Young missionary John Chau
Young missionary John Chau

Slain missionary John Chau: How should history remember him?

HOW will history remember John Chau, the young missionary who was speared while trying to share the gospel with an isolated tribe on North Sentinel Island?

While many outside the Christian faith will see him as a fool, those who knew him say he was following a 'calling' he had since he was a teenager.

As a missionary to the Pacific Islands and places like Papua New Guinea, my father often admired the bravery of the early missionaries who encountered cannibals.

Early historical accounts from Christian missionaries like John Hunt and William Cross depicted the gruesome and inhumane-like behavior of the early Fijians. 

In John Hunt's book "A missionary among cannibals" he wrote of savages digging up of the recently buried graves for human consumption.

The ambush of English missionary Reverend Thomas Baker was the last cannibal act known in Fiji in 1867.

In 2003, the BBC reported how the residents of aFiji village apologised to the family of the English Christian missionary who was eaten by tribespeople, along with some of his Christian co-workers.

Thomas Baker's descendants were joined by the Fijian Prime Minister and 600 people at a tribal ceremony.

My father, Bill Furler, who was a missionary to the Pacific Islands and around the world for four decades, believed those early Christian missionaries paved the way for the gospel of Christ to be shared.

But in his time as a missionary, dad was a strong believer in respecting people's cultures and traditions.

He knew the importance of being an invited guest - and having the support of local Fijian pastors who would help open up doors for dad to share the Christian message in remote islands.

Dad also taught the importance of honouring those in authority, and respecting local laws, though he certainly preached in places like India where Christians face violent persecution for just trying to share their message.

Mr Chau’s death has cast a new light on the lost tribe.
Mr Chau’s death has cast a new light on the lost tribe.

By all accounts, John Chau was a young man who took his calling seriously and had prepared for his visit to North Sentinel Island by taking short term mission trips to South Africa, and more difficult places like Kurdistan and Iraq.

In Australia, mission groups take teams of young people to places as diverse and dangerous as northern Uganda.

John Chau believed he was meant to go to North Sentinel Island, despite the danger.

Mary Ho, international executive leader of All Nations, the group that trained Chau, told The Kansas City Star he was "emotionally, culturally, physically, intellectually very, very well prepared." 

US adventurer John Chau, 26. Picture: Instagram
US adventurer John Chau, 26. Picture: Instagram

"He was trained to be prudent, to take certain precautions, to understand culture, to understand languages, to understand what others have done before that may have worked," she said.

In his last letter to his his family before he died, the 26-year-old wrote: "You guys might think I am crazy in all this but I think it's worth it to declare Jesus to these people."

"Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed - rather please live your lives in obedience to whatever He has called you to.

"This is not a pointless thing. The eternal lives of this tribe is at hand and I can't wait to see them around the throne of God worshipping in their own language.''

The Sentinelese are still a highly vulnerable population.
The Sentinelese are still a highly vulnerable population.

Chau reportedly wanted to stay with the tribespeople for many years. On his first attempt to make contact with the tribe, they shot arrows at him and one struck his Bible, reports said.

He went out again the next day, helped by fishermen to get near the island. The following day, the fishermen saw tribesmen drag Chau's body and bury him.

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John Allen Chau

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It was an enormous price to pay for someone trying to reach just 40 people.

Whether John Chau was doing the right thing or not is something that will be debated by people inside and outside of churches.

Slain missionary John Chau with his mother Linda, who has refused to give up hope her son is still alive. Picture: Instagram
Slain missionary John Chau with his mother Linda, who has refused to give up hope her son is still alive. Picture: Instagram

From a Christian perspective, however, it is clear that Christ commands us to 'Go', to share the good news with others.

Most of us don't, not because of the fear of being killed or persecuted, but because of a simple fear of man.

We worry about what others may think if we speak openly of our faith.

John Chau never had that problem. He was happy to die a 'fool for Christ'.