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The Media and the Missionary: Reactions to the Death of John Allen Chau

by John Stonestreet &  Roberto Rivera

Sixty years ago, when a group of missionaries were killed in the Amazon, the world and the church talked about their faith and courage. Boy, have times changed.

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the death of John Allen Chau, the 27-year-old missionary who was killed by the natives of North Sentinel Island. And you’ve heard a lot of opining about his death, too.

North Sentinel Island is home to one of the last uncontacted people on earth. The Sentinelese, as they’re called by outsiders, reject, often violently, any attempts at outside contact. In the thirteenth century Marco Polo described them as a “most violent and cruel generation who seem to eat everybody they catch.”

Not much has changed since. Thus, no one knows much about them at all. No one is even sure how many people live on the island.

Chau’s death drew immediate comparisons to the story of Jim Elliot, one of the five American missionaries killed by Auca natives of the Amazonian Ecuador in 1952. His story was told in the 1957 classic “Through Gates of Splendor,” by his wife Elisabeth.

The book has inspired countless numbers of Christians, including me. Even before that book was published, many Americans knew the story from a 1956, ten-page article in Life magazine entitled “Go Ye And Preach the Gospel.” The title wasn’t ironic. It was a respectful, even admiring, account of their sacrifice and their widows’ efforts to complete the work they gave their lives for.

Here’s an actual quote from the Life article, “The wives carry on, trusting that the Aucas will still be saved.”

Can you imagine a mainstream publication saying anything like that today? How times have changed. Elliot was lionized, but Chau was an obsessed fanatic, a would-be colonizer and agent of cultural imperialism…

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The Media and the Missionary: Reactions to the Death of John Allen Chau

 

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