If you have been watching the news, you have noticed the recent death of the Christian missionary John Chau. There has been much said about Chau and his mission, motives, and preparation. There have been several people who have written about him and my thoughts would do nothing to turn the tide nor add much to the discussion. What is unfortunate, in my opinion, is the amount of articles and responses that have come out so quickly before we have even looked into the entire story. Whether we would be justified in our opinions or not, our social media and immediacy age has warped how we critically think about events in the world. How often we develop our own theories and opinions based on hearing only a fraction of the story and background which can be blown out of context. There has even been one article that I have read recently from a very solid evangelical writer and ministry who wrote more scathingly about Chau and his mission. If one reads the article, you would come away thinking that we should never take any risks whatsoever in missions and that we should only do so if it makes total logical and logistical sense to us. I came away thinking, “This author doesn’t want me to leave the 99 sheep to go and find the 1.”
Yes, there are many things that need to be thought about and learned from this situation. Jesus Himself tells us to count the cost for following Him and certainly this should be our thoughts for the mission field as well. There is a grand difference between being a missionary for your own glory and truly desiring to serve Christ and His kingdom. Nevertheless, who are we to discern Chau’s motives from afar (from very far) especially when we have very little information nor have talked to people who knew him and helped him prepare. We need to see also the many positive lessons to be learned. If we are honest, some of our reactions against Chau might be because of our idolatry of comfort and only wanting Jesus to be apart of our resume and reputation rather than our Sovereign Lord and Infinitely Glorious King. What both “sides” (this article is certainly another example of our polarizing and side-taking culture that we have in America and in American evangelicalism) need is to learn from Chau. Through all this, let’s remember, this is a man who died. From all accounts of Chau’s walk with Christ, this is a man who we will delight to be with in heaven to come. This is not a lab rat for our Christian culture.
That brings in Ed Stetzer’s article at the Washington Post. Stetzer has written the best article by far, that I have come across in my very limited research, that gives us careful considerations and also challenges us. You might have your own reactions to the mission and death of Chau but I would encourage you to read Stetzer’s article before coming to your own conclusion. And when you do, and when you pass it on to others, ask yourself these questions:
What does it mean to be a wise “fool for Christ’s sake”?
How much do I idolize my comfort?
Do I seek to evangelize only on mission trips or am I doing so in my everyday life?
Was this a tragedy?
How has my own culture shaped my view of missions?
How has my own culture shaped my view of what it means to be a Christian?
How do we take this and use it to teach our children and grandchildren about missions (whether to learn from mistakes or to learn from good example or both)?
Are we remembering that this is a man (and a Christian on top of that!) that has died and not merely a missionary lab rat for us to talk about?
Do we think of heaven or are we consumed with this life?
How does this prepare us to live and raise children in our own culture that is beginning to persecute Christianity more and more?
What can I learn from the rest of Christian history and other biographies that might help me grow in wisdom and passion for missions?
The following is an excerpt from Stetzer’s article and the part that I think we need to hear most. For the full article, click here. Stetzer will challenge both “sides” and leave us thinking more humbly about John Chau.
There are certainly differences between [Jim] Elliot and Chau, but what has really changed is our culture. People are much more negative about missions, partly because of mistakes that missionaries have made, such as colonialism, a lack of cultural awareness and more. But, for many critics, it is the core goal of conversion itself they object to.
I grieve for John Chau and his family. He made his choices because he loved the North Sentinelese. You might see it as a waste. You might point out his mistakes, even after learning that he had worked hard to prepare for his mission.
But, as I write this, less than 100 feet away is a letter Jim Elliot wrote. As a Wheaton College graduate, he has a special place here. As Elliot wrote (and Chau experienced), “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Here at Elliot’s alma mater, we still believe and train missionaries. To some, that makes us the fools. But we pray our students will engage in their culture and others well and in appropriate ways, with care for the health and well-being of all, and with others in partnership.
If that makes us fools, we will be “fools for Christ” (1 Corinthians 4:10).