April 5: Horace Grant Underwood

The Foreigners Who Loved Korea
by Rev. David T. Myers

One of the earliest foreign missionaries to Korea, and the first ordained one, Horace Grant Underwood definitely felt the call to be a missionary. Born in London in 1859, he came to the United States with his parents when he was thirteen years of age. Graduating from New York University in 1881, he entered graduate school at the Dutch Reformed Theological Seminary in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  After a brief time as a pastor, he thought that the hordes of unbelievers in India would be his calling. But the American Presbyterian Mission Board wanted him to go to Korea. And so he submitted himself to his spiritual brethren, and traveled to the Far East.

Korea at that time wasn’t safe for foreigners, much less missionaries of the gospel. So he spent some time in Japan first. There he met a Korean Christian who taught him the Korean language as well as giving him a translation of the Gospel of Mark in Korean. God was preparing him for his life-long work.

Landing in Inchon on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1885, he still lacked permission from the authorities to do mission work. So he worked with the medical center of missionary doctor Horace Allen, teaching physics and chemistry. That educational experience would be duplicated in the rest of his thirty-one year missions work in Korea.

Driven by an intense zeal for missionary work, Rev. Underwood would not only plant churches, but also created elementary schools in each district he visited. If the need was a high school, then such a school would be begun. An orphanage was organized the following year of 1886. The higher grades were not neglected. Chosun Christian College was organized in 1915, which is now called Yonsei University, one of the premier educational institutions in modern-day Korea. Horace Underwood was the first president.

Pastor Underwood was interested in communicating the gospel in their own language. So the entire New Testament was translated in Korean in 1900 with the Old Testament in 1910. A Korean hymnal was composed in 1894.

All of these missions work was done as a single missionary. Lilias Horton, a medical doctor, came into his life before long. After marriage,  he went on a joint honeymoon–missions a tour of Korea. He preached the Word of God to their souls. She healed their bodies with medicine.

Dr. Underwood died in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1916. True to his commitment to Korea, his body was transported to Korea to be buried in his adopted land. His wife survived him by five years. They were truly the foreigners who loved Korea.

Words to Live By:  The apostle Paul gave the original charge when he said in 1 Corinthians 9:22b, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” Try this week to so identify (but not of course in their sinfulness) with your lost relatives and neighbors so as to share the gospel with them.

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