I have an unwritten policy about not commenting too quickly on current events, but with the news buzzing about the tragic death of John Allen Chau, an American missionary killed while attempting to make contact with a remote Sentinelese tribe on a small island in the Indian Ocean, I’m breaking my own rule. This story has triggered a lot of brutal online commentary critical of this young man, and in turn, of something very near and dear to my heart and the work of The Stone Table: missionary efforts to unreached people groups.
It’s to those critical generalizations I feel the need to speak.
I don’t know this young man, so I can’t rightly judge his motives or his tactics. All we really know are vague facts presented through a lens inherently skeptical of proclamation-based missions work. But I do know a lot of people who work with unreached people groups, and I feel this is a good opportunity to shine a light on why they do what they do and why UPG missions work is so important to us.
As an organization with a deep passion for UPGs, The Stone Table invests a lot of resources into seeing the Gospel go to all the world. Especially the hardest places. These efforts do not reflect some maverick missiology we’ve adopted, they are grounded in the very words of Jesus from Matthew 28:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
This word “nations” is the Greek word ethnē or ethnos, translated as “a group of people based on cultural, physical, or geographical ties.” We refer to this is a “people group.” There are nearly 7,000 of these people groups across the world that have no church, no witness, no access to the Good News of Jesus Christ. It’s a simple reality, the “easy” places have all been reached. The hard places are where we still must go.
Jesus wasn’t making a nice suggestion here, he was giving a command. “Go into all the world! Take the news of my Kingdom to every people group.” We take that seriously. And its obvious John Allen Chau did too, even as his methods have been questioned.
A Deeper Look
I have dear friends who live in some of the most dangerous places in the world for Christians to live. They make their homes there, serve, build relationships, and add value to the people around them. They, too, are willing to die for the Gospel.
They work strategically, legitimately, and wisely, always in teams and always under authority. Most of their stories will never hit social media. I have some of the most incredible stories I wish I could blab all over the internet, but for the safety and integrity of the missionaries – and especially the local believers who have come to Christ – we have to keep most of them to ourselves.
These missionaries deeply love and respect the people and places in which they live and share the Gospel. It’s because of that love that they serve in relative anonymity in cultures and conditions most of us would never even consider visiting, let alone calling home.
I would hate to see this story negatively impact the efforts of so many brave, selfless missionaries I know who are taking the Gospel to unreached people every day.
There isn’t a safe way to go to the unreached places, and there certainly isn’t a socially acceptable way to proclaim the exclusivity of Jesus that our secularized Western culture is going to celebrate. But as the world around us processes this puzzling story, please do not let the armchair pundits redefine vital UPG missions efforts as a rogue and reckless “force-feeding” of Christianity. The Gospel is an invitation, not a conquest.
There are plenty of sacrificial, courageous people embracing this high calling with a bold love and genuine care.
I know this because I know them personally.
Let’s take a moment to pray for John Allen Chau, his family, and the Sentinelese people.