The father of slain American missionary John Chau blamed “extreme” Christianity for his son’s death while on a mission to evangelize an isolated and hostile tribe in the Andaman islands.
Patrick Chau, the father of the 26-year-old from Washington state who was killed by a tribe on North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal last November, didn’t hold back about his true thoughts on his son’s death when recently asked for comment by the United Kingdom-based news outlet The Guardian.
Although Patrick Chau is like his son in the fact that they both are graduates of the charismatic evangelical Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, the father is unlike his son in the fact that he no longer considers himself a Christian. He is now a follower of Chinese philosopher Confucius.
In an email, Patrick Chau called religion “the opium of the mass[es].”
“If you have [anything] positive to say about religion, l wish not to see or hear,” Chau wrote.
The father detailed that he was not supportive of Chau’s missionary desires, which were a point of contention that they agreed not to talk about.
“John is gone because the Western ideology overpowered my [Confucian] influence,” Chau was quoted as writing, adding that evangelical “extreme Christianity” was to blame for his son’s life coming to a “not unexpected end.”
The elder Chau reportedly took issue with one of the central components of Christian belief, the call that Jesus gave his followers to go and make disciples of all nations as seen in Matthew 28. The command is better known as the Great Commission.
The news of Chau’s death stirred criticism from many commenters, including some Christians, who disagreed with the way Chau went about his missionary calling. Chau went to an island of isolated inhabitants that the Indian government has banned unpermitted visitors to visit. Chau was viewed by many as “reckless.”
Critics were quick to point out that contact with Chau could have spread disease to the hardly-ever-contacted tribal community that is not immune to common illnesses.
However, reports have indicated that Chau took great precaution by receiving 13 immunizations, was quarantined before his trip, and was prepared to stay on the island long-term.
Chau was taken to the island by fishermen and was supported by the Kansas City-based mission agency All Nations. Seven people believed to be responsible for Chau reaching the island were arrested following his death.
All Nations came to the defense of Chau. In an interview with Christian Today, Pam Arlund, a member of the international leadership team of All Nations, explained that Chau came to them nearly two years ago to express his desire to bring the Gospel to the people of North Sentinel Island.
She said that the organization provided training to prepare Chau for a long-term mission on the island.
Arlund further contended that the Indian government had lifted its Restricted Area Permit (RAP) on North Sentinel and a number of other inhabited islands. Yet, the Indian government’s Andaman Island tourism webpage explains that “visiting to tribal reserved areas in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is prohibited.”
Arlund told The New York Times that Chau had the appropriate amount of preparation for his mission, put together a responsible plan and that he was "not reckless or extreme at all."
“He had counted the costs and knew that he might lose his life," she said. "But he had also put plans in place to protect the North Sentinelese. That’s because he loved them.”
Some mission agencies have criticized the fact that Chau went on the mission alone. Many mission agencies carry out the practice of teaming on missions.
In an Instagram post following his death, the Chau family offered forgiveness to those responsible for their son’s death. They also called for the released of his friends in the Andaman islands, stating that Chau “ventured out on his own free will” and that no contacts need to be punished.
In one of his final journal entries, Chau wrote a note to his parents.
“You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people. Please do not be angry at them or at God If I get killed — rather, please live your lives in obedience to whatever he has called you to and I’ll see you again when you pass through the veil,” Chau wrote. “Don’t retrieve my body. This is not a pointless thing — the eternal lives of this tribe is at hand and I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God worshiping in their own language as Revelation 7:9-10 states.”
Although Patrick Chau’s objections to his son’s missionary zeal may be stirred by his own animus toward Christianity, Chau is not the only parent who objects to their children entering the global mission field as some parents — even Christian parents— just want their children to live safe and comfortable lives.
Familial objections can sometimes serve as the biggest obstacles to young adults going into missions. When teens and young adults feel like they are being called to go, their parents’ objections can be a big dilemma considering the biblical call for Christians to obey their parents.
Pastor and writer John Piper, who serves as the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, tackled this issue when asked for advice by a reader who was told by his parents that going into missions would be a “waste of my life, and that I would be a fool to leave America, which is, they say, the greatest nation in the world.”
Piper suggested that in some cases it would be best to postpone the execution of the missionary calling.
“Honor your parents for the next season by staying in the States. Search out a rigorous Christian college or university, be involved in missions all along the way, and get the deepest, widest, strongest preparation of mind and heart you can get,” Piper answered. “And in that process, God will make the future plain.”