Continuing dialogue on the death of American missionary


Much has been said about John Chau, the American missionary who lost his life when trying to approach the Sentinelese tribe, who live on a remote island off the coast of India.

There are different camps people fall into with this story. I wrote about this last week. Some people looked at a story of a Christian going to another part of the world to try to reach others with the gospel with such scorn that they practically celebrated his death.

I literally saw people comment that they weren’t even sorry for him. I think that’s pretty sick.<!–more–>

Others were apathetic to his death because he was exposing people to diseases. I’m not a doctor, he might have been, however he had been heavily immunized and even spent time in quarantine before going. At the very least, it seems that Mr. Chau was thoughtful to avoid that (and he had also received medical training).

I’ve been critical of the methods used to approach the Sentinelese people. I still do believe that things could have been approach in a manner of better judgment, especially once the situation was obviously perilous. But I also might have been unfair in my initial assessment.

From the available information, Chau had put a great deal of thought into this trip. It wasn’t throw together on a whim. He had planned for this trip. He had trained for this trip. I always thought his desire was admirable: reaching people with the gospel who had never been reached with it.

It’s a complicated story because people fall into many camps. There is the aforementioned group who are hostile to the gospel and its spread. There are people who aren’t necessarily hostile to the gospel but who were opposed to this particular effort because of the risk of disease.

But Christians also have differing opinions. I think we should remember the good things about Chau’s effort: having a desire to reach the lost with the gospel. He was in an extreme situation but so many of us aren’t even willing to share the love of Jesus with a friend or neighbor because we’re so uncomfortable.

As I’ve said, I think that there is room to question some of these methods. Not even to bad mouth a young man who lost his life, but just in terms of evaluating missiological strategies. Ed Stetzer, who’s a missiologist and author noted a couple of Bible verses that apply to this situation. In Matthew 10:14, Jesus told his disciples: “if anyone will not welcome you or heed your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.”

There is a lot of hatred in the world. Missionaries and Christians lose their lives and are persecuted for their faith.

I still think it’s fair to question if Christians should deliberately put themselves in positions where they are facing almost certain death?

It appears that Chau never had any sort of end with the Sentinelese people. Perhaps more information will come out, but standard avenues to try to reach and positively interact with a society seemed to be closed off.

Christians should pray for the Sentinelese people, and to pray for John Chau’s family.

Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear what you think, and don’t forget to subscribe! 

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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