Martyr or Misguided Adventurer?

Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me. ~Jim Elliot

The most important story of the week is one you likely have not heard. John Allen Chau was shot with bows and arrows as he landed on North Sentinel island of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a remote location forbidden to outsiders. According to local officials, the 27-year-old was a Christian missionary. Officials say the islanders have lived in isolation for nearly 60,000 years and advocacy group Survival International said that by contacting the community, Chau may have passed along pathogens that have the “potential to wipeout the entire tribe” of about 50 to 150 people.

Chau described himself as “a snakebite survivor” and wilderness medic who is “following the way”. He said he was inspired by the Victorian explorer and missionary David Livingston, and Jesus. A missionary who was in contact with Mr. Chau in the last days of his trip says his aim was to bring the gospel to the island’s tribesmen. In a last note to his family, Chau wrote: “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people.” He added that he was “doing this to establish the kingdom of Jesus on the island… Do not blame the natives if I am killed.”

Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, the organization with which Chau was aligned, was in contact with him during his visit:

“John went there to bring the gospel to these people… He had talked about it… planned it for a while, so it wasn’t a whim, it wasn’t a lark…. He’d been in the islands before, to this particular island… there were three or four visits on that day, and what happened was on the first visit he was turned back by arrows; the second visit, he came with two big fish as a gift. My understanding was the men accepted the gift; they sat together for an hour; he said they were menacing and they actually shot him. He went back to the boat, and then gradually went back a third time. That’s when the fishermen who were looking through binoculars saw that they’d killed him and were taking him apart. This was not a job he was doing—this was a dream he had that unfortunately went wrong.”

John Allen Chau was an adventurous young man with a passion for Christ and commitment to spread the Gospel. He was not a trained missionary, and we could easily criticize what went wrong; instead, I prefer to learn from what he did right. Chau’s deliberate actions remind of those of Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming, Ed McCully, Nate Saint and Roger Youderian, who were all killed by the Huaorani tribe in eastern Ecuador in 1955 as they attempted to bring the Gospel to the remote people group. Elliot had written in his journal several years before:

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Nothing makes more sense for the Christ-follower than to relinquish everything in relentless obedience to the Savior. Sacrifice is never hollow when we lay down our lives so that others may discover the Way. Live so that you die with holy purpose; die in such a way that you inspire others to live.

(Photo from BBC via Instagram/John Chau)

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