John Allen Chau was twenty-six years old. A native of Vancouver, Washington, he led missionary trips around the world for Christ.
This month, he traveled to the North Sentinel Island in India’s Bay of Bengal to share Christ with the Sentinelese tribe. Its members have been isolated for centuries, rejecting all contact with the larger world and reacting with violence when outsiders have attempted to interact with them. Their island is off-limits to visitors under Indian law.
Chau hired local fishermen to transport him within half a mile of the island. He then used a canoe to reach the island’s shore, returning later in the day.
On his second trip, the tribespeople broke his canoe, forcing him to swim back to the boat. On his third trip, he did not come back. The fishermen said they later saw tribespeople dragging his body around.
Indian authorities have now begun the arduous work of trying to retrieve Chau’s body without triggering a conflict with the islanders.
Before he left the boat for the last time, Chau wrote a note to his family. “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people,” he said.
Then he added: “Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed–rather please live your lives in obedience to whatever He has called you to and I will see you again when you pass through the veil.”
“When necessary, use words”
John Chau’s story raises numerous questions. Among them: Was it ethical to risk exposing the North Sentinelese to diseases for which they have no immunities? How did Chau expect to communicate with them if he did not understand their language or culture? Was it appropriate for him to seek contact with people who clearly did not want him on their island?
Here’s the larger theological question: Do the North Sentinelese need to hear about Jesus?
Our secular culture would answer loudly in the negative. “Live and let live” is the mantra of our day.
We should expect secular people to think this way. In their worldview, all truth claims are relative and tolerance is the highest value.
As a result, a Christian who shares the gospel with others is seen as “forcing” his or her beliefs on them. It’s conventional wisdom today that we might witness with our lives, but we should avoid offending people with our words.
Francis of Assisi is often quoted as saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
The “gospel” is “good news”
Here’s the problem: it’s necessary to use words.
Paul asked: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14).
The “gospel” is literally the “good news” that Jesus died for our sins and calls us to repent of them and trust him as our Savior and Lord.
These are cognitive facts that must be communicated to be understood and believed. Those who understand and believe them have a moral duty to share them with those who do not.
Here’s my point: whatever we think of John Chau’s methods, it is vital that we imitate his passion.
What nuns and firefighters have in common
Consider two other stories in today’s news.
First, a nun believed to be the oldest in the world has died at the age of 110. Sister Cecylia Maria Roszak was born in Poland in 1908 and joined a cloistered convent of sisters in Krakow at the age of twenty-one. During World War II, she and her fellow nuns hid seventeen Jews in their convent, risking execution if they had been discovered.
Second, we learned yesterday that the Camp Fire in Northern California has been 100 percent contained. It was the deadliest and most destructive fire in California’s history. Thousands of firefighters risked their lives to battle the blaze.
Sister Rozsak and her fellow nuns have been widely honored for their courage in risking their lives to protect others. The California firefighters deserve our highest gratitude for their selfless sacrifice.
Will we pay any price to help others know Jesus?
“Because of you, others are here today”
My wife recently received a very kind thank you card from a woman in one of her ladies’ Bible studies in Dallas. It contained these words from Max Lucado: “When you arrive in heaven, I wonder if Christ might say these words to you: ‘I’m so proud that you let me use you. Because of you, others are here today. Would you like to meet them?’”
Will you let Jesus use you today?