I have so many thoughts swirling around in my head. We saw the tragic news of John Chau’s death 2 days ago. Since then, it has been gaining momentum in my heart and mind. To the point where I can’t sleep (it’s currently 4:15am). The best way for me to make sense of those thoughts is to write them down. And what better place then my very own blog.
Also, as fellow missionaries, ORU Alumni, and the fact that our son & daughter in law knew John, it feels very real and almost close to home.
Before I go on, let me express my deepest condolences to John’s family and friends. I have prayed for you often. The only words I have are to say what you already know – Jesus is the comforter to the broken-hearted. As a fellow missionary, please know that I consider John a hero. And I am fully persuaded that his death will not be in vain.
“Reaching the Unreached” has been our ministry mantra or tag line since our ‘How to Write a Newsletter’ class in Bible School in 1997.
Yep, we’re that old.
But what does that really mean? “Reaching the Unreached. “REACHING THE UNREACHED”
What does reaching mean? How do we reach? Who are the Unreached? Where are the Unreached?
We have served as missionaries in Niger Republic for over 20 years. I make that point to give some context to my words. It truly has been our passion to ‘Reach the Unreached’. There are several unreached people groups in Niger, and we have been fortunate to see progress made among them. Statistics in Niger are changing. But that hasn’t come without sacrifices.
I admit that when I hear of someone moving to the mission field in an area of the world that is not unreached, I wonder. I wonder why God is calling everyone to places that can reach their own nations, and even send missionaries themselves?
My short answer to that ‘wonder’ is that many of the unreached places are uncomfortable. Hot. Undeveloped. Non English speaking. Far away. Filled with terrorism. Scary. Inaccessible. Just plain hard.
I, as most of the people hearing the news of John’s death, didn’t know him. So many are weighing in with their opinions -positive and negative. Which I guess is what I’m doing right now. And I’m sad to see so many who are criticizing him when the Great Commission is clear. Mark 16:15 does not say, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to those who welcome you.”
John’s death has caused me to look again into the life, ministry and death of Jim Elliot. Some of the parallels are amazing. I’m even going to be bold enough to say this. John Chau: A Modern Day Jim Elliot.
We see things through the lens of our own experience. Here’s mine.
I have had the incredible privilege of taking the Gospel to people who have never heard the name of Jesus. It’s pretty awesome. I have experienced seeing how that Gospel message transforms lives, lifting them out of poverty.
I have had the even more incredible experience of seeing my children take the Gospel to someone who has never heard of Jesus. But I have not had to see them die for that experience.
Some say that we, our family, have sacrificed so much to go into all the world and reach the unreached.
But have we really? We still have our lives. And what sacrifice am I really willing to make? Am I willing to lay down my life for another? Because that’s what Jesus said we should do. Was Jesus just saying we should lay aside our own comforts, dreams and desires, or did He really mean our actual lives? Like be willing to die.
An even greater question…am I willing to watch my child to lay down his/her life for the sake of the call? I’ve wrestled with that. What if my son told us he was called to reach the Sentinelese? What if we even agreed. He went, was attacked, but able to make it back. I’m pretty sure at that point that I would say something like: “I’m proud of you and so thankful you obeyed God. He brought you back. I’m sure you planted some good seed, and now God will cause it to grow. Don’t go back again though.” Because really, am I willing to sacrifice my child for the sake of the Gospel?
Even though there is crazy stuff going on in every nation bordering Niger, we have always felt safe here. Yes, we’ve faced some things. Quite a few things. Churches attacked and burned, multiple times. Accidents, sickness, even deaths. I could go on. But I can personally testify that in every one of those situations God has been faithful, and not one of them has ever caused us to want to ‘turn back’.
Which is why our experience this past week was so frustrating. The T. Threat has been ramped up for sure in recent years, and even months. I could name several ‘groups’ that have infiltrated Niger, but I won’t. We are not fearful, but we do know that we have to be on ‘high alert’ and walk in wisdom and discernment (which is why the prayers of our partners is so crucial).
Back to last week. We were on our way out to do a water baptism in one of our newer church plants in a village about 1.5 hours away. We’ve been there multiple times. There are several police/security checks along the way, and the police usually recognize us and wave us through. At the checkpoint about an hour into the trip, the police stopped us. They questioned us, asking where we were going. They knew by talking with us in their language that we weren’t ‘newbies’ in Niger. They expressed pretty emphatically though, that they did not want us to continue down the road. We knew that there were security issues near the area we were going, but didn’t think they would be a concern for our brief trip. The police told us that they were not going to forbid us to go, but would be very stressed if we did, and wouldn’t rest until they saw our faces again.
We had a decision to make. It’s very rare for us to turn back. And honestly, if it had just been Neal and I, I’m pretty sure we would have gone on and done the baptism. But we had some guests from the US with us. And that puts a whole other bent on the situation. Being responsible for someone else. So instead of going ahead, we thanked the police, and went to visit and encourage a church in a nearby village instead.
Not that our situations are even comparable, but here’s the HUGE difference between our decision, and John Chau’s decision to go to reach the Sentinelese in spite of the dangers. The place where we were going had already heard the Gospel. We were going to baptize believers. They even had a pastor there. So to do something ‘risky’ (I guess some are saying ‘adventurous) could even be considered foolish. Maybe even prideful.
But John was taking Jesus to a group of people that had never heard. Ever. That is not foolish. Or adventurous. Or prideful. It’s obedience. That’s what Reaching the Unreached really is.
I don’t suppose that everything I read is true, but it sounds to me like John was making a very well-informed, Jesus led decision. It wasn’t fool-hearty. It wasn’t spontaneous. And bottom line? Go into ALL the world and preach the Gospel.
My experience is one thing. But what does the Bible say about it?
Look at Peter and John in Acts 4. They are threatened and told not to speak again in ‘that Name’. They replied, “We cannot help but speak what we have seen and heard.” They return to their friends and prayed. Not a prayer of protection, but this prayer:
Now Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
Then they went right back to proclaiming that Name. Reaching.
In Acts 16, while Paul was on his 2nd missionary journey, he is prevented by the Holy Spirit from going to Turkey and the Aegean Sea. Right after that, he has the vision of the man from Macedonia. He immediately, without question, went there, knowing it was the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Who are we to say that the Holy Spirit didn’t call John to the Sentinelese?
And what about Acts 20? Paul said the Holy Spirit told him to go to Jerusalem, and also told him that prison and hardships are facing him there. It didn’t stop Paul.
It didn’t stop John Chau either. He knew the risks. But I suspect that he said as Paul did: I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”
I’d only be speculating, but I’ll bet there were those who tried to talk John out of what he was about to do. Again, look at Paul.
The prophet Agabus tied Paul up and said the Holy Spirit told him that he would be bound ‘like this’ and handed over to the Gentiles. People begged Paul not to go. After all, why walk into a situation you know is sure to end in disaster?
I wonder if John’s mom begged him not to go. And I wonder if his answer was similar to that of Apostle Paul:
“Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
And what about the time Paul was stoned. Thinking he was dead, they dragged him out of the city. He got up and instead of going to the hospital, he went straight back into the city.
Sounds like my hero, John. Ever determined to Reach the Unreached.
The message of the Gospel has not changed. The number of those needing to hear are still beyond our ability to reach. That means that we still have the same job as Paul & the other disciples had.
I believe John understood this and took it literally. And we’re going to criticize him for it? How long has it been since you shared with someone face to face of the love, grace and eternal life that Jesus offers? How long…? We are all called.
It’s our responsibility to ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel’. That’s not optional, it’s a command. Just because someone doesn’t want to hear doesn’t negate the command.
What is not our responsibility is to decide for our hearer whether or not they receive the Gospel. That’s all up to them. But they can’t decide if they don’t first hear. How will they hear without a preacher?
The Gospel is the only thing that will bring change to the Sentinelese people. And the point isn’t to change who they are, but simply to present Jesus to them so they have an option to accept or reject His gift of eternal life.
Anthropologists say, ‘let them be the way they are’, ‘leave them in peace in their ecosystem’. ‘We protect them by leaving them alone’. Almost like an endangered animal species. But they are not animals. They are God’s creation, made in His image. And if we ‘leave them in peace’, they’ll have no peace at all. If we don’t reach them, we won’t see them in heaven. And that will be on us. But their blood will not be on John Chau’s head.
Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but it it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24
John Chau’s death is a seed that has died. I am very excited and confident about what is going to grow from that seed. I have no doubt that this is just the beginning of a movement among the Sentinelese and all of the islands and unreached people in that region of the world.
Again, I may be speaking presumptuously… but I can see John up in heaven after receiving his ‘well done’ from Jesus. He’s cheering us on with the cloud of witnesses. Maybe he found Jim Elliot and said, “Hey man. Do you remember the time you said, ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose?’ Everyone is talking about that. And you were right.”
What do you have to lose?