Two men’s deaths were reported last week, one 27-year-old John Chau, who has been on national news with an interesting quote. The other, Jimbo Hawkins, a 47-year-old acquaintance, only on the local news here in Kentucky.
The death of John Chau almost makes me believe the conceit about “fake news.” Yahoo News, MSN, CNN, GlobalNews, even Fox News, and all the other popular outlets I read capitalized on the statement in John’s last journal entry, “God, I don’t want to die.”
The presentation of this entry in the way the media hyped it made it sound like an insincere missionary being coerced into going somewhere he did not really wish to go, someone who was unwilling to die for the faith he was trying to spread. Even the Wall Street Journal called him a “proselytizer” as though this was tantamount to cultural murder and forced conversion.
Like Paul Harvey used to say, let’s get to “the rest of the story.”
In November, 2018, after nearly three years of studying the area and the people groups in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where North Sentinel is located, John chose to violate Indian law and visit the island. His heart’s desire was to share the love of God in Jesus Christ with people who had been left alone by the rest of the world; people going to hell without hope (Acts 4:12). So John prayed and journaled: “Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?”
Then there was the line taken out of context by the media: “God, I don’t want to die.” Put in context, it reveals a completely different picture:
“You guys [his family] might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people . . . God, I don’t want to die. Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else to continue? No, I don’t think so.”
“I think I could be more useful alive . . . but to you, God, I give all the glory of whatever happens,” he wrote, noting that he had asked God to forgive “any of the people on this island who try to kill me, and especially if they succeed.”
This was a young man who knew his Lord and wanted to share His love with everyone, not wanting any to perish without God’s salvation. Arm-chair critics, even among believers, question the sense of going where he was unwelcomed, violating Indian law, hiring accessories who have now been charged with criminal involvement in his death (over the objections of his family who have forgiven even the tribesmen who killed John).
Laws that prevent us from sharing the Gospel must be weighed against the call of God to do just that. The Nazi argument in 1935-44 was this: The Bible tells you Christians to obey the law; how do you justify protecting Jews? We followers of Jesus must remember Acts 4:18-20 when Peter and John were told by the legal authorities to stop preaching in the name of Jesus: “But Peter and John replied, ‘Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to Him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ “
Whether John was obeying the Lord in his calling or just playing an adrenaline pumping adventure is between Jesus and John now. But his intention could not have been clearer. He wanted to share the Good News of salvation with people who had not heard, perhaps one of the last, if not the very last people group without a Gospel witness. And he was unafraid of dying for that opportunity.
News of the death of the 47-year-old acquaintance came quite unexpectedly from his mother’s phone call. Jimbo was walking with a new friend along Winchester Road at 5:30am when the driver of a small truck did not see him in his dark clothing and struck him, rendering him unconscious for the last few hours of his life.
He had lots of problems in his life, but he loved his mother and had prayed with different Christian friends in Quest and First Alliance Churches. Only God knows the condition of his heart when he left earth, and our hope is that in God’s mercy and grace, he found salvation from God’s judgment (2 Peter 3:9).
I weighed the surprise of these two deaths to those of us who read or heard about them. Neither was a surprise to The God Who Is Here. Psalm 139:16 says, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” God knew before John ever visited Sentinel Island what was waiting for him there. God knew before Jimbo ever went walking by the roadside what was going to happen to him.
Why speak of these two very different men in the same blog? Just to note that death is the common denominator for all mankind. Whether a missionary engaged in spreading the Gospel or just a hiker along a road, whether unformed in the womb or ninety-five years old, whether rich or poor, we will all “go the way of all flesh.”
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2) So get ready and stay ready.