As we continue to grieve the loss of our All Nations missionary John Chau together with his family and friends, we have been inundated with questions about his reportedly violent death on remote North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean.
Some have suggested that he was foolhardy, and even thoughtless, in seeking to share God’s love with a tribal group hostile to outsiders. We at All Nations have also been accused of being irresponsible in letting him go on such a dangerous venture.
We understand the concerns many have expressed, and we are still endeavoring to learn all that we can from John’s death. But we regrettably believe that much of the criticism is based on misinformation and misunderstanding.
Many people simply cannot fathom why someone would knowingly go to a dangerous place and pay the ultimate price in his or her desire for others to know about the love of God.
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But this is not so unusual. Such personal sacrifice is a deep thread running through Christian history. From the beginning, followers of Jesus have laid down their lives that others may hear the good news.
This is not something about which we are cavalier or casual for a single moment. Nor was John. He did not go to North Sentinel Island on an adventurous whim. In fact, he prepared deliberately for almost a decade.
From the time he first learned of the Sentinelese as a teenager, John oriented himself toward being an ambassador of Jesus to them. He studied sports medicine and exercise science and trained as an emergency medical technician to be able to serve them.
He also pursued linguistics and wilderness training, taking part in missions trips to challenging parts of the world to better prepare himself.
It was John’s determination to do all that he could to be ready that brought him to All Nations. He knew of our experience in preparing workers for service in difficult places.
As we shared with him information about cross-cultural issues and working with local leaders, we did not try to talk him out of his plan, but we cautioned him clearly that he was putting his life on the line. And we did all that we could to ensure that he minimized the risk he was taking.
Though we helped John prepare for his mission, we were not involved in its final planning or execution. Indeed, we had no direct contact with him after the middle of October, when he arrived in the region.
Some of the denunciations around John’s death come from those who say he was wrong to endanger the Sentinelese by potentially exposing them to new viruses. But we understand that in his concern for those he hoped to contact, he had quarantined himself for a period before he set out for North Sentinel Island.
Some have denounced John’s actions as arrogant, seeking to impose his religious views on a different culture. That is an unfortunate misinterpretation of both his humble heart and the truth of the gospel, which is that everyone deserves the opportunity to hear the good news. It was John’s joyful assurance in the great love of God, together with the conviction that everyone deserves to get to hear of such good news, that inspired him to spend his life on behalf of others.
So, even as we grieve, our hope and our prayer is that one day John’s dream for the Sentinelese will be realized beyond his lifetime.
Mary Ho is international executive leader of All Nations, an inter- denominational Christian missionary training agency based in Kansas City.