On November 14, American missionary John Allen Chau paid local fisherman to take him to North Sentinel Island, located off the coast of northern India. Ignoring the law prohibiting outsiders from making contact with the Sentinelese, Chau wanted to share the gospel with the isolated tribe. Three days later, his death was reported by fishermen who saw the Sentinelese bury his body on the beach. Many in the press as well as many people on social media have blasted Chau for what they believe was an act of selfish stupidity. Even some Christians are criticizing Chau. Others, though, are hailing the young missionary as a martyr for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
When I first heard about John Chau, I thought of two men who were arrested a long time ago for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. After the authorities punished them, the two were warned to never preach the gospel again. However, they ignored the authorities and continued preaching. Eventually, one of them was killed for preaching the gospel and the other was tortured and then exiled.
Based on the way some professing Christians view John Chau, I think it’s safe to assume that they would also view the efforts of those two men as foolhardy and a pointless sacrifice that embarrasses “normal” Christians. I mean, the two obviously didn’t understand that with the Great Commission Jesus never intended for us to ignore laws and proselytize where we’re not wanted.
Except, as many have probably guessed, the two mentioned above are named Peter and John. As in, two of Jesus’ disciples who, along with James, formed Jesus’ inner circle of three disciples. I daresay that professing Christians who are criticizing Chau don’t criticize Peter and John.
It’s not surprising that the mainstream media and non-Christians criticize Chau, but the criticism and even vitriol directed at Chau by professing Christians baffles and saddens me.
Look, I’m not saying that I would encourage people to do what John Chau did, because it’s not my place to encourage someone to offer him or herself up for martyrdom. But, all things being equal, I also don’t think that I would discourage fellow Christians from doing it either. Are there better ways and methods to make contact with unreached people groups? Yes, of course. There are always better ways to do, well, anything. And if every Christian waits until he or she has attained a level of expertise as dictated by others before sharing the gospel, the gospel will be preached even less than it already is.
If a fellow Christian confided to me that he was planning a missionary endeavor similar to Chau’s, at most, I would be concerned with making sure that the individual was aware of the potential cost. From all accounts, John Chau was aware of that cost. Baptist Press reports that Chau’s last note to his family was, “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people.”
John Allen Chau believed that taking the gospel to people still lost in their sin was worth the cost of his life. In other words, and borrowing the words of Jesus, Chau believed that “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:38-39).
Chau should be commended for his courageous obedience, not criticized. And, yes, John Allen Chau was obeying Jesus.
Before he returned to heaven, Jesus’ final words to his followers included the command to preach the gospel to all people. As best we know, the Sentinelese have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. John Chau wanted to change that. We do not know how much or how little of the gospel Chau was actually able to communicate to the people of North Sentinel Island, and frankly, it doesn’t matter. Missionary work is not pragmatic. As my friend Joffre the Giant says in the video posted below, “We don’t know what the point of this story is. We don’t know what God will do with it. We don’t know if this tribe will be saved, every last man, woman, and child in forty years because of this death.”
While we don’t know how God is going to use Chau’s death, we do know that the eyes of the world are now on North Sentinel Island. We don’t know how many missionaries may be inspired by John Chau’s selfless act of love to go and preach to the gospel to the Sentinelese. Remember, some of the Huaorani people who martyred Jim Elliot and his four missionary colleagues in Equador came to repent of their sin and place their faith in Jesus.
I look forward one day to meeting John Chau and hearing how his sacrifice was worth it for God’s sake.