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June 29, 2020

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John Allen Chau, missionary or simply misguided?

Anyone following social media is aware of the story of John Allen Chau, a young man from Vancouver, Washington who made a treacherous journey to the Andaman Islands in the India Ocean to try to share “the Gospel” to a remote tribe of people known as the Sentinelese. The reactions on social media range from anger that Chau endangered these people with diseases that he may carry that their immune systems were not prepared for, to some Christian groups that wanted the Sentinelese brought to “justice.”

 

The fact is the island is off limits by Indian law, and that the Sentinelese are known to not be accepting of outsiders and have a history of violence in response to anyone who tries to trespass on their land. Many have tried to show parallels between Chau and European missionaries that traveled to the Americas often with explorers during the Atlantic Era of world history; which I would posit is somewhat unfair. Unlike the explorers or invaders from Europe to the Americas, Chau did not show he had any intentions of exploiting the Sentinelese. From all indications, Chau simply had the belief that the Gospel needed to “preached” everywhere, and the he was called to go to this remote island. However; I would further posit that Chau was the victim of bad eschatology rooted in the sociopolitical worldview of modern American Evangelical Christianity. It is essential that that distinction be made, as there are some of the secular / humanist / atheist community that take this as an opportunity to bash Christianity in general, which is just intellectually fraudulent.

 

You have millions of Christians in India proper and all around the world that not only didn’t go to that island, but never had a desire to. Not because the Gospel doesn’t need to be preached, but that the sociopolitics or culture that their brand of Christianity is framed in just doesn’t interpret the idea of sharing the Gospel as forcing a worldview on anyone. Jesus is clear in his teachings that our ministry, or the way that we share our faith is predicated on treating all people with the love that we should have for God which is reflected in the love we have for ourselves. As far as the concept of sharing it throughout the world, the modern concept that may have been Chau’s motivation, is etched in politics and the idea of some Christians to help God establish His Kingdom on earth.

 

There are series of scriptures utilized to forward the preaching of the Gospel to the whole earth. Mark 16:15 (KJV): “And He (Jesus) said unto them (disciples), Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” As this is clear, and historically applied to Christians in general, there is a difference between how Christians feel this should be accomplished. Most Christians do not believe this would mean forcing the faith on others, and many would not agree with the Chau’s approach. Not withstanding him possibly harming the natives of the Andaman Island, many Christians would look at what Chau did as simply not wise. For example, some would say that Chau’s bible being shot with an arrow when he initially arrived would have been the point that he should have left. This based on this teaching found in Matthew 10.14: “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.” In other words, they don’t want to hear it, its on them, leave. Unfortunately, Chau did not share that understanding. The fact is, that Chau more than likely bought into the sociopolitical interpretation of sharing the Gospel to all the world to usher in the end of days / apocalypse as the way Christians help establish the Kingdom of God.

 

The fact is that Chau felt as if he was doing the work of God, that I disagree with, but he was hardly a “colonizer” as some would cast him. He was simply misguided, and I feel sad for his family. For those who want to do the ministry of Christ, go where you are called and sent, there is more than enough opportunity for you the share and more importantly demonstrate the Gospel of the Kingdom of God in your own backyards and communities across the United States.

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