There has been a lot of discussion recently of the death of John Allen Chau, a young missionary who violated Indian laws to go the remote North Sentinel Island to proclaim Christ to the isolated people who lived there and was immediately killed. He was aware of the danger of his actions and said that while he did not want to die he felt the call of God to take the gospel to these people who did not know Jesus.
I am not a missiologist and will leave the in-depth insights to others, but I have a few thoughts I’d like to share.
1. The ultimate commitment of all Christians is to carry the gospel to all peoples in the world. It is the duty of the church of Jesus Christ to evangelize those villagers.
2. Christians should abide by the laws of the land and live in peace, but if a law says that it is illegal to share Christ with anyone, the Great Commission supersedes that law.
3. Having said that, there are serious questions about the wisdom and strategic efficacy of Chau’s approach. He evidently landed on the island and shouted messages to these people in English – a language they likely do not understand. I respect his desire to preach the gospel to people who haven’t heard it but if what I read is correct there might have been a better way.
4. As Christians, we have a dual duty. We grieve with a family who lost their son and honor a brother in Christ who lost his life. We also should seek to learn lessons from this. We should not heap judgment or condemnation on Chau but we can learn from his failed effort.
5. It is understandable that the secular press views this action with derision, scorn, and contempt. They view taking the gospel to these primitive folks as a form of cultural violation. What has surprised me is the scorn and contempt I have seen some Christians direct at John Chau. Whether he did ministry in the best possible way, he is a brother who was killed for the gospel. The condemnatory and demeaning attitudes displayed by some Christians on social media was disconcerting.
6. There has been a lot of “fake news” out there about this – just plain nastiness. The facts seem fairly clear. Chau got a fisherman to take him close to the island, kayaked to the island to try to take the gospel to these people, and was killed.
7. The idea that God would never call us to risk our lives in carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth is a uniquely American/Western idea. Risking life and limb to proclaim Christ has been the NORM in history and in the world today. Our comfort and ease is the exception.
8. Chau’s tragic death highlights the value of cooperative missions. Our missionaries go to dangerous areas but while the board cannot remove all peril they can help them deal with what they face. An oversight board would certainly have not approved a mission such as this. Boards can be institutional, frustrating, limiting, and all that, but they can also provide wisdom and protection.
9. We can never know what God put on John Allen Chau’s heart and now that is between him and the Savior in whose arms he rests. What he did was foolhardy but look how often God called his people to foolhardy acts in Scripture. Most often, he protects his people but sometimes even the obedient met messy ends. There are not guarantees that serving God is safe.
I worked through some of this earlier this year when a mini-war roiled up in the area that I go to in Senegal. There was a massacre, an attempted bridge bombing, jungle fighting, and a murder in close proximity to the villages I am seeking to evangelize. I had to decide whether I would go to minister to the Ehing people if there was real danger. My medical problems rendered the decision moot – by the time I was healthy enough to make a brief trip in September things had settled down.
I had decided, though, that God has called me to minister to the Ehing people. When I read Paul’s resume in 2 Corinthians 11, I see that he was in constant danger and it was only by the grace of God that he lived as long as he did before his martyrdom. The idea that I would only go to Senegal if it was “safe” is contrary to my call. When a friend of mine, Bill Hyde, was killed by terrorists in the Philippines, I was privileged to share in his funeral with Jerry Rankin, president of the IMB. I asked Dr. Rankin and he said that almost every one of our missionaries served in dangerous situations. The areas that need Christ today are hard places!
We cannot carry the gospel to the ends of the earth and demand ease, comfort, and safety while we do it.
It is right and good that we examine the tactics and strategies of John Allen Chau as the days go forward and ask ourselves what could be done better, what he did wrong, and how we can obey the Great Commission most effectively. I think in the final analysis we will likely find his heart pure and his motives noble, but his methods flawed.
But right now we should mourn a brother and remember that the gospel is a call to sacrifice. It is a dangerous calling. Martyrdom is part of it.
Our bodies are living sacrifices for Christ. Sometimes living sacrifices have to pay the ultimate price.
This is foreign to our experience as Americans, but we are the oddity in church history and experience.