Was Murdered Missionary John Chau An Arrogant Fool?

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For months, John Chau prayed, planned, and journaled about reaching the Sentinelese people with the good news of Jesus. On the morning of November 15, 2018, he attempted contact for the first time but was met with an onslaught of arrows, narrowly escaping with his life.

That evening he penned a prayer from a boat offshore, “God, I don’t want to die…[but] if you want me to get killed with an arrow then so be it.” To his parents he wrote, “you guys might think I’m crazy…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.”

The following day, Chau returned to the island, but this time it cost him his life. According to on-looking fisherman, the Islanders were seen dragging Chau’s lifeless body with a rope. His mission had ended, but his quest has sparked much conversation and a compelling question has surfaced concerning this man who walked toward flying arrows to bring the archers news about forgiveness from God.

Was John Chau an arrogant fool who sought to impose his views on people who didn’t want to hear them?

It is well known that the Sentinelese community had no desire to communicate with outsiders. Local laws were developed to protect their indigenous culture and guard them against the threat of disease. Reports of grotesque evil done to them in days past may fuel their resistance of outsiders. Yet Chau chose to ignore all this to go on his mission. Some have charged him with arrogant hostility, saying he got what he deserved.

The way we ought to evaluate John Chau’s dying actions, whether they are good or bad, depends (from the Christian perspective at least) on whether Jesus is who He claimed to be. In fact, you can’t honestly assess whether Chau (or any Christian) is loving or arrogant without determining whether the message of Jesus true.

Good News for the Sentinelese People

The Bible claims that Jesus is the Son of God who left heaven’s glory to warn us of coming judgment and offer salvation to any who will believe (John 3:16-20). But it also says that mankind did not receive the truth-imposing savior (John 1:11-14). In fact, humanity so hated Jesus’ message that we tortured Him to death through crucifixion (John 19:1-37).

Yet, the scandalous message of the Bible is that Jesus intentionally laid down his life for His people and rose from the dead to offer forgiveness and fullness of joy to all who believe in Him. If this is true, and if John Chau went on his mission to proclaim this good news, then he was much more of a friend than an arrogant fool (Acts 4:10-12; 10:42-43). In fact, if the good news about Jesus is true, then all Christians, like Chau, best show love by risking everything to tell the world.

In his going, should Chau have considered the danger of bringing potentially fatal infection to the island? Certainly. Most Christian missions agencies take precaution to ensure the physical safety of the workers and those they aim to reach. This is part of loving our neighbor. But believers also know that the spiritual safety of people is of far greater importance. It is the spiritual infection of our sin, which separates us from God that stands as our greatest threat, whether we live on Long Island or an isolated one.

God’s Love for the Sentinelese People

Despite our resistance of Him, God still shows love toward us, as he has toward the Sentinelese people. He has continually given them “rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying [their] hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:17). He has made His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). It is God who keeps their heart beating and gives them breath (Isaiah 42:5). Without knowing John Chau personally, I cannot definitively speak of his motives or methods, but as a Christian, I share his desire for the Sentinelese, and all people, to know the God who made and sustains them.

The details about Chau’s encounter with the inhabitants are still unknown. Was he able to over come language barriers to communicate the gospel before he died? Did any believe what they heard? We do not know. But a vital question remains—what will happen to them if they never believe in the Jewish Savior born two thousand years ago who was likewise killed, having his body being dragged into a tomb, and yet, Christians believe, has been raised from the grave?

God’s Proof to the Sentinelese People

The Bible teaches that because God is good, we can know that He will judge them, not because of information they lack, but because of their failure to believe what He has revealed to them through creation and conscience.

Whether we look through a telescope, a microscope, or at the ecosystem on an island, evidence abounds that God created and sustains the world. God charges all people with “suppressing the truth” that He has “made evident” to us (Romans 1:18-23). Rather than love and obey Him, we exchange God for our own ideas and idols (Romans 1:23). We all do this, whether we were raised in the Bible Belt or on undeveloped beaches.

God has also given all people an inner awareness of right and wrong. Our conscience convicts us of sin when we lie or delete search histories or deceive our spouse (Romans 2:14-16). Deep down we know we have done wrong, but we try to medicate and excuse away the guilt. The Sentinelese people who killed John Chau prove their condemnation by not treating him as they would desire to be treated (Matthew 7:12).

Yet, God still desires to show them mercy and forgiveness (1 Timothy 2:1-4). He promises, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Some will say that the islanders can call on God in their own way, but God makes clear that no one can know His mercy and forgiveness apart from faith in Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). Is it arrogant for God to say there is only one way? No, it is merciful of Him to provide any way at all. If God were fair, all of us would be left in our sin.

So what will God do with the Sentinelese people if they never hear of Jesus? They will be judged, like everyone else. This is why people like John Chau are willing to risk their lives to reach them. He went because he believed, as Christians believe, that there is only one way to heaven. And, if that is true, telling people is the most important and most loving thing anyone could do. To step over a “no trespassing” sign to rescue someone from a burning house at the risk of your own life is the height of love, not wickedness.

A Christian’s Hope for the Sentinelese People

The hope of every Christian is that the Sentinelese people will hear the Gospel of Jesus, turn from their sins, believe upon Jesus, and know the forgiveness of Jesus. Please do not hear this as some sort of desire to colonize them. I desire no such thing. The Bible teaches that every culture possesses aspects that displease God and must be put away. But every culture and every person in that culture also uniquely reflects the beauty and glory of God. I long to see how much we could learn from Sentinelese people who love Jesus. Their appreciation of nature, simplicity of life, and healing from hatred would bless and challenge believers around the world! I pray that God will save many of them for their own joy, but also for the good of His church around the world.

Many questions remain about John Chau and the mysterious community in the Andaman Islands. Some will suggest that Chau’s actions pushed more people away from Jesus than attracted them to Him. My hope is that God will use this event to open doors for conversation about things that matter most.

If you are not a believer in Jesus, I challenge you to investigate whether or not Jesus truly died and rose from the grave. If Jesus did not raise from the grave, then Christians like John Chau are reckless idiots. But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then the Gospel is true and our efforts, however imperfect, will be shown to be done out of love, not arrogant foolishness.

If you are a believer in Jesus, consider whether or not you are willing to risk everything to help the lost come to know Jesus. I urge prudence, prayerfulness, and partnership with a legitimate sending agency. I also urge you to take to heart some of the final words of John Chau—

“Please live your 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 are at hand and I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God worshiping in their own language as Revelation 7:9-10 states…

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Lord, make us willing to risk all for Your glory and the joy of all peoples.

Amen.

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23 thoughts on “Was Murdered Missionary John Chau An Arrogant Fool?

  1. Ken Pierpont

    Thank you for your thoughtful article. Is there a heaven? Is there a hell? Is Jesus the only way to avoid hell and gain heaven? Did Jesus command his disciples to go to all the world? Is it true that there will be people gathered around the throne of Jesus from every tribe and tongue and people and nation? Is Jesus the way, the truth and the life? Is there any other name whereby we must be saved?

    If the Bible is true John Chau was not a fool. If we allow our neighbors to perish without an attempt to reach them we are the fools.

    Reply
    1. David

      1) Hey wasn\’t murdered

      2) His very presence could have exterminated the whole island from disease.

      3) He was a criminal

      4) He had no formal training in linguistics, and even if they hadn\’t killed him and his diseases hadn\’t wiped out the island, there was no reasonable expectation he ever would have been able to.

      Not shedding any tears here.

      Reply
  2. Peter

    \”In his going, should Chau have considered the danger of bringing potentially fatal infection to the island? Certainly.\”

    In his incredible arrogance he ignored such dangers. Smallpox was eradicated thanks to the efforts of the WHO in the 20th century, but lets not forget how deadly it was before the invention of vaccines. Upwards of 90% of certain Native American populations died from smallpox that came with European colonists.

    Imagine that they didn\’t kill him on the spot and he was carrying smallpox or some other disease. He would\’ve killed them long before he got past the language barrier. They speak a language isolate, making communication an even more difficult task. Killing them before they get a chance to convert means John Chau would have personally sent them to hell.

    \”Whether we look through a telescope, a microscope, or at the ecosystem on an island, evidence abounds that God created and sustains the world.\”

    The existence of Egyptian, Norse, Celtic, Germanic, Native American, Greek, etc. gods begs to differ. It quickly becomes clear that people came up with many different supernatural explanations to make sense of the natural world. To come to the conclusion that a single god exists by observing nature with just the naked eye is unlikely, though not impossible. Examples of monotheistic religions: Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, and Chinese thought. To come to the conclusion that it was the God of Abraham is even more unlikely. To somehow arrive at the conclusion that Christianity is the answer to everything is again, even more unlikely. It is unreasonable to expect non-believers to connect the dots between something like a clear starry sky with some deity that loves mankind so much that He sent His only son to die for them.

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth

    \” Was he able to over come language barriers to communicate the gospel before he died? \”

    No. In reading the India news outlets (and the Indian people are very worked up over this) due to the Sentinalese being so isolated, their language was like no other. The India officials report that during one of his encounters, (and there were several attempts) Chau kayaked near the shore and hollered \”Jesus loves you\” in English, and other times, parroted back words the tribesmen were speaking to him, all the while waving his waterproof Bible as they laughed at him, before becoming aggressive.

    Chau also broke Indian law by venturing onto the island, it has a strict no-go zone. Chau had to evade Coast Guard AND police patrols. Obedient-to-civil-authorities-missionaries who care about not putting others in danger, do not do that. The Indian police now in the tricky position of needing to guard the islanders as per law or retrieving Chau\’s body and investigating his murder, also as per law. They are upset.

    I am anxious for Chau\’s sponsoring organization to come forward. With whom was Chau working? All Nations organization has stated that Chau received training in 2017 from them, yet the India officials say Chau was trying to make contact since 2015. If true, then was Chau even working AS a missionary prior to joining with an accountable organization? HAD he even joined or was sponsored by an accountable organization? In looking at All Nations\’ training opportunities, they are brief and shallow. One of the training packets is online only. Even the church planting training packet is only 3 weeks long. I have asked All Nations twice what Chau\’s training specifically consisted of, but no answer as of yet.

    I am reminded of Judson, Paton, Aylward, Elliot, and others who studied and carefully prepared for years before making encounters. Standing on the shore and hollering \’Jesus loves you\’ in an unknown language to an isolated people doesn\’t cut it. To the tribe, Chau was no different than the NatGeo posse that attempted to film them in the 1970s or the stranded fishermen that they killed in 2006, or the original person, British Officer Maurice Vidal Portman, who made contact in 1880 and subsequently kidnapped two elderly and 4 children off the island. To the tribesmen, Chau was to them likely no different- just a hostile aggressor. Who can blame them?.

    Your questions are good. I agree that some are called to attempt contact and some in so doing, die. To me, though, the question is not \”Was Murdered Missionary John Chau An Arrogant Fool?\”,
    but \”Was John Chau a Missionary?\”

    Reply
    1. Cheryl Mojta

      Excellent write-up…
      Having people who have done mission in my family such as with Habitat Humanity and living in Africa for many years I have to say I agree with you. If he was sent by the Lord at least for goodness sake learn the language

      Reply
  4. KathleenM1

    The logic here is specious. If indeed your alleged spiritual \”rescue\” is all that matters, you can easily justify kidnapping and torturing nonChristians in the quest to convert them to your religion. After all, what\’s a little discomfort or pain or trauma if you are saving them from being tortured forever in hell, right?

    Reply
    1. Charla

      No, because it is not mans\’ outward efforts that convert anyone. Only the Holy Spirit causes someone to be born again spiritually. It is the Holy Spirit of God that gives a person faith in Jesus and true repentance. Christians preach and share the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ, but it is only the work of the Holy Spirit that truly regenerates a person\’s spirit, causing them to willingly follow Jesus Christ. If someone is coerced or manipulated into professing faith in Christ, it is not a true conversion. Only the true sheep hear the voice of their shepherd.

      Reply
  5. Sarah

    Revelation says that every tribe, tongue, and nation will worship him. How then can every member of people groups that died out while never hearing the name of Jesus be condemned? Is there truly no way for Christ to intercede for those who do not know him by name, but follow their conscience and worship to their limited ability?

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      According to Romans 10, a preacher would need to be sent to them.

      But let\’s assume it doesn\’t. They are willing to murder anyone who even steps foot on the island. Does that sound like a people who are following conscience?

      Reply
  6. John Turner

    I think it\’s really difficult to make the jump from assuming what the islanders may have learned from general revelation to John Chau somehow being a messenger bringing even deeper truth through special revelation. Chau was an outsider whom the islanders understandably had reservations about since so much harm had been done to them in the past.
    Thus us a sad situation that I feel could have been avoided with more thought and preparation.

    Reply
  7. Carole

    Jesus also said, \”Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves\”. (King James Bible). This \”missionary\” did not heed the call of Jesus to be wise, and he paid the price.

    Reply
  8. Mo Chen

    This was not murder. There is a difference between murder and killing. Murder is the UNLAWFUL killing of an individual.

    You have not proven that what the islanders did was unlawful. The islanders warned John to stay away. When he came to shore, a kid shot an arrow and hit his bible. John was then allowed to return/flee back to his boat. When John returned to the island to stay, they killed him.

    If I try to enter your house, after you refuse me entrance, you have the right to kill me too under the Castle Doctrine. This is not murder, it\’s killing.

    Reply
  9. Clifford Baldwin

    \”The Bible teaches that because God is good, we can know that He will judge them, not because of information they lack, but because of their failure to believe what He has revealed to them through creation and conscience.\”

    If this is so, then why go there at all? It\’s a needless visit since their response (or lack of it) to\”creation and conscience\” are sufficient grounds to either save them or damn them. What then is the point??

    Reply
  10. max

    John Chau was an arrogant twit and I don\’t feel one bit of pity for him, who the hell is he to flout Indian Law and go where he was forbidden to go, he was warned of the dangers and still persisted, he shouted stupid greetings in English to a people that know none, he was shot at and injured with arrows and still persisted in going back a third time even after his bible was punctured, anyone who is not a total pigheaded fool would have recognised the real danger and given up at this point now he went back a third time and stupidly got himself killed. Now the authorities have a costly and difficult mission to bring his body back but I think they should just leave it there. Missionaries in their infinite stupidity and arrogance have wiped out numerous tribes over the centuries by introducing sickness, hopefully the tribe killed him before john Chau could infect them with the common cold or influenza.

    Reply
  11. David

    One of the serious questions left unanswered is what effect the prosperity gospel had on this young man. He was educated in Oral Roberts University, the teaching arm of the prosperity gospel. His understanding of the Gospel should be seriously questioned and his commitment to an unbiblical understanding of missions should also be considered. Just because he seems to have been willing to go to these people and gotten killed makes his understanding of the Gospel and his understanding of missions to be beyond question and that is wrong.

    Reply
  12. Dominique

    These are the same arguments used to justify the atrocious acts committed by missionaries during the scramble for Africa. If you believe in the glory of God you can also believe that he gave humans reason and the freedom to make decisions so that we can make wise choices that elevate our brethren. John Chau\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\’s acts did not reflect empathy or concern for the people he wanted to convert, only an overwhelming self-aggrandisement that made his sense of being a savior more important than the well-being, both physical and spiritual, of these people.

    Reply
  13. Ana

    Of the endless amount of much needed missionary work out there in the world, he chose the most reckless mission against the concerns of officials, scholars, and experts. And for what? He went about it in the worst manner possible and endangered his life, the tribes folk, and now the government officials all because he wanted some quick fame and attention. If he truly wanted to do God\\\\\\\’s work, he would have rallied support from his church and worked with officials and experts to approach the tribe without endangering anyone. Going that route, of course, wouldn\\\\\\\’t have garnished as much fame as acting recklessly alone. John was a selfish, delusional, arrogant fool whose actions only further discredit the efforts of those who do real missionary work.

    Reply
  14. hewontherace

    This was a good response to the martyrdom of Chau. Amen! What is foolishness to man isn\’t necessarily foolish to God. Christ\’s death at the cross was an extremely foolish plan if it was judged by man\’s common sense intuitions. I believe that the bible is true and seeing that Rev 7:9-10 states that every people group will be in heaven for the said scene, it implies that it is only a matter of time before we have Christian converts from the Sentinelese people. Tertullian wrote that \”the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church\” and so Chau\’s death is in no way in vain regardless of how foolish it appears in this present age. Some are saying there was a risk in Chau exposing the natives to diseases that they do not have immunity for, but there is no mention of the chance of such a risk happening, that is what is the chance of an isolated native tribe being killed by diseases from an outsider? The fact that there are successful encounters by missionaries to such tribes without an epidemic happening shows that it is not always the case that an epidemic would happen on contact. Nor is there mention of what precautions Chau took to ensure he did not cause the potential spread of diseases to the natives because if he did take precautions then such a criticism won\’t be relevant. He might have went against the Indian government\’s laws but not every law made by man is necessarily one that is consistent with the Bible\’s truth, for example, should a Christian missionary not proselytize to native Saudis because it is illegal to do so?

    Rev 2:10 \’Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.\’

    1 Corinthians 9:24 \’You know that many runners enter a race, and only one of them wins the prize. So run to win! Athletes work hard to win a crown that cannot last, but we do it for a crown that will last forever.\’

    Reply
  15. tony

    Matthew 28:39-44 \”Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.\”

    History repeats itself. How Satan works on the world is similar to how he worked almost 2000 years ago. Though defeated for a moment, the seed that was Christianity became the biggest tree in the garden. The mockery and pain is short-term, temporary, the victory is eternal and permanent. Romans 8:18 \” I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us.\”

    Reply

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