John Chau: Celebrate His Heart, Learn From His Methods
For several years John Allan Chau had been dreaming of preaching the gospel to the people of North Sentinel Island.
The Indian government has made it illegal for anyone to visit the island in an attempt to protect the people. But John believed that since Jesus commanded us to go to all nations (Matt 28:18-20), Christ’s authority is greater than any government’s. So after getting training (we don’t know how good it was) from a sending organization (All Nations) he felt it was time to go and hired some local fishermen to take him to the island secretly.
When he arrived his first interaction was tense, he yelled out “My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you”, but they didn’t understand. The result was getting chased off the island. He was shot with an arrow which apparently hit his Bible. After making it to safety he wrote this in his journal,
“Well, I’ve been shot by the Sentinelese… directly into my Bible which I was holding… Father, forgive him and any of the people on this island who try to kill me…
If you want me to get actually shot or even killed with an arrow then so be it. I think I could be more useful alive though… ‘I don’t want to die! Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else continue? No. I don’t think so. I still could make it back to the US somehow as it almost seems like certain death to stay here. God,
I don’t want to die. WHO WILL TAKE MY PLACE IF I DO? OH GOD I miss my parents…”
Clearly he did not have death wish, he loved life. He reminds me of myself when I was 26. His personal motto was: “Make the most of every good opportunity today because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
He didn’t want to die, but he didn’t want the Sentinelese to die without Christ more.
He knew it was risky to go, but he wondered who else would go reach those people if he didn’t. He cared more out their eternal life than his earthly life.
So John wrote this 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 you lives in obedience to whatever he has called you to and I’ll see you again when you pass through the veil.
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 Revelations 7:9-10 states. I love you all and I pray none of you love anything in this world more than Jesus Christ.’
Soli Deo gloria.”
The next day he went to the island and was shot to death with arrows. After reading his story I was inspired by his heart. It reminds me of the martyrs in Revelation who were described this way.
And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Revelation 12:11
My twin brother Paul posted this story on twitter connected to the quote by Jim Elliot. Jim Elliot was a Christian missionary who was stabbed to death by spears by the people he was seeking to reach, and famously said,
“He is no fool who gives what he can not keep to gain what he can not lose.” – Jim Elliot
The response to that twitter post was crazy! It got a lot of comments, most passionate and many very hostile! Many commented saying, John’s strategy was probably not the best. I agree! He could have brought someone with him. In the Bible, we almost always see people going as a team.
We don’t know what his long term strategy was, and his original strategy seemed flawed to just yell something out in an unintelligible language. Perhaps he should have left and went back to figure out a better way.
My point this morning is not to over-analyze his method or even ask if he should have gone when he did and how he did. I don’t know all the facts about his story.
But I do know Jesus has called us to go to all nations, and he was trying to obey!
I think the best way to honor John’s death is to celebrate his heart and willingness to go, but also learn from what happened so we can improve our future efforts to reach the un-reached in the best way possible.
Others argued the tribe was fine on their own and shouldn’t be disturbed or risk being diseased. Which makes sense, if Heaven and Hell were not real, but the Bible is clear that they are. Others compared his efforts to colonialism, which I don’t see.
Other comments fit the “troll” category, mocking his death, and saying that if Jesus was God why couldn’t He save him. (Similar to what people said to Jesus on the cross, Matt 27:42)
Even posting about it put my brother and I in the cross hairs of criticism in a small way.
And while many people were reasonable, others we just hurtful and insulting.
I believe we need more people willing to suffer and even die in order to reach the un-reached like John even if he attempted to do it in an unwise way.
According to JoshuaProject.net there are over 3 Billion people in un-reached people groups the world!
The reason many of these places are un-reached is because they are hard places! All the easy places are taken! So we must be willing to suffer in order to get the good news to them! Paul wrote,
“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness.” Colossians 1:24–25
What was lacking in the suffering of Christ? We know that Christ’s suffering was a sufficient sacrifice for all our sins. Nothing needs to be added to it!
Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. 1 Peter 3:18
Jesus left his home in heaven, to bring us home to God. Jesus never sinned, so He could die for sin. Jesus suffered for our sins temporarily, so we don’t have to suffer eternally. Jesus was raised to life, so we could be raised to life with Him! His death paid the penalty for ALL of the sins of ALL people who come to him.
Then how does OUR suffering fill up “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions?”
In his classic sermon Doing Missions When Dying is Gain, John Piper tells this story,
He said there was once an evangelist in India who trudged on foot to various villages preaching the gospel. He was a simple man with no education, who loved Jesus with all his heart, and was ready to lay down his life. He came to a village that didn’t have the gospel. It was late in the day and he was very tired. But he went into the village and lifted his voice and shared the gospel with those gathered in the square. They mocked him, derided him, and drove him out of town. And he was so tired — with no emotional resources left — that he lay down under a tree, utterly discouraged. He went to sleep not knowing if he would ever wake up. They might come kill him, for all he knows.
Suddenly, just after dusk, he is startled and woke up. The whole town seemed to be around him looking at him. He thought he would probably die. One of the big men in the village said, “We came out to see what kind of man you are, and when we saw your blistered feet we knew you were a holy man. We want you to tell us why you were willing to get blistered feet to come talk to us.” So he preached the gospel and, according to J. Oswald Sanders, the whole village believed. I think that’s what Paul means by “I complete in my sufferings what is lacking in the afflictions of Jesus.”
Some people will only be reached on the beautiful blistered feet of people willing to suffer for Christ. Tertullian said,
“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” – Tertullian
What is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, is the people He has redeemed that He has commissioned us to reach. In order for the good news to spread to all nations, God’s people must be willing to suffer.
Are you willing in to suffer so someone else can experience salvation? Jesus made great promises to those willing to go,
“I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life.” Mark 10:29–30
My family has experienced this promise first hand. My parents have started 8 churches and growing up we moved every few years. The result is that all four of my brothers love and serve Jesus, and God HAS blessed our family in numerous other ways.
Jesus promises that whatever you sacrifice for the sake of the gospel, you get back 100 times. Also notice that persecution is part of the package!
One of the most famous missionaries ever was David Livingstone who spent his life ministering in the hardest places in Africa. He said this,
“Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice.” – David Livingstone
Livingston concluded that everything he gave up to follow Jesus, was not a sacrifice in the ultimate sense. Yes, he made many earthly sacrifices, but in light of eternity “he never made a sacrifice.”
Not everyone is called to do what John Chau did, but we all must play our role in helping reach the un-reached even if that means sacrifice and suffering.
Right now, in God’s presence, John Chau could say with David Livingstone, I never made a sacrifice!