Did missionary die from arrogance or from altruism?
Since last month’s killing of 26-year-old missionary, John Allen Chau, a lot of ink has been spilled.
On November 17, 2018, Chau of Washington state died at the hands of an isolated tribe in an island that is under India’s jurisdiction, although it is about 1000 miles southeast of India.
North Sentinel Island is closed to any outside influence. Chau wanted them to learn about Jesus, the only hope for salvation, who died in the place of sinners—receiving in His own body the due penalty of our sins.
The Boston Globe’s Renee Graham wrote that what killed him was hubris. She opined, “Chau didn’t die from the tribesmen’s arrows. He was killed by his own arrogance. A self-styled Christian missionary, Chau tried to foist his presence and beliefs on the Sentinelese tribe.”
Graham goes on to call him “an invader.”
The New York Times (12/2/18) noted that Chau’s death has a sparked a debate even among evangelicals as to “extreme missionary work.” Some Christians have viewed his approach as “reckless and unjustifiable.” Most of the criticism from fellow Christians seems to center on his methods, but not what he was trying to do per se. The article in the Times even points out there are approximately “440,000 Christian missionaries working abroad in 2018,” according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity.
Christian attorney Mat Staver, who founded and directs Liberty Counsel, sees animus against Christianity all the time. But some of the abuse heaped on Chau has taken him aback.
Staver writes: “We have received some of the most vile and insensitive comments…which include: (1) those who believe that indigenous people should be left alone and have no contact with the outside world; and (2) those who hate…Christians.” He also noted that Chau broke no law in his attempted contact with the North Sentinelese.
One of Staver’s ministries includes a program called Covenant Journey, which he describes as “a life-changing 10-day experience in Israel for Christian college-age students who demonstrate leadership skills.” Chau was an alumnus of this program.
Staver said of Chau: “Since high school, John shared with his family and some friends that he wanted to go to North Sentinel Island. The reason was his desire to share the love of Jesus with one of the last unreached people groups in the world, the Sentinelese.” Staver asks, “Who are we to deny the Sentinelese the choice of their future?”
The death of John Allen Chau reminds me of the death of Jim Elliot and four other missionaries in the jungle of Ecuador in 1956. Several years ago, I got to interview his widow, the late Elisabeth Elliot, for Christian television.
The Waodani tribe in Ecuador—once referred to as the Aucas—was a closed group, but Elliot and his compatriots wanted to share Jesus with them. Elisabeth Elliot told me: “In January of 1956 they did go in. They made a camp. They had what appeared to be a very friendly contact with three Auca Indians, and two days later they were all speared to death.”
She also said, “At the time I prayed what seemed like a rather ridiculous prayer. I said, ‘Lord, if there’s anything that you could ever want me to do about the Aucas, I’m available.’ Never imagining that God was ever going to take me up on that prayer.’”
That was indeed a prayer God answered. She and some other women, including Rachel Saint, the sister of one of those martyred, went to live among the very people who killed her husband, in order to tell them about Jesus. Rachel even spent decades there.
Elisabeth told me, “Valerie [her daughter] and I lived there for two years and got to know all five of the men, who actually did the killing. I have here in my home one of the spears and one of the blow guns that belonged to those men.”
And she added, “I believe that all five of the men who did the killing have now become Christians. There are number of other Christians, too, among the Indians.”
The Apostle Paul told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 that fulfilling God’s will for him in spreading the Gospel was more important to him than life itself: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”
John Allen Chau felt the same way about seeing the Sentinelese people to come to know Jesus and all the blessings that flow from that. May his number increase. As the martyred Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”