Can Christians see life in John Allen Chau’s death?

This occurrence is no secret. The news has been plastered across the internet for weeks through every news house imaginable. We have heard the commentary. We have seen the feedback. Responses range from pity to outrage to apathy among others. Some, increased faith.
And while I have had several of my own reservations about how John went about this mission, my mind and heart have been constantly haunted by this story since it happened. I do not know if it has to do with my own heart for missions. I do not know if it is my frustrated inability to frame his decision within human reason. I do not know if it is because I consider myself a youth and this man was my age. We have existed on Earth for the same span. That kind of realisation can put things into perspective.

I could talk about a lot of things in relation to this. I could talk about my confusion that he called out to non-English speakers in English and expected acceptance. I could talk about how much more effective I think it would have been if he didn’t plunge in head on alone. I could mention that he endangered the health of the Sentinelese, jeopardised the fishermen and their livelihoods. That he broke the law and according to Romans 13 we should not; except perhaps in cases of civil disobedience (another blog post altogether).

Still. The most prominent question rolling over in my head is: could there be anything in this young man’s willing death that we could possibly learn? I think that there is. Will everyone agree with what I am about to say? Potentially not, but I do want to share it anyway if only to encourage discussions in about what we do, what motivates it and what we need to do better; if only to nudge our sobriety. Here are a few things I think we can learn.

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1. There is literal-ness in the great commission – Can I ask this? When many of us became transformed by the gospel, though we experienced joy in our hearts, was it the type that moved us to go out of our way to share with those who had never heard the gospel? How many of us can say yes? We are instructed to go. To every corner. Chau’s decision reveals that there are indeed people out there who may not know about Jesus in yes this 21st century. Would we be willing to make a move if we were the last oracles on Earth to share it with those who have never heard? Do we really care for the whole world to hear? Do we take it that seriously?

2. There is allure in the trap of comfort – one thing this occurrence revealed is just how safe and comfortable we prefer Christianity to be. How many of us in coming to the changing knowledge of Christ actually ever envisioned giving our very lives for the cause? Yes. God has good plans for His people. Yes. God loves His people. But that very love does not necessarily except us from sacrificing something as dear to us as our lives. We have gotten so carried away with messages that tickle the ear and involve gains and profits that we recoil at the idea of sweating, toiling and potentially dying for the sake of the harvest. In fact, we don’t even like the idea of our ego dying, our pride dying, our time dying for the One who died for us. Often we genuinely would prefer to gain the world at the expense of our souls, if we truly observe our motives. Is our faith at the place where we are more fearful of those who can destroy the body but not the soul?

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3. There is a life that means more – Consider a Stephen stoned, a Peter crucified, a beheaded Paul or John the Baptist. More recently a pastor in Rwanda who defends desperate Tutsis from a Hutu majority because of what his faith compels him to do at the expense of his life. Can we say that we realise every earthly earning will be left in tatters in the wake of the beauteous life to come? Or are we too attached to see beyond the grave, which life matters more? It is interesting to know that Chau refused to attach himself romantically to anyone before his journey. Can we come to a place to what Luke 14.26 calls:

hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even their own life–

to become a disciple of Christ?

Or is that order too tall to fill?

4. Only His boldness will help us stand – Christians who live what they believe will look foolish at some point. And I do not mean the manipulation of religion to abuse others or justify wrong. I mean how 1 Corinthians 4 declares that we are fools for Him. The world looks on and notices that we are fools for Him. John 15.18 reminds us that the world will hate us, the world hated Jesus first so we can expect to be hated for living for Him. Are we willing to carry that? Does the Holy Spirit infill us with such boldness that we are willing to look stupid if it means not compromising the truth? Only His boldness will help us to stand when we feel like we are faltering in our own strength, knowledge and feelings.

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5. Additionally, be wary of slander – by this I don’t mean to sit down and watch your brother fall to the wayside in wrongdoing because we fear his reaction of offense. Truly, we are known by our fruit and we should in all love call out misdirection and help each other along. But there is a way in which the age of technology has given us the courage to say whatever we feel, often without the entire story. I honestly cannot tell you what John’s true motivations were. God is the only One who really knows his heart. We cannot judge by appearance but by righteous judgement (John 7.24). If people on varying spiritual platforms have seemed to fail in some way (and expectedly humans will); before offering condemnation be sure to offer outright correction but also loving guidance. And please pray for the hearts of those who seem to be going astray before we open our mouths against them. Sometimes we have the most to say about another seemingly defunct follower of Christ but what a day it would be if we find ourselves outside the pearly gates while witnessing their entrance. While we address the mote in the eye of another let us also be careful to address the beam in ours.

There are other things I believe that this circumstance yields for our learning that I cannot immediately mention. Several thoughts and discussions have surrounded this situation. But I think that instead of focusing on the immediate incensed or troubled feelings we may promptly assume, could there be some possibility that God is glorified in this death? Maybe we could seriously use some of this man’s zeal. We have become so lethargic and slothful and weak in our love for the Lord. God can use anyone at any time in any way He pleases. He may have even used this. If as a reader and a Christian, Chau’s scenario offers you no other good thing, let it offer you introspection, let it challenge your passion and faith. Let it strengthen your conviction. Let it stoke the flames of your dedication, to pursue God, to serve Him wholeheartedly, to die to self, to do His will. If it does nothing else I hope it does these things. From what seems to have withered and dried I pray that He will spring forth life again.


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