Here’s a confession: when the world learned of John Chau’s death late last year when he tried to make contact with the isolated and violent residents of North Sentinel Island, I had one immediate reaction: “That young man was a fool.”
I admit that with shame. Like Chau did, I believe that the good news of Jesus should be spread across the world; that everyone should hear this good news; that serving Jesus may well mean becoming a martyr; and that missionaries discern God’s clear direction to take the good news to a specific group of people somewhere in the world.
Unlike Chau, I do not believe this means disregarding laws meant to protect outsiders from probably fatal encounters with the Sentinelese, and to protect the Sentinelese from unwelcome visits by outsiders. There are still thousands of people groups throughout the world that have never heard anything of Jesus Christ. Obeying Christ’s Great Commission hardly obliges a missionary to attempt a mission among people quite likely to kill first and ask no questions later.
Nevertheless, I was haunted by the hostility of my initial reaction to Chau’s death.
I cannot forget Christ’s warning about calling someone a fool, or about the noble church tradition of the holy fool. Maybe God did call Chau to this quixotic errand. I tremble at that thought, and then can only find comfort in the thought that only God and Chau know the answer.
Now comes Doug Bock Clark of GQ, whose work I have praised before, when he wrote about the underground railroad leading out of North Korea. He has also written in stunning detail for GQ about Otto Warmbier’s ordeal as a prisoner in North Korea, and of the brazen murder of Kim Jong-nam at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. If a report is set in Asia and it involves complex details, Clark is the man for the job.
As soon as I saw the web headline to Clark’s 10,000-word essay — “The American Missionary and the Uncontacted Tribe” — I knew that Chau would benefit from Clark’s style of extensive research and elegant writing.