"Why This Waste?!"

John Allen Chau.jpg

In 1839, a missions party reached Erromango, an island in the Vanuatu chain. European traders had sailed through the South Pacific, but little contact had been made with these tribes. John Williams and James Harris knew that for “every tribe, tongue, and people” to believe and worship Jesus, they’d have to hear the Gospel. Which meant someone would have to go tell them.[1]

They made contact, and were speared the moment they reached this unreached shore. And then they were eaten. The tribe of Erromango was made of cannibals.

So the missions endeavor in the South Pacific dried up pretty quickly. But a young Scotsman, John G. Paton, heard the terrible news and was marked by 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.”[2]

He later left his ministry post in Glasgow and set sail for Erromango, convinced the resurrection was enough to preserve him despite whatever the decision might cost him. Paton spent decades preaching the Gospel and making disciples amongst the tribes who’d killed his predecessors. It was difficult work. Grueling. Costly. Glorious.

This past week, reports came in from Indian authorities[3] that a young American man, just a few years out from his graduation from Oral Roberts University, had made contact with the “world’s most isolated tribe” on North Sentinel Island off the coast of India. A different island, a different tribe, but Williams’, Harris’, and Paton’s same ambition: preach the Gospel. The Sentinelese people are numbered in the dozens and have never, in known history, interfaced with the rest of the world. Their territory is guarded by the Indian government, who prohibits anyone from breaching the Sentinelese borders.

John Allen Chau went anyway, escorted by fishermen he’d bribed to transport him under the cover of night, burdened to bring these unreached and unengaged people a witness of “this Gospel of the Kingdom.”[4] Once the Sentinelese saw him, his body quickly bore their arrows. The fishermen reported seeing him dragged and buried the following morning. (They’re now in custody and being charged with his murder. Chau’s family has asked for their release.)[5]

It has been some time since the international community has been faced with the martyrdom of missionaries—perhaps, to this degree, since five men were speared down in Ecuador under similar circumstances.[6] It’s the first time we’ve had a conversation about martyrdom to this degree with things like Twitter involved, which is an interesting betrayal of our inner minds and men; Chau’s death is much like Mary’s inheritance broken in a moment and spilled out to anoint Jesus: “[Everyone in the room—including the apostolic leadership of the early Christian community—] was indignant, saying, ‘Why this waste?!’”[7]

“Let her alone,” He said.[8]

John Allen Chau, you went to “Erromango” and died before you could utter a word, before you could do the hard yards of learning the language, translating the text, or the honor of baptizing and discipling young believers. But you bore witness to the worth and preeminence of Jesus, the primacy of proclaiming His name, and the prioritization of the 7,000+ people groups who’ve never heard the Gospel. You went where even I had never heard of to check a people I didn’t know existed off the lists of “unreached” and “unengaged.”[9]

John, I pray for your family this holiday season (I’m so encouraged by their witness and response as well), and I pray for the young men and women who hear the news and are provoked instead of proud, invigorated instead of insulting. I can’t wait to meet you. Truly you were “one of whom the world is not worthy.”[10]

Keep an eye out for some Patons.



“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








Stephanie Quick is a writer and producer serving with Frontier Alliance International in the Middle East. She is the author of Confronting Unbelief and can be found on on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and sends monthly ministry updates.


[1] Revelation 7:9; see Romans 10:11-15
[2] John Piper put together a brief and accessible biography of John G. Paton: https://www.desiringgod.org/books/john-g-paton
[3] Albeit “unconfirmed,” as his body was reportedly buried by his murderers and hasn’t been recovered
[4] Matthew 24:14
[5] BBC News, 22 November 2018. “John Allen Chau: Family forgive tribe who killed American.” Accessed from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-46300459
[6] For more information, visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Auca
[7] Matthew 26:6-8
[8] Mark 14:6; John 12:7
[9] For more information, visit https://joshuaproject.net
[10] Hebrews 11:38