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Crazy or Courageous

John Allen Chau died on November 17, 2018 while attempting to spread Christianity to the protected island of North Sentinel in the India-administrated Andaman and Nicobar chain.

Police have for now abandoned attempts to land on the island and either retrieve the 27-year-old’s body or investigate his murder, saying they do not want to disturb the fragile lifestyle of the uncontacted Sentinelese tribe.  (

When the news was reported, there were many who shared very harsh and critical comments about Mr. Chau’s actions to go to Sentinel Island which could expose the residents to viruses or diseases that would wipe them out since they have been secluded for a very long time on that island. To outside observers, they’d say of course this is cultural imperialism.  You’re imposing your culture. Evangelicals say, “We can set aside culture and just boil it down to the Gospel.”

That’s an idea that would not have occurred to the five men in Ecuador, who have been the subject of hagiographic books and movies since their death, including the 2006 drama Point of the Spear. (Attending an evangelical college in the late ’90s, I lived for two years in a dormitory named for one of the men.) Kathryn Long points out that the deaths in Ecuador came at a critical moment for evangelicals, as they were beginning to see themselves as a distinct cohort. The influential magazine Christianity Today was founded in 1956. Billy Graham’s evangelistic “crusade” took over Madison Square Garden for 16 weeks in 1957. At the time, the five missionaries “symbolized what evangelicals wanted to be,” Long said. Now, John Allen Chau may become a symbol of exactly the opposite.  The attitudes in our culture have dramatically shifted.  (

In January of 1956, Jim Elliot and four other missionaries gave their lives in Ecuador in their effort to reach the Waodani (Auca) Indians. This fierce group was known to attack any outsiders, but the vision for reaching them with the gospel compelled these young men to take the risk. Not long after they set up camp near the Waodani village they were attacked by warriors. Refusing to defend their lives with force, the missionaries were killed. The news flashed around the world, and the story of courage and sacrifice challenged many to take up the missionary cause. Even today Elliot’s words live on: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

In a very real sense, Jim Elliot and his missionary friends were living the spirit of Christmas. They were willing to give up the comforts of home and promising careers and to ultimately lay down their lives to take the gospel to those who had never heard. They could have fought back to defend themselves, but they chose not to.

This is what Jesus did for us in coming to Earth. Paul wrote, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Nothing of lasting significance and importance for God is ever accomplished without great sacrifice. Whether it is our time, our talent, our treasure, or even our lives, we must be willing to give up what is temporary for the sake of what is eternal. When we do, we are following the example and pattern of Christ and walking in His steps.  Paul wrote, “We are fools for Christ”.  (1 Cor.1:18). (