In the few Thai church history books that exist, Jacob Tomlin and Karl Gutzlaff are credited with being the first resident Protestant missionaries in Thailand. Arriving on August 23, 1828, the two men only stayed for a few years before moving on to other parts of East Asia. Unfortunately, despite their good intentions, they didn’t have a lot to show for their efforts in Thailand before leaving for good in 1831 (Gutzlaff) and 1832 (Tomlin).
When they arrived, they already spoke Chinese and set to work distributing Christian books in Chinese, which attracted considerable interest from locals, especially the many Chinese residents of Bangkok, as well as opposition from Catholic priests. But they were not only concerned to share the Gospel with Chinese speakers and they set to work learning Thai. With a massive amount of help from some unsung local assistants, Gützlaff and Tomlin produced a translation of the New Testament in Thai, though the quality of their work was of dubious value and the king of Thailand said he couldn’t make heads or tails of it. They also started work on an English-Thai dictionary, and got up to the letter R. Aside from these modest literary accomplishments, Gützlaff and Tomlin’s efforts resulted in several inquirers but only one baptized convert, a Chinese man named Boon Tee (Koë Bun Tai).
If they had stayed, they might have accomplished much more. And if we look at only what they accomplished during their short stint in-country, it is questionable whether they deserve the high praise they receive in the annals of Protestant history in Thailand. But what they did do was get the ball rolling for Protestant missions in Thailand. How did they do that?