In a way, too much has been said about the recent killing of an American missionary in the Andaman islands but since John Chau was quite active in publicly recounting his travels and adventures, a recent opinion piece by Southeastern Seminary professor Scott Hildreth that was carried by Religious News Service may be appropriate and relevant.
The RNS story is worth reading in its entirety. I’ll just put a couple of salient quotes here:
The death of Chau raises questions for Christians and non-Christians alike. There are ethical questions, as Chau deliberately broke Indian laws, first by proselytizing and second by deliberately entering a restricted area. There are questions about the wisdom of risking one’s life for such a small, isolated group of people who clearly want no interference from outsiders. There are also theological questions about the need for a missionary to go to such lengths to evangelize people who have had no previous encounter with the Christian message.
In my estimation, traveling to an isolated island alone, with no national support and scant knowledge of language and culture, was destined for failure. Success for a missionary cannot be limited to initial points of contact but rather the establishment of relationships that allow room for the gospel to be heard and observed. [emphasis mine]
Dr. Hildreth is engaged in the training and education of present and future international missionaries who will serve the Lord through our Southern Baptist channels and others. I appreciate his sober and sensible words here.
We’ve already seen that opinions vary widely on this. Dr. Hildreth correctly frames the relevant questions. I would ask that commenters not mistake his listing of the questions for his conclusions. Read the RNS article in its entirety.
Baptist Press has a story on the matter in which a couple of prominent Southern Baptists are quoted:
“It’s important for Christians to understand it is always right and never wrong to share the gospel with anyone, whether or not they are believed to be a part of either a reached or an unreached people group,” [Southern Seminary president Albert]Mohler said. “But methodology is important here.”
“To put the matter bluntly,” Mohler continued, Chau’s evangelistic method “is not the way that most modern missions organizations would seek to reach this kind of group.”
The BP article also includes a number of quotes from Keith Eitel dean of the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Almost universally, serious evangelical Christians have commended the zeal of the slain missionary and have sympathized with his family and friends who grieve his death. It will take another world before we know the answers to all of the questions.
As a side note, readers should not ignore the fact that hundreds, thousands of our IMB personnel serve in locations where there is danger and several have been killed. I am appreciative of the fact that while personal security is not the highest priority (sharing the Gospel is at the top), our IMB is concerned about security and has in place numerous measures to ensure the safety and survival of our workers and their families.
Dr. Hildreth is Assistant Professor of Global Studies and George Liele director of the Center for Great Commission Studies st Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is author of Together on God’s Mission, which I reviewed here.