The Advent Proverb: 30:4

“Who has ascended to heaven and come down?

    Who has gathered the wind in his fists?

Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?

    Who has established all the ends of the earth?

What is his name, and what is his son’s name?

    Surely you know!”

Proverbs 30:4 ESV

The English word advent comes to us from the Greek by way of Latin. Adventus is the Latin translation of the Greek word parousia (παρουσία), which means arrival or presence.

In Christian theology advent has at least three referents: Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, his second coming, and his presence in the heart of every believer.

In this proverb of Agur, the first and last questions frame the idea for me calling this the Advent Proverb: Who has ascended to heaven and come down? What is his name, and what is his son’s name?

As we move toward the celebration of Christmas, let’s remember the humility of Jesus coming as a babe in the manger. But let us not forget that he is the one who gathered the wind in his fist, wrapped up the waters in a garment, and established all the ends of the earth? Finally, let us not forget that the one who did all that is also the one who humbled himself to die on a cross for our redemption (Philippians 2:8, 1 Corinthians 1:18, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Hebrews 9:12, 1 Peter 2:24)

On the Anniversary of His Death: My thoughts on John Chau

John Allen Chau / Instagram

The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.

Proverbs 16:4 ESV

At this time last year, I was introduced to John Chau. Unfortunately, that introduction came via news headlines and not in person, and I regret that I didn’t have the opportunity to meet John in person. I have been so encouraged by transcribing his journal (available here), I can only imagine how much I and my students would have benefited had I had the opportunity to know him personally.

The Background

John Chau was killed on or about November 16, 2018, as he attempted to access an unreached, unengaged people group (UUPG) on North Sentinel Island, a remote Island in the Indian Ocean. His reason for accessing these people was to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

News of Chau’s death, hit the news cycle pretty hard, though specifics dripped out slowly. I was bothered by much of the negative commentary by the big mission voices, some of whom are personal friends while others are friends via the books they have written. These are people I respect and I would happily let them speak in my classes. With very little information beyond the headline “Missionary Killed on Remote Island” many big names (and smaller names, too) made snap judgement’s about Mr. Chau as a person, describing him as a lone ranger, foolish, selfish, etc. Additionally, his missionary knowledge and skills were criticized with comments like he disregarded Jesus’ instruction about receptivity, he was unprepared, and he demonstrated no planning or strategy. Some also said that he harmed the reputation of missionaries around the world.

North Sentinel Island from above.

Admittedly, I had no more knowledge than most of those saying those things. But, I did have a suspicion that the quick and harsh assessments were likely wrong. The comments were unquestionably unkind. I can only guess why people were so quick to criticize in such a public way, but now one year later, I can say with much more conviction that much of the criticism was wrong. (It’s my personal opinion that some professionals owe John Chau an apology and their readers a retraction.)

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18:17 ESV

Some may wonder how I can be so bold to suggest that some owe Chau an apology. In addition to the overarching tenor of Scripture, two things have greatly informed my opinion of John Chau. First, the additional reporting beyond the original news of his death added more details about his mindset, his preparation, and his commitment to the mission (e.g., see this article by Alex Perry). The second thing was the time and effort of getting to know John through his journal entries from the last few days of his life. I’m thankful to John’s family who provided a pdf copy of his journal for people like me to read, and again, I offer my sincere condolences on this first anniversary of his death. (A pdf image of Chau’s original journal is available here. A pdf copy of my transcription of his journal is available here.)

Chau’s journal was scribbled out, and in certain places it was smudged by water. This made transcribing his notes very challenging at certain spots, and impossible at others. His penmanship was not great, but that was not the goal of his writing. His goal was to record his thoughts and passions about what he believed to be an eternal mission. Because of the importance of this document, I spent several hours transcribing, as best I could, John’s last thoughts. That document is available here.

John Chau / Instagram

The Questions

Perhaps the best way to share my thoughts on John’s thoughts and actions is in the form of Q&A. 

“What is your opinion of John Chau?”

I respect and honor the sacrifice of John Chau. As a born-again Christian, I want to have the “lay it on the line” passion for the glory of Christ that Mr. Chau showed in his willingness to go to the hard places and pay the ultimate price in his effort to share Christ with the Sentinelese.

As a husband and father, I want to lead my family in the same passionate commitment to “Know Christ and make him known.” I don’t hope that my children should die at the end of an arrow; though I do desire that they have such a commitment to Christ and his commission that they would pursue the lost with abandon in God’s sovereign care, even if that means a martyr’s crown (Rev. 2:10).

As the leader of the Missions/Intercultural Studies program at Baptist Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, my prayer for and plea to my students is that they would catch the spirit of John Chau or John G. Paton who “claimed Aniwa for Jesus.” (Listen to John Piper’s biography of Paton – “You Will Be Eaten by Cannibals” – here.) Oh, that they would embrace the words of Jim Elliot: ” He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

“Do you believe John Chau was foolish or selfish to go to North Sentinel Island?”

Foolish? No. All of the professed Christians and non-Christians posting in Internet comment sections their disgust for Christians who “force” their beliefs on others notwithstanding, the Bible is the guide by which I must formulate an answer. And, the New Testament is abundantly clear that Christ-followers are to share their faith with those, both near and far, who are outside of faith in Christ. This includes the Sentinelese people. The usual “missions verses” immediately come to mind: Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:14-15; Luke 24:44-47; John 3:16, 20:21; Acts 1:7-8; Romans 10:13-15; and Revelation 7:9-10.

Interestingly, Chau mentioned some of these verses in his journal. For example, he alluded to John 3:16 and Matthew 28:18 in his first words to the Sentinelese (Journal, p. 3): “I hollered ‘My name is John. I love you and Jesus loves you. Jesus Christ gave me authority to come to you. Here is some fish!’”

In the last missive to his family he revealed his motivation when he wrote, “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 as Revelation 7:9-10 states” (Journal, p. 13).  

Some seem to think John was foolish for trying to reach the Sentinelese given the danger of doing so. However, Jesus didn’t say, “Make disciples of all nations, except those where it might be risky to do so.” Chau was well aware of the risk involved and took that into account both in his preparation and strategy.

Selfish? Hardly! An obvious example of his selflessness was his commitment to celibacy. His friend John Middleton Ramsey said that “Chau confided that he was avoiding romantic attachments because of his planned mission … He knew of the dangers of this place. He didn’t want any hearts to get broken should something go wrong.” Chau was a college graduate and had a variety of skills that could provide a nice standard of living. However, he chose to set those possibilities aside to follow what he believed to be Christ’s calling on his life.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

Matthew 16:24-26 ESV

“Was John Chau a Lone Ranger?”

Because John Chau approached the island alone, some immediately suggested that he was a Lone Ranger. That was not necessarily an unreasonable initial thought. But, it is one that should have been held in check until more information became available.

Dr. Mary Ho, International Executive Leader of All Nations, Chau’s mission agency, said that there was a team of people willing to go with Chau. However, it seems his decision to approach the island alone was based on his awareness of the risk involved in such a mission. He was concerned not only for the islanders, but also for the safety of his friends. Additionally, there may have been some strategic thinking in his solo approach. It’s reasonable to think that one person approaching the island might appear less threatening to the inhabitants than a group of people approaching.

Interestingly, while journaling on the afternoon of November 15, after having been shot by the young boy earlier in the day, John confessed to being both scared and frustrated. His frustration seemed to be at least partly directed toward JP who “won’t go with me and only stays on the vessel” (Journal, pg. 7). It remains unclear if that entry suggests an expectation or simply a desire for JP’s participation. And, his frustration may have only been directed toward his circumstances at that moment as he tried to determine whether he should continue the mission.

In an earlier entry in his journal he noted “me and two of the guys jumped in the shallows and brought my two Pelicans and kayak onto the northern point of the cove” (Journal, p. 2). So, to some degree, others were directly involved. I wonder if JP may have been one of those two guys.

“Was John Chau unprepared for such a venture?”

Much of the initial criticism of Chau – apparently based solely on the fact that he was killed – suggested that he lacked appropriate training and preparation for an effort of this kind. As more information surfaced, such conclusions had to be moderated. Ed Stetzer acknowledged this change in his Washington Post article: “These new reports at a minimum challenge the simplistic image of an adventure-seeking zealot willing to recklessly risk the lives of a remote group of islanders.”

Those who followed this story at the time discovered little-by-little that Chau had undergone a variety of trainings. He took a course in linguistics at SIL. He was an EMT with wilderness survival training. Chau studied anthropology and culture with All Nations. Additionally, he did extensive self-study on the history of the Sentinelese and similar tribes in the area.

Chau’s journal gives evidence of his training. He listened closely and noted the specific sounds of the islander’s language: “lots of high pitched sounds with [b] [p], [L] and [S] heard. Couldn’t quite get any words. Insults are probably exchanged a lot. Did not seem to understand Jarawa words I said” (Journal, p. 8). The Jarawa are a similar “stone age” tribe on a neighboring island, which anthropologists suggest also migrated from Africa tens of thousands of years ago. He noted elsewhere in his journal that in his interaction with the islanders he “yelled some phrase in Xhosa” (Journal, p. 5). This use of a South African language may have been connected to the anthropologists’ suggestion that the Sentinelese had migrated from Africa.

EMT training was evidenced by what he included in his “initial contact response kit (for arrow wounds) such as hemostat/quick clot, abdominal pads, chest seal, and dental forceps for arrow removal” (Journal, p. 4). Additional consideration of the health and well-being of the islanders was demonstrated by the fact that Chau underwent 13 inoculations and a period of quarantine prior to approaching the island.

The anthropological data in Chau’s journal reveals his interest to know and understand the people, and supports his friends’ suggestions that he truly intended to reside long-term on the island, slowly gaining trust from its inhabitants and greater understanding of them. All of this to be able eventually to share Christ. On the afternoon of November 15, the likelihood of his death seemed to be more apparent to Chau. I’m impressed that in that circumstance he was careful to make some specific anthropological observations in his journal – in addition to other similar information peppered throughout his journal entries. This information seems to be provided to whomever may come behind him after his death.

observations:

# of people in hut: ≈ 10 {illegible}

Language:  lots of high pitched sounds with
                   [b] [p], [L] and [S] heard. Couldn’t quite
                   get any words. Insults are probably exchanged a lot.
                   Did not seem to understand Jarawa words I said.

Gestures:   Arms in the air = unarmed, friendly?
                   Pointing with hand/finger (?) = pointing a location
                   Arrows in bow = ready to shot you

Environment

       Scenery   :   Beautiful cove, all mostly dead coral but clear
                            of dead coral bottom. Sand is [calcite] but
                            coarse. There’s an amazing surf break at
                            the south part of the entrance to the
                            cove. Saw 3 perfect sets of 4-6 foot
                            high swells {illegible} the {illegible} 200 yds or so.

{illegible} hut and dugouts point to a cultural practice.
It could also be from poacher as I have
seen numerous rocky coral that juts out of the
having lines thick wrapped and {illegible} ..

If they see something they like, they’ll take it (by force
if necessary). I wonder how many other folks have given
them something. And if they feel like it is expected or
due them?

Journal, p. 8

“Does it matter that the Indian government declared it a no-go zone?”

This is a fair and important question. Some Christians say Romans 13:1 is clear that we are to “be subject to the governing authorities.” Thus, Chau should not have gone within the no-go zone around the island. However, in Acts 5, Peter and John were reminded that they had been told not to preach in Jesus’ name. “But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men’” (Acts 5:29). Obeying God rather than man was definitely the thought of John Chau.

John Allen Chau / Instagram

“Are you saying John Chau is above criticism?”

No. I’m saying that we should be sober minded in criticizing his efforts. He gave his life to reach a people group that no one else was apparently attempting to reach. Furthermore, the evidence indicates that he prepared in significant ways for this mission effort.  

If you believe in heaven and hell then what he did was the most loving thing anyone could do.

John Middleton Ramsey

“How can we best honor John Chau’s efforts and sacrifice?”

My suggestion is threefold.  

First, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works …” (Hebrews 10:24). In the same way that Jim Elliot’s story stirred up love and good works in John Chau. Let’s use Chau’s story to stir up love and good works among us. Let’s learn about commitment to reach unreached people by listening to his heart and learning how he shaped his life to accomplish a holy task

Second, let’s think fairly about Chau’s preparation and strategy, then improve upon those things, if possible. Critical comments immediately offered to the media are not helpful to this end. In this case, much of the quick analysis was based on false assumptions. Now that we have more information sourced from the testimony of those who knew and interacted with John as well as his journal, we can actually evaluate his methods. For example, was English the best choice for first oral interaction? Was John’s decision to approach the island alone the best option? Were the gifts that he chose to offer the best options? These questions and many more are valid analytical questions, but should be asked after gaining more information. And for those who are wondering, I can make reasonable arguments for both a yes and no answer to each of those questions.  

Finally, let’s learn more about the North Sentinelese from what Chau recorded in his journal. He added fresh knowledge to that provided by previous visitors to the island. Learning about the Sentinelese as a teen is one of the things that God used to stir Chau’s heart toward reaching them for Christ. Perhaps God would do the same for us.

John Allen Chau, my new friend, rest in peace “in a place where the sun never sets.” Bask in the glory of the resurrected Christ whom you loved more than anything in this world.

Soli Gloria Deo

The Cross of Christ

Think about this: The Cross of Christ is, at the same time, a demonstration of man’s ability to be cruel and God’s ability to love.

hand-cross

Shalom, My Brother and Friend

ברוך דיין האמת

zvi-50 yearsZvi Kalisher, a man I truly admired for all the right reasons, now stands in the presence of the risen Christ. This day was inevitable, but one which, in an earthly way, I hoped would never come.

Countless stories of Zvi’s exploits will be shared among friends over the next week, and there are many great stories that should be told. But here, I want to remember the simple man behind those stories of heroism, whether they be stories of the holocaust or of sharing his faith in Israel. He was not flashy. He didn’t seek to own stuff. Though he was famous in some ways, fame and fortune were not his goals in life. He wasn’t an intellectual; he loved and lived the simplicity of the gospel and knowing Jesus as Saviour! He often said, “I don’t need a train to carry all the books to explain God and faith. I just need this one book.” Then, he would hold up his Bible for all to see which book he referenced. He was a simple man in the best ways.

I met Zvi almost 25 years ago, and I’m thankful that was not a one-off meeting. By God’s grace, I was able to get to know him personally and have him in my home on a regular basis. I learned much from Zvi, but the thing he modeled most for me was consistency. He consistently came to congregational meetings on shabbat. He consistently came to weekly evangelism outings. He consistently came to Wednesday night prayer meeting. He consistently carried his Bible. He consistently shared a testimony for the Lord. He consistently told me (and anyone who would listen!) about his kids and grand kids.

Consistency: such an important lesson for a young man to learn. Thank you, Zvi, for the lesson learned: ברוך דיין האמת.

Here are a few photos I recently inherited from a pastor who loved Israel.

zvi-family1

zvi-family

zvi-shul

Palestinian Muslims Coming to Christ, Story #24

This excerpt from my dissertation is the conversion-story summary of Respondent Twenty-Four, a female from Hebron. Feel free to interact in the comments or download my dissertation as a free PDF!

The following is ©2014 University of Pretoria and Craig Dunning, and if used elsewhere, should be cited as:

Dunning, CA (2014) Palestinian Muslims converting to Christianity: effective evangelistic methods in the West Bank. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, PhD thesis, pp. 388-390.

Respondent Twenty-Four began studying Islamics in school at the age of ten. Her teacher was very firm and somewhat persuasive as she explained all the “bad things about Christianity.” Each day the respondent would return home and tell her mother, who was a MBB (See Respondent Twenty-Two), the bad things she learned about Christianity that day. Her mother tried to counter the charges from the New Testament, but never pushed Christianity on the respondent. She said her mother’s approach was more of “allowing everyone to decide for themselves without pressure.”

Some of the things the respondent learned in school were that “Hell is mostly full of women,” and that “in Hell, Allah will hang women by their hair or eyebrows, especially those who were not interested in being good Muslims.”

For many years the respondent lived next door to a mosque, and countless times heard these and similar things being broadcast from the mosque during the weekly Friday sermon. Eventually, during her mid-teen years, the respondent lost interest and grew very passive about religion, though her mother continued to occasionally share thoughts from the New Testament. This was her mother’s way of keeping the door open, and it was the only opposition she ever heard to what she was told in Islamics class at school and what she heard broadcast from the mosque next door.

In her late teen years, the respondent grew weary of the constant denigration of women that was generally present in her surroundings, but particularly offensive, she said, was the repeated message of “hate toward women” that she could not avoid hearing through the broadcasts from the mosque. The continual bombardment of hate caused the respondent to grow more and more concerned for her personal safety, eventually resulting in emotional problems and panic attacks.

The feelings that were being generated inside her brought her from a passive position about Islam to a very negative opinion. She definitively transitioned from “Islam is not for me,” to “Islam is wrong.” Even though the process was slow, due to the pervasive and negative presence of Islam in her surroundings, it was ultimately unavoidable.

At the same time her feelings about Islam were changing, Her mother tried to calm and comfort her by sharing things from the New Testament with her, especially the love of Jesus. Her mother focused on how much Jesus loved the respondent, so much that he died for her sins. In contrast to what she deemed “hate flowing from the mosque next door,” the respondent started to appreciate the love her mother shared from the New Testament. “In Islam, they want you to die for Islam. In Christianity, Jesus loved us and died for us” she added.

In addition to the love her mother was regularly sharing with her from the New Testament, local believers demonstrated much love toward her brother (See Respondent Twenty) by coming to their home to pray for him when he was sick. This kind of love affected her strongly: “When I saw this, something went out of me and joy came in. Real joy.”

Eventually, as an unbeliever, she attended a MBB family conference with her mother. At that conference, she saw MBBs as a community for the first time. She watched the people sing and pray together. The way they loved each other was impressive and instrumental in her consideration of the gospel. She had never seen anything like that before and was drawn toward them. She was impressed that “this was the real thing.” And that point became more clear when the worship leader stopped in the middle of a song to pray for “someone who is here today questioning whether they should believe in Jesus.” Though he did not call her by name, she said “I knew he was praying for me.”

At that moment, she trusted Jesus and realized that she was no longer a Muslim. She immediately told her mother that she “believed in Jesus as Lord.” Of course her mother was ecstatic, but was also concerned that her own witness to the respondent was not sufficiently clear. So, she asked the respondent to speak with a pastor to make sure she “understood everything.” The respondent was already convinced that Jesus had died for her sins and that she believed in Jesus, but she accepted her mother’s request to “make sure.”

When asked to fill in the blank: If it were not for ____________ I do not think I would be a believer,” she answered thoughtfully and deliberately, “Love. My mother. Prayer.”

Since she had only mentioned prayer in relation to her brother’s illness, she was asked for more clarification: “What do you mean by prayer?” She said that she knew her mother had been praying for God to open her eyes for many years. The respondent was asked for further clarification, “How do you know that she had been praying for you?” “She told me and she prayed for me while I was sitting in the room,” she answered with a frustrated tone that suggested the question was unnecessary because the answer was self-evident. Apparently, in an effort to tie all her answers together, she voluntarily explained, “If my mother had not been praying for me, and she had not kept telling me how much Jesus loves us, and I didn’t see the Christians loving each other and me, and I didn’t go to the conference to see all of this come together at the same time – love and my mother and praying – I don’t think I would be a believer today. Maybe God would have shown me some other way, but that is how it happened for me.”

Themes that emerged in this interview: “Drawn/compelled,” doubts about Islam/Qur’an, the kindness of Christians, prayer, retreats/conferences/special events, crisis, meeting Christians/MBBs, and an open witness.

%d bloggers like this: