What About John Chau and Invasive Christian Missionaries?

Anonymous asked a question:

Hi, you don’t have to answer this, but I’m feeling emotionally conflicted and I’m not sure where I lie. I’m sure you’ve heard about the missionary who went to the Senegalese island. On one hand, I’m deeply grievous for the loss of someone genuinely wishing to witness. On the other hand, I’m aware of the impact missionaries have had on colonialism. Should he have gone? Is there a way of witnessing to people in need that doesn’t risk the loss of cultures?

Hey dear friend, I believe you’re referring to John Chau, who was recently killed while attempting missionary work to North Sentinel Island.

If I were his friend, I would have tried to convince him not to go. Not only because his life would be at risk, but also because he would’ve put the entire Sentinelese people on the island at risk, too.

If I were his friend, I would have been crushed to hear about his death. I would’ve been especially crushed because of the way he died.

Have you seen a dead person before? Not just a dead person, but a person with multiple injuries that caused their death? I have seen this hundreds of times. My work involves seeing the dead and dying nearly every week. Often these deaths are brutal, whether by gunshots or stab wounds or car accidents. Nobody, no matter what they did in life, deserves this sort of death.

When social media makes any kind of judgment about a dead person, whether that person was “good” or “bad,” my guess is that 99% of them haven’t been to a morgue or an ER or a Medical Examiner’s office to see a body that has been ravaged by violent forces. That’s why social media is quick to make jokes or make internet points or diminish death for their own agendas (I understand I am defeating my own point here, very sadly). If any one of these people were to see John Chau’s body, I would hope they would have some sympathy and empathy for him and his family. I cannot join in on the mockery or maligning of John Chau. He may have been wrong, but his death is tragic.

I’m not saying I agree with John Chau’s mission. I’m saying, a human being has died in a terrible way. Every person has the potential for good, and whether a person achieves that good or not, the loss of their life still evokes in me a deep human sadness that their potential is gone.

(I know that evil monsters exist and perhaps their demise is better for us all. But many of the people that are demonized in the news are hardly monsters. Certainly not John Chau.)

To answer your other questions: I am not a fan of missionary work that emphasizes conversion over care. If Christians are to share the Gospel, my hope is that it’s done with food, medical provisions, job training, and real civic benefits that are not conditional. A lot of missionary work, including secular missionaries (”voluntourists”) has depleted the resources of third-world countries and often consumes more than gives. Even “digging wells in Africa” or sending shoes to a third-world village has been known to interrupt the economy of these places. Third-world countries need sustainable, long-term resources that involve change at every level. Some Christian missionaries do good things, but if they care more about conversion over care, they need to stay home and start with their neighbors.


Photo from Unsplash

One thought on “What About John Chau and Invasive Christian Missionaries?

  1. I don’t know about what happened in this case, but if we believe -really believe – in eternity we absolutely will see sharing the gospel as superior to meeting the temporal need. But this is a classic faith vs works argument bc if you believe – really believe – in the God who told us about eternity, you would absolutely be about His business of caring for others.

    Liked by 1 person

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