rebelling against low expectations

The Radical Story of John Allen Chau

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I walked into my chiropractor’s office, expecting nothing more than a normal spinal adjustment. But God knew my back wasn’t the only part of me that needed correction.

A magazine in the waiting room caught my eye. When I saw one of the headlines on the cover, I snatched it up. Why would a secular magazine publish the story of a controversial Christian?

I heard about John Allen Chau when news of his murder emerged in November 2018. Chau was the first missionary to attempt contacting the Sentinelese—a hostile tribe living on the remote Indian island for which they’re named. But aside from how much this young man was hated, I knew nothing else.

I fumbled to the article as quickly as I could.

The Golden Theme

It was not so much the writing that drew me in, but the quotes from Chau’s last, short journal:

“I’m in awe of how GREAT our God is,” he wrote just hours before traveling to the tribe’s island. “. . . God, I thank you for choosing me, before I was even yet formed in my mother’s womb, to be Your messenger of Your Good News to the [Sentinelese]. . . . May Your Kingdom, Your Rule and Reign come now to North Sentinel Island. My life is in Your hands, O Father, so into Your hands I commit my spirit.”

Chau then entrusted everything to the “King of kings and LORD of lords—His plan will succeed and I pray that not my will nor my plan be done but only His good, pleasing and perfect will. Forever You, Jesus, are to be praised.”

What an impressive reflection of Christ Himself praying at Gethsemane and Calvary.

Chau closed this entry with an exultant “Soli Deo Gloria!” These Latin words, a core tenet of the Protestant Reformation, simply mean “to the glory of God alone.” Chau’s love for the phrase was impossible to miss. It was his sign-off for almost all his entries, including two letters attached to his journal.

The Gethsemane Fight

After giving gifts twice to the tribe, who received them with a mixture of interest and hostility, Chau entered his own Gethsemane. The possibility of dying hung over him more strongly, causing him to write, “I’ve never felt this much grief or sorrow before.” Maybe pressing on was foolish. Maybe he should postpone his efforts to reach the tribe.

“I DON’T WANT to die!” Chau cried out. He was only one month shy of his 27th birthday. “Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else continue?” Staying “almost seems like certain death . . . yet there is evidenced change in just two encounters in a single day.”

He wasn’t on a mission of reckless or suicidal heroism. His aim was to win the tribe’s trust, live among them, and preach the Gospel. It was the life calling God had given him at 16. “If I leave, I believe I’ll have failed the mission.”

“LORD let Your will be done,” Chau prayed, echoing his earlier petition. “If you want me to get actually shot or even killed with an arrow, then so be it. I think I could be more useful alive though, but to You, God, I give all the glory of whatever happens.”

More was at stake than personal obedience. Roughly a mile away lived a whole people group who did not know Christ. Another chance at befriending the Sentinelese could eventually lead to these precious souls joining Chau in magnifying Christ—for the first time.

Decision made, Chau calmly wrote his family farewell. “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people. . . . This is not a pointless thing—the eternal lives of this tribe [are] 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.”

Early the next morning, Chau jotted down another journal entry: “heading to [the] island now. I hope this isn’t my last note, but if it is, to God be the glory.”

That entry was indeed his last.

The Greatest Passion

The story left me dazed. What made Chau unusually zealous for God’s glory?

The answer was simple, yet life-changing. He truly saw that Christ’s value far exceeds anything. Even life itself (Psalm 63).

What made John Allen Chau unusually zealous for God’s glory? He truly saw that Christ’s value far exceeds anything. Even life itself Click To Tweet

Like the man in Jesus’s parable, Chau had stumbled on a treasure—Christ—to which most are oblivious. The discovery was so spectacular that joy compelled him to “extreme” action: exchanging everything for the Treasure of all treasures! (Matthew 13:44)

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Follow the map of your heart’s greatest passions, and they will lead you to whatever is most precious in your life (Matthew 6:21). Everyone has a treasure. But is it Christ or something else? That question sums up the fundamental battle of our entire spiritual lives.

Everyone has a treasure. But is it Christ or something else? That question sums up the fundamental battle of our entire spiritual lives. Click To Tweet

Sadly, we commit daily idolatry. Like novice miners, we’re often too entranced with fool’s gold to see the real golden treasure, God Himself.

Instead, we should imitate the merchant who refused to rest satisfied until he found the “one pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45-46).

If you want to value God above all, you must first know Him intimately. The best way to know God is through His greatest revelation of Himself—the Person and redeeming work of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4-6; Hebrews 1:1-4).

Scour the Scriptures, intentionally looking for every glimpse they contain of Christ (John 5:39). Pursue deeper, more continual communion with Him. Saturate yourself in His Word and presence. Let your constant prayer be, “Lord, give me a heart to desire You, and eyes to see Your splendor.”

Chau’s last sentence to his family pleads with us beyond the grave: “I pray none of you love anything in this world more than [you love] Jesus Christ.”

What about you?


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About the author

Katie Sanders

is a Christ follower, nonfiction author, and diehard fan of Through Gates of Splendor. Writing from a passion for missions, she urges everyday Christians to pray and work for the one-third of humanity left without the Gospel. Katie’s other passion is for lesser-known heroes of the faith, so she tells their stories to inspire, encourage, and challenge us today. To experience these legacies or learn about the unreached, visit Katie on Facebook @KatieASandersAuthor .

5 comments

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  • hey Katie,
    thanks so much for the article! The life of John Chau really convicts how I chase after idolatary’s fool’s gold, failing to see how much more beautiful and valuable Jesus is. I wish I could wonder why since 2018 not more people have gone to witness to the North Sentilese, but unfortunately I can see it in my life, in how I don’t really witness to most people in my year group at school, let alone in my classes. Praise be to God for sending down Jesus to die and forgive us of sins like these and we must pray that the holy Spirit will open our eyes and make us joyfully obsessed with God to show everyone around us this treasure we have. For as you have lovingly and clearly reminded me, it’s worth far more than anything else! Thanks for writing this, Katie!

    • Hi, Ben! Thank you so much for reading my article and sharing your own honest struggles! I resonate with everything you said. In fact, publishing this story has freshly convicted me of how I fail each day to treasure Christ. Witnessing is challenging for me as well. I shared some thoughts below on that topic with Clayton. I think if we treasured Christ as we ought, speaking to others about Him would become easier and more natural, for we love to talk about the people and things closest to our hearts. That’s why you and I have to keep reminding each other to fix our eyes on Christ and remember His supremacy. I have earnestly prayed many times for the Sentinelese to hear and embrace the Gospel, and I have no doubt they will. May God speed the day! Blessings to you, brother!

  • I really enjoyed this story, Katie! Thank you for taking the time to write it! 🙂

    What would you say to your fellow Rebelutionaries on how to become more burdened and bold to share the gospel with the people around us?

    Thanks again! 😁

    • First off, Clayton, thank you so much for taking the time to read my article! You’ve asked a crucial and profound question! Honestly, brother, it convicted me. I’m right there with you in the struggle more than ever lately, so I don’t profess to have the answers. But my family and I discussed several ideas.

      1. Go deeper in your relationship with Christ. The closer you get to Him, the more you have His missionary heart. I just tried sitting before the Lord with a journal and an open heart, asking Him to search me and speak to me about areas I need to change.
      2. We live in a world of distractions that regularly sidetrack us from our primary mission. Ask God what He might have you restrict or eliminate to remove needless weights.
      3. Pray. Definitely pray a lot for the lost people you know and how God would have you be a witness to them. You can also pray for unreached peoples. I used the Joshua Project app to do this, and I actually had to stop because the overwhelming groups of people without Gospel access broke my heart.
      4. Soak yourself in the Gospel. I highly recommend listening to Paul Washer on this subject, especially his Looking Unto Jesus series.
      5. Regularly engage in spiritual conversations with fellow believers. That experience will benefit the Body and help you become more comfortable with talking about God to unbelievers.
      6. Read stories, both old and new, of missionaries, the persecuted church, believers in other countries, conversion testimonies, etc.! They always stir up my zeal. A few resources: Heart Cry, the Brinkman Adventures, Unshackled radio program. Message me on my FB author page if you’d like a list of my recommended reads. 😉

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →