The NYT is Asking Missionaries for Our Take on John Allen Chau. Here's Mine. [Op-Ed]
NOTE: I use the term "missionary” here because it is what The New York Times is using. This word means different things to different people in different countries. For our purposes here, "missionary” and “missionary work” refer to individuals sent and supported by Christian communities (churches and congregations), motivated simply by a love for Jesus, carrying and delivering only the message of the Gospel of Jesus. We have nothing to do with national interests and in no way serve as ambassadors or affiliates with any government enterprise.
WHAT KIND OF MISSIONARY WORK HAVE YOU DONE, WHEN, AND WHERE? TELL US YOUR STORY.
Beginning in 2009, I served at a missions base in the South Pacific that trained & sent missionaries into South/South East Asia, Oceania, and the Middle East. From there, several colleagues and I formed the launch team for Frontier Alliance International (faimission.org), a new missions agency led by Dalton and Anna Thomas, in late 2011 (Dalton Thomas). We formally launched in 2012 and arrived in the region as the Arab Spring/Syrian Civil War were erupting, and we wanted to engage the Islamic world and serve in the crisis. We've been in the Middle East ever since, largely working in war and conflict zones, in a concentrated and coordinated effort to reach “unreached” and “unengaged” peoples (see joshuaproject.net for a definition of terms) throughout the Middle East and South Asia. Generally speaking, we engage via medical centres and provide relief and humanitarian aid (alternatively, sometimes this means we build education centers). We have a counter-trafficking team in the Mediterranean Basin. (As a value, this doesn’t mean we only give people water or medicine or whatever if they ‘listen to our story about Jesus.’ Serving not only gives us a legitimate means of tangibly serving isolated and impoverished communities, among neighbors who become very dear friends, but it also bears witness to the nature and character of King Jesus, and that’s really the point of “missionary work.”)
Here is a CNN clip on our work in Syria: https://www.youtube.com/watch…
Here is a 20-minute tour through one of our Mercy Medical Centers in Syria: https://www.youtube.com/watch…
More information on the value of the “frontier” and our film addressing this issue/value: faimission.org/frontier
We also have field documentaries about our work in Iraq during and after the ISIS years ('Better Friends Than Mountains') at faimission.org/film-library
HOW IS THE KILLING OF JOHN ALLEN CHAU AFFECTING YOU? HAS IT MADE YOU THINK DIFFERENTLY AT ALL ABOUT MISSIONARY WORK?
I’ve been a missionary on the “frontier”—working with what are known missiologically as “unreached” and/or “unengaged” peoples—for several years. I found out about John on Thanksgiving Day and haven’t been able to get him out of my mind or off my heart since. We immediately issued this statement: https://www.faimission.org/articles/why-this-waste-john-chau. I stand by this. We are grieved by his death, comforted by the promise of his resurrection, and provoked by his obedience and ambition (see Romans 15:20).
“Missionary work” is a short-term endeavor—meaning this era of human history that we know, what Scripture calls a singular “age” of many through eternity, is simply one epoch on the eternal spectrum during which the “manifold wisdom” of the Creator of everything and everyone is “displayed through the people of Jesus” for every eye in heaven and earth to see (see Ephesians 3:8-13). As John Piper says, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” The promise of Scripture is this: God is supremely good, and He is pure love, and we’re made in His Image. Our unbelief in His goodness and His love produced (and produces) disobedience to His Word, which creates severe and deadly relational separation. Jesus reconciled us, and He is called in Scripture the “Lamb slain before the foundation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8; 17:8) who “shed the blood of the everlasting covenant” (Hebrews 13:8). Meaning this isn’t Plan B. This is the point and purpose to this age—that people would fall in extravagant love with Jesus and, out of that extravagant love, prioritize Him above all else (see Mary of Bethany’s story recorded in John 12 and Matthew 26). But they have to hear about Him first.
Missions is NOT colonialism, and Hudson Taylor’s life and ministry is a beautiful example of calling the Church out on times these two things conflated. He contextualized his life and ethos of his organization, the China Inland Mission, to serve the Chinese. He became fluent in Chinese. He dressed like a Chinese man. He didn’t try to “convert” them and make them Europeans. He simply arrived, learned the language, honored the beautiful Chinese culture, and told them about this beautiful Man from Nazareth. As recorded in his journals, John Chau had a vision for the Sentinelese’s cultural continuity through eternity—to “sing in their own language” through all the ages to come. Scripture promises us they will (Matthew 24:14; Revelation 7:9).
Discipleship will always cost us something, and for John, it cost everything. But he bore witness to the preeminence of Jesus, the proclamation of His name, and the prioritization of yet-unreached people groups who’ve never heard the name of their Maker. Does Jesus sometimes reveal Himself in dreams? Yes. But His Image-Bearers are given the mandate and dignity of speaking of holy things, and embodying with our own lives the kind of self-sacrificial love that ransomed the enemies of God and adopted them as His children. Forever. Why? So He could spend the rest of eternity revealing His kindness to us (Ephesians 2:7), when we see Him clearly (1 Corinthians 13:12) and we’re not blinded by the fog of this “present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).
All of this to say this: John’s life and death have messed me up. He ran a difficult gauntlet and galvanized the globe over critical issues. What he did was beautiful. He’s getting smeared now, but he’ll be vindicated in eternity. Jesus is worth being declared, and everyone on the planet deserves the dignity of hearing about Him.
I’ll leave you with this story, recorded by Hudson Taylor, who pioneered medical missions in China in the 19th century:
“Shortly after [a young Chinese man came to faith in Jesus], he had asked Taylor how long the gospel had been known in England. When he was told it had been known for hundreds of years, the man was shocked. What! For hundreds of years you have had these glad tidings and only now have come to preach it to us? My father sought after the truth for more than twenty years, and died without finding it. Oh, why did you not come sooner?”
It’s recorded in Taylor’s autobiography, ‘A Retrospect,’ but you can also get the context here: https://www.christianity.com/…/hudson-taylors-heart-for-chi…
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF MR. CHAU'S DECISION TO VENTURE INTO AN ISOLATED AND FORBIDDEN SOCIETY THAT IS VULNERABLE TO CROWD DISEASES?
[FOR A THOROUGH EXAMINATION OF CHAU’S PREPARATION, IMMUNIZATION, AND PERSONAL QUARANTINE REGIMEN BEFORE MAKING CONTACT (FROM ERIK FISH), CLICK HERE]
This question, and answer, is what’s going to create a stark (and likely offensive) contrast between the world and the body of Jesus. John went to introduce them to Jesus—not convert them; they just deserve the dignity of hearing the Gospel and decide what to do with it themselves, and Jesus is worth being heard of by all—and Jesus is the One who made the Sentinelese and sustains the breath in their lungs and blood in their veins (see Colossians 1). The Gospel has only gone forth by proclamation since the Ascension of Jesus, and while I don’t know of an instance that a Gospel messenger—I’m talking about Gospel witnesses who weren’t conflating “missions” with nationalistic endeavours and colonial conquests—who infected a whole tribe and killed them off in some kind of “biological genocide” as John is being accused of attempting, I know Jesus is altogether capable of guarding bodies and immune systems—or healing them, or raising the dead. This wasn’t uncommon in Scripture, and it’s actually not uncommon today. The reason we don’t see it often in a place like America is because the Church herself has deviated so far into unbelief that she’s drunk on it—evidenced by the public backlash against John’s “foolishness.” But Bethel’s community in Redding, CA regularly sees healings take place. Iris Ministries in Africa has seen the Lord do all kinds of wild miracles over decades—including bringing dead people back to life. This is Bible. This is John 11. The Lord is the ultimate Advocate for “life and life abundant” (John 10:10). No one cares more about the people on North Sentinel Island than Jesus. No one.
HOW DO YOU THINK POLICE SHOULD RESPOND TO THE KILLING?
John knew what he was doing, and the fishermen weren’t blindly bribed. Neither the Sentinelese nor John’s collaborators should be prosecuted, and those presently in custody should be released from jail. Jesus is “not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Luke 20:38). We’ll see John Allen Chau in the resurrection. I can’t wait to meet him.
A similar incident occurred in Vanuatu (then the New Hebrides) in 1839 (Erromango to be specific). Two men from the London Missionary Society were killed (and eaten) as soon as they arrived. Word got back to Britain, and missionaries basically stopped going to the South Pacific. But a young man in Glasgow, John G. Paton, was struck with this conviction: “Christ thus baptised those islands with the blood of the martyrs, thereby announcing to the whole Christian world that He claimed them as His own.” Paton later went to the New Hebrides and served there for decades. This is the ultimate depiction of some of Jesus’ final words as He was being murdered: “Father, forgive them—they don’t know what they’re doing.”
“May the Lamb who was slain receive the reward of His suffering.”
“You guys might think I’m crazy in all this, but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people…I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God worshiping in their own language as Revelation 7:9-10 states.”
– John Chau, letter to his parents
Dated just before he died