“Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”
John Chau's story reminds me of Jim Elliot's sacrifice, along with 4 of his partners, to reach people who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. The hours and days after their death must have been devestating. Certainly some were asking if their mission to reach Huaorani people would ever be accomplished. God was faithful and the Huaorani, including the very people who killed Jim and his friends, did receive the Gospel. If you read the Washington Post John Chau was a fool for even attempting to bring the gospel to the North Sentinelese people. Many others even Christians echo their opinion. The critiques are plenty, but it has been my observation that these critiques have come primarily from people who have spent little time on the mission field from the comfort of their plush American homes and offices.
There are two different kinds of critiques. Those outside of the Christian faith or on the liberal end of the Christian faith question whether it is morally right to bring the gospel to those who have not heard it. That is a critique founded on the clash of different world-views. Those who believe that this life is all that there is or at least all that matters do think about what comes after this life. Therefore anything that might harm (in their view) the way a person or group of people choose to live would be considered morally wrong. The North Sentinelese should then be left alone. For the Christian who believes in life after death that either leads to eternal damnation or eternal life with God and the authority and truth of Scripture there is no question that bringing the gospel to people who have never heard it is the right thing to do. Scripture commands the church to take the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8; Mt. 28:19; etc.). Further, the words of Jesus in John 14 reminds the Christian of the exclusivity of the Christian faith.
As a result there should be no hesitation on the part of the Christian to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth and to take head to the words of Jim Elliot, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." While we ought not be flippant with our lives on this side of eternity, we ought not love this life more than the next. Again the words of Jesus come to mind, "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it" (Mt. 16:25).
The second kind of critique is focused on the methods John Chau employed in his attempts to reach the North Sentinelese people. I am not a missiologist so I will not attempt a defense of John Chau on this front. Instead I will refer you to Ed Stetzer's article which is also found in the Washington Post. While it is wise to look at a person's failed attempt and ask what we can do better in order to be more effective in reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ, it is arrogant to do so if we are unwilling to get up out of our lazy boy and reach the people across the street, in the next cubical over, or others in our circle of life. Even if we are reaching across the street, we ought to be at least willing to reach those around the world, to go to the ends of the earth. Are we storing up treasure here on earth or in heaven? Do we really look forward to the scene in Revelation 7 playing out where every tribe and every nation is gathered around the throne worshiping? The church has lost the urgency to evangelize the world and bring all people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Is it not at the very heart of God that all people come to know Jesus (1 Tim. 2)?
Let's ask questions to learn what Chau could have done better, not in an attempt to ignore this unengaged and unreached people, but so that we can be more effective in reaching them. Perhaps John Allen Chau's death will be a wake up call to the rest of us and restore an urgency to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to all. John Allen Chau was courageous, let his courage inspire the rest of us!
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.