Jennifer Baldridge, APR
December 6, 2018
All Nations Opinion Piece
John Chau’s death is not end of the story
by Dr. Mary Ho
International Executive Leader, All Nations
As together with his family and friends we continue to grieve the loss of our All Nations missionary John Chau, 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, while we have been accused of being irresponsible in letting him go on such a potentially dangerous venture.
While we understand the concerns many have expressed, and are still endeavoring to learn all that we can from John’s death, we believe that much of the criticism, regrettably, is based on misinformation and misunderstanding.
Yet even as mourning John’s loss and seeking to clarify what we can consumes so much of our time, some of our thoughts and prayers are with another American family—that of Charles Wesco.
Together with his wife, Stephanie, and their eight children, Charles went to serve with another missionary organization, First Light Baptist Mission, in Cameroon, West Africa. They arrived on Oct. 18—and Charles died 12 days later, when he was caught in crossfire between security forces and a rebel group.
Like John, Charles knowingly went to a dangerous place and paid the ultimate price in his desire for others to know about the love of God.
Sadly, 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, but following almost a decade of deliberate preparation.
From the time he first learned of the North 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 EMT, to be able to serve them.
Additionally, he pursued linguistics and wilderness training, taking part in missions trips to challenging parts of the world, such as Iraq, 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 cross-cultural workers for service in difficult places, and he wanted to learn all that he could.
Our part was to share with John 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. He well knew the seriousness of what he was doing.
Some of the denunciations around John’s death come from those who say he was wrong to endanger the North Sentinelese by potentially exposing them to new viruses.
Though we helped John prepare for his mission, we were not involved in its planning or execution. Indeed, we had no direct contact with him after the middle of October, when he arrived in the region. 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.
It is also important people know that, contrary to some reports, John did not go to the island in breach of an official travel ban; that had been lifted shortly before he set out.
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.
While there are still lessons to be learned from John’s death, we reject the suggestion from one commentator that “a young man’s body buried on the beach… is so clearly what failure looks like…”
Because we know that this is not the end of the story. Two thousand years ago, a young Jewish man’s body buried in a cave after crucifixion clearly looked like failure.
But we believe that Jesus rose from the grave, breaking the power of death and sin once and for all and opening a way for all to come to know God’s great love.
It was that joyful assurance, together with the conviction that everyone deserves to get to hear of such good news that inspired John and Charles to spend their lives on behalf of others.
So, even as we grieve, our hope and our prayer is that, one day, John’s dream for the North Sentinelese, and Charles’s dream for the Cameroons, will be realized, beyond their lifetimes.
About All Nations
Based in Kansas City, Mo., All Nations (www.allnations.us) is an international Christian missions training and sending organization committed to preparing Christians to share the gospel and establish churches in parts of the world where the name of Jesus Christ is little or not known. All Nations was founded in 1993.
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