American missionary killed: the cost of the gospel, the necessity for wisdom

An American missionary, John Allen Chau lost his life on a remote island off the coast of India last week.
His goal was to share the gospel with the Sentinelese tribe. Their island is a protected area, which is isolated from the outside world. The tribe has also been violent towards visitors in the past.

Chau attempted going to the island and the Sentinelese shot arrows at him, forcing Chau to flee. But he returned again, tragically losing his life.

I’m conflicted about this story. It is certainly very unfortunate that this man lost his life. I appreciate that he had a desire to go somewhere and share the love of Jesus with people who didn’t know it.

On news articles, the top comments are all very negative, defending the Sentinelese people for committing this murder and using it as an opportunity to mock Christianity, saying things like “well clearly his faith didn’t help him” and saying that Christians should just leave people alone.

I support missionaries and the mission of the church in the world. The cross is foolishness to non-Christians. Jesus gave the Great Commission, commanding: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).”

Christians are called to go into the world and spread the gospel. For non-Christians, it makes no sense. Because non-Christians don’t believe in the exclusivity of the gospel. They assume it doesn’t matter, and so the idea of someone dying for the sake of the gospel is confounding to them.

I fully recognize that spreading the gospel can come at a tremendous cost. Jesus warned of the persecution his followers would face.

But it’s still worth pursuing missions opportunities in a wise manner.

Going to a hostile group, who have killed people for setting foot on their island, when you don’t speak their language, and who gave you multiple warnings was unwise. With the vitriol from the rest of the world to this story, I think Christians might want to have a tendency to gloss over these facts.

I don’t say that to be cold hearted. The approach just seems like it was ill-conceived. And it cost a passionate young missionary his life.

I hope and pray that the Lord will still use this tragedy for his own glory.

In a final note to his family, Chau said: “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this, but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people.” Chau was prayerful for the people: “Father, forgive him and any of the people on this island who try to kill me… and especially forgive me if they succeed.”

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Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.

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