American missionary John Allen Chau killed by Sentinelese

There are 44 Comments

Jim's picture

'All Nations' Defends Slain Missionary John Chau: Island NOT Off Limits and He Took Steps to Keep from Infecting Them

All Nations tells CBN News that Chau's contact was legal, citing numerous news accounts published in August which report that the Indian government had lifted its Restricted Area Permit (RAP) on North Sentinel and a number of other inhabited islands.

India's The Week magazine announced the change with a glowing headline -- "the move will allow foreigners to visit these islands without prior permission" it said.

Missions organizations have also criticized Chau for traveling alone, not establishing a wide network of contacts, failing to reach out to the Indian government and potentially exposing the islanders to modern disease.  

Dr. Mary Ho, the international executive leader of All Nations, tells CBN News that the organization supported Chau and his plans. When asked Tuesday if All Nations stands by Chau and his work she responded, "John Chau did the best he could, just like all of us."

But the criticism will likely continue, as missions organizations that attempt to reach what are known as unengaged and unreached people groups and those that support them, reconsider the best ways to initially contact these groups.

Scott Hildreth, assistant professor of global studies and director of the Lewis A. Drummond Center for Great Commission Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, says Chau's trip was "destined for failure" as he traveled solo to the island with minimal networking and knowledge of the culture.

"Success for a missionary cannot be limited to initial points of contact but rather the establishment of relationships that allow room for the gospel to be heard and observed," he wrote in a Religion News Service op-ed.

SEND International, which oversees 500 missionaries in Asia, Europe, Eurasia, and North America, also disagrees with Chau's strategy.  

Michelle Atwell, the US director for SEND, told CBN News, "We would never condone the kind of approach that John engaged in."

Atwell said that SEND places a high priority on researching a remote culture, its language, and its health before it attempts to enter. It also values networking and building trusting relationships.  

David Holsten serves as president of Mission Aviation Fellowship which works closely with missionaries to fly aircraft in support of poor communities across the globe. He told CBN News that he had serious reservations with Chau's approach.

"I think John Chau's manner, while motivated by a lot of passion--to me there's a lot of red flags all over it," he said.

Holsten cited the value of years of networking in a region, following the laws and making important government contacts. "We have found that if we can work well with the government and support a lot of their efforts, it will open up the door for a much more sustainable model of ministry," he said.

Ho acknowledged that All Nations did not reach out to the Indian government as Chau planned his trip and said she's not sure what local authorities did or did not know about his work.

But she praised what she described as years of focused preparation on reaching the islanders. "Every decision he's made in the last 8 or 9 years has been to equip him to love and to care for the North Sentinelese," she said.

Ho cited Chau's training as an EMT, education at Oral Roberts University, additional readings on missions, personal fitness, and preventative health measures. She said Chau received 13 immunizations before leaving and also quarantined himself before going to the island.

Dr. Craig Story, an immunology expert and biology professor at Gordon College, told CBN News that Chau did the right thing in receiving extra immunizations and quarantining himself.  

But Story said that while such measures would have minimized the risk of exposing islanders to modern diseases, it's not clear that it would have eliminated it. "You just don't know what the status of their immunity is," he said. "How horrible it would be to go there with good intentions and have half the population die off."

Ho praised Chau for exhibiting humility even as he followed what she described as a "bold call" on this life. "He set an example," she said, "for all of us to follow the purpose that we were created for--to follow the calling that is on our lives and to be fully prepared."

Oral Roberts University also praised Chau this week, citing his missions activity both as an undergraduate and while serving on the ORU Missions & Outreach staff in 2013 and 2014. 

Bobby Parks served as ORU's missions director while Chau was on staff. He said, "he was always the most thoughtful, loving, compassionate and prepared servant leader I ever served Jesus and others with."  

Parks said Chau's focus was clear and that his life proved it. "John knew the worth and value of Jesus and His Gospel of love for all--so much so that he wanted to share that love with the world, no matter what it cost him," he said.

Jim's picture

  • John Chau Aced Missionary Boot Camp. Reality Proved a Harsher Test.

    Just months before undertaking the most forbidding journey in his life as a young missionary to a remote Indian Ocean island, John Allen Chau was blindfolded and dropped off on a dirt road in a remote part of Kansas. After a long walk, he found a mock village in the woods inhabited by missionaries dressed in odd thrift-store clothes, pretending not to understand a word he said. His role was to preach the gospel. The others were supposed to be physically aggressive. Some came at him with fake spears, speaking gibberish. It was part of an intensive and somewhat secretive three-week missionary training camp. Mary Ho, the international executive leader for All Nations, the organization that ran the training, said, “John was one of the best participants in this experience that we have ever had.” For Mr. Chau, 26, the boot camp was the culmination of years of meticulous planning that involved linguistics training and studying to become an emergency medical technician, as well as forgoing full-time jobs so he could travel and toughen himself up.

     

  • Missionary’s Killing Reignites Debate About Isolated Tribes: Contact, Support or Stay Away?

    How many are there, and where? Anthropologists and activists who study the issue say it’s hard to know for certain. But based on satellite images and field research, experts believe there are more than 100 communities living in isolation. The vast majority of groups live in the Amazon basin in areas that straddle Brazil and Peru. The only relatively large community outside of South America belongs to the Sentinelese, who live on North Sentinel Island. It is nominally part of India, but technically a sovereign territory. That is where John Allen Chau, the American, was killed on a mission to convert the local residents to Christianity. The Sentinelese have responded violently to past incursions by outsiders, which has led the Indian government to maintain a “no-contact” policy. Why do these communities choose to remain isolated? Based on accounts from people who have ceased living in isolation, and those who have had fleeting contact with these societies, experts say members of these communities are fearful that contact with outsiders would bring disease and mistreatment. Native communities in the Amazon were ravaged when European settlers began colonizing the Americas in the 1500s and later in the 1800s when rubber trappers flooded the region.

  • ‘I’ve Thought a Lot About Whether I Did Good or Evil’: Missionaries on the Death of John Allen Chau

    The death of an American missionary this month has led to an internal reckoning among many of his fellow missionaries. After the missionary, John Allen Chau, a 26-year-old Seattle man, was killed by members of a hunter-gatherer tribe on North Sentinel Island when he tried to visit them illegally, we asked missionaries to tell us how they viewed Mr. Chau’s actions and how they were reacting to his death. We heard from more than 300 missionaries, primarily from the United States and Canada, who have worked around the globe. Many said they were resolute in their evangelical convictions, but others said Mr. Chau’s death caused them to re-examine what it means to be a missionary. And while some sympathized with Mr. Chau’s drive to travel to the island and minister to its inhabitants, others said they were disturbed by what they saw as recklessness. 

Joel Shaffer's picture

Missionary’s Killing Reignites Debate About Isolated Tribes: Contact, Support or Stay Away?

How many are there, and where? Anthropologists and activists who study the issue say it’s hard to know for certain. But based on satellite images and field research, experts believe there are more than 100 communities living in isolation. The vast majority of groups live in the Amazon basin in areas that straddle Brazil and Peru. The only relatively large community outside of South America belongs to the Sentinelese, who live on North Sentinel Island. It is nominally part of India, but technically a sovereign territory. That is where John Allen Chau, the American, was killed on a mission to convert the local residents to Christianity. The Sentinelese have responded violently to past incursions by outsiders, which has led the Indian government to maintain a “no-contact” policy. Why do these communities choose to remain isolated? Based on accounts from people who have ceased living in isolation, and those who have had fleeting contact with these societies, experts say members of these communities are fearful that contact with outsiders would bring disease and mistreatment. Native communities in the Amazon were ravaged when European settlers began colonizing the Americas in the 1500s and later in the 1800s when rubber trappers flooded the region.

Earlier this week on facebook, I Interacted with someone who wrongly thought Jonathan Chau was trying to colonialize the Sentinelese and force his Christian faith on them and that he, as a missionary, would inevitably destroy their culture.  This article from Donald Richardson (Peace Child) obliterates that popular secular argument.     http://www.worldevangelicals.org/resources/rfiles/res3_423_link_13420192...

josh p's picture

My mom was making that claim at Thanksgiving. The post-colonial narrative seems to be the flavor of the week.

Joeb's picture

Joel my daughter went to Gordon and while their she befriended a young African Girl who grew up in rural poor Africa.  Not isolated as much as these groups we are talking about but still pretty isolated.  

This young lady was saved by IFB Missionaries which is the good part.  Unfortunately these missionaries taught her a Legalistic life style.  You can’t use the Internet it is evil and of the devil.   Young girls wear long skirts and loose fitting clothing.  No pants or shorts for girls.  The whole old BJU dress code and rules.  If that’s not imposing one’s culture on a native person I don’t no what is.  

josh p's picture

Does anyone know what church he went to? I noticed he was from Seattle which is near me so I was wondering. 

Joel Shaffer's picture

Joel my daughter went to Gordon and while their she befriended a young African Girl who grew up in rural poor Africa.  Not isolated as much as these groups we are talking about but still pretty isolated.  

This young lady was saved by IFB Missionaries which is the good part.  Unfortunately these missionaries taught her a Legalistic life style.  You can’t use the Internet it is evil and of the devil.   Young girls wear long skirts and loose fitting clothing.  No pants or shorts for girls.  The whole old BJU dress code and rules.  If that’s not imposing one’s culture on a native person I don’t no what is.  

I completely agree.  Sadly there are multiple examples of this throughout missionary history. 

Joel Shaffer's picture

Does anyone know what church he went to? I noticed he was from Seattle which is near me so I was wondering. 

To me, that is the million $ question.  Because Biblically speaking, if he was not sent by a church, then he was not a missionary and I would consider him a lone-wolf that was disobeying Jesus even if he was connected to a Missionary Agency.  Of course, we don't know that information yet.  Ed Stetzer (who wrote the Washington Post article) has stated he will be coming out with several more articles about Jonathan Chau that will divulge more information and hopefully his sending church will be identified.  

josh p's picture

Thanks Joel.

Rob Fall's picture

Even if we can't identify his sending church, does that make him less of a missionary than C.T.Studd, Hudson Taylor, or Jonathan Goforth? 

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Joel Shaffer's picture

Even if we can't identify his sending church, does that make him less of a missionary than C.T.Studd, Hudson Taylor, or Jonathan Goforth? 

I read an article some time on the TGC website a while back that compared those who do lone-wolf missions (without a sending church) to be as ridiculous, arrogant, and individualistic as someone who thinks its ok to Baptize themselves.   While God is the ultimate sender of missionaries, he uses the church to send missionaries into the world to proclaim the gospel and make disciples.  Missionary agencies are useful entities that serve the church in a number of ways, such as helping churches access, prepare, and place missionaries along with providing financial oversight, and processing donations, but they play more of a support role, although a very vital one.  Rather Churches have the main responsibility in identifying, preparing, caring for, and praying for, and financially supporting missionaries that they send. 

Although I have rejected the notion that Jonathan Chau was a foolish adventurer, unless he was sent by the church (because we can't send ourselves nor has God set up para-church missionary agencies as the sender) I'd have to put him in the "something else" category.  Again, we don't have enough information to know whether he was sent out by a church so I need to be careful not to make assumptions until we know all the facts.   

Pages