshment.

Welcome to the Revival of 1904 Where our Loughor estuary narrows to a river, the ancient Romans built a fort at its crossing point. Today, a river bridge joins Llanelli to the village of Loughor and to the tiny schoolroom and chapel of Moriah where, among a few local teens and twenties, the Revival sparked into life. Most things of significance, particularly in Wales, start small, like the tender plant of Isaiah 53. But it was a plant which had grown from the long root which had also been responsible for the continuous history of revival in Wales.

The Revival burnt with great intensity as well as controversy. Sparks from this Welsh fire blew in the wind and ignited the dry tinder of many countries and, via North-East India, eventually reached Korea.

When Koreans first felt an inner yearning to return to Wales, it was as if they were on a spiritual pilgrimage to their home land. The people of Llanelli understood, for the Welsh language has a tremendously meaningful word for it – hiraeth . . . a longing for home. They discovered a love for Koreans and welcomed them, calling them their spiritual grandchildren who have returned to visit them.

Welcome Uncut Stones . . . but no monuments please! Robert Jermain Thomas was a Welshman with a love for Koreans that I can identify with, as I think that I share the same love. The true legacy he left both in Wales and Korea is one which I have personally adopted as my driving force and is at the core of my teaching. 'Go and die for those you are meant to serve.' The monuments that I, and I suspect he, would look for, would not know dust and decay for they would be altars of living stones, gathered from the fields, uncut by religious pride, and free to fall on the shores of every country in our world.

Similarly with the Revival. Wales has sufficient crumbling monuments and remembrance meetings. What lies forgotten is the underlying, unchanging Eternal Purpose which runs through the history of time and which man was designed to follow. Revival is meant to be no more than an event which had a beginning and ending and that acts like a window through which Eternal Purpose can be viewed, like the transfiguration, when the veil between time and eternity becomes translucent and those who see the fusing of both . . . never forget.

It is learning to live in the consequence of revival that makes a successful missionary where Eternal Purpose becomes his route to the future.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 16 April 2009 )
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