The news of John Chau's death while attempting to bring the Gospel to a very remote, hostile, restricted-access region hit the mainstream news some days ago. Since then, there's been quite a lot of chatter about it, with lots of people trying to make sense of it. I am trying to hold myself back. My natural inclination is to write and tweet and talk, but I am reminding myself of this: we don't know the whole story. And we may never know it.
We, as people, want to "judge": either in the best or worst sense of the word. Our brains want to categorize, we want to put things in boxes, because that's how we make sense of it, how we understand it.
We could classify Chau as a martyr - a person who died, almost gloriously, for the sake of the cause. Similarities to Elliot are obvious.
We could classify Chau as a failure - a person who rushed headstrong into the situation without adequate training or preparation or effective strategy.
It would be easy to do either. But we don't know, and we don't have enough data to know.
Let's take a different example. What if someone trained and planned to be a Bible translator in, say, Africa. They prepared for years. They were expecting to spend decades on the field, working on learning language, translating Scriptures, etc. They arrive on the field, excited--and were killed two days later in a freak accident.
Knowing these additional details - the length of preparation, the length of time they planned to stay there, the scope of the work they envisioned, the nature of their death - how does this change our opinion of what happened? Were they martyrs? Were they failures? Or is this just a tragedy - a life cut short?
What if they were killed in a robbery gone wrong? Are they martyrs? What if you knew that in the midst of the robbery they were witnessing as best they could to the robbers? Would they then be martyrs, because they died in a situation of witness?
What if they were assassinated by radicals bent on killing Christian translators in the area? What if they knew the danger and yet went there any way, and were killed? Were they foolish?
There are many details we don't know, and likely never will this side of heaven. This much we can know:
(For more, I recommend Ed Stetzer's excellent article posted yesterday after I drafted this. Link.)