Wednesday, November 28, 2018

John Chau and Oakchia: Missionaries with Courage

John Allen Chau
John Allen Chau, a 26-year-old graduate of Oral Roberts University and an American missionary in the Pacific, was killed November 21, 2018, by indigenous people on North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal.

For centuries, the Sentinelese people have resisted all contact with the outside world, sometimes violently. As a result, the Sentinelese people have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.

National Public Radio reports that Chau's death has launched a national debate over the appropriateness of evangelizing cultures which are either ignorant of or hostile to Christianity, especially when the evangelist faces potential death for sharing Christ.

The debate is not new.

200 years ago another missionary, a Choctaw Indian named Oakchiah, faced imminent death for boldly sharing Christ with a culture hostile to Christianity.

The culture was the Choctaw tribe.

The threat of death came from Oakchiah's own father.

On the south bank of the Arkansas River, just north of the old fort from which Fort Smith, Arkansas draws its name, lies a grave that contains the body of Oakchiah. His courage to share Christ in a hostile area where his message was not welcome is similar to Chau's story. 

Born in Mississippi in April 1810, Oakchiah grew up in a full-blood Choctaw family steeped in traditional ways. He and other Choctaws lived in what is called "The Old Choctaw Nation," an area that encompasses most of modern Mississippi.

Previous to the Choctaws forcible removal by the U.S. government during the 1830s to Indian Territory (Oklahoma), an awakening of Christian faith came to the Choctaws in Mississippi. Many tribal natives came to faith in Jesus Christ, and those new Indian converts became evangelists for Christ among their southern Indian tribes.

Oakchiah was one of those Christian converts.

According to those acquainted with Oakchiah after his conversion, the young Choctaw Indian became an active, energetic, and zealous evangelist for Christ. He desired that those among his people who still walked in darkness come to know the Savior. Oakchiah took the Christian name William Winans at his baptism, but he also retained his Indian name Oakchiah until his death to move among the Indians as a Chrisitan evangelist.

Whenever an opportunity was given to Oakchiah, he would speak boldly of Christ to his fellow Indians, warning in his native tongue that all should repent of their sins and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Oakchiah stood only about five feet and five inches. He was thin and delicate in frame, with an expressive face. He spoke in a dignified, graceful, and easy manner. His fellow Indians considered him popular, earnest, and very successful preacher. He conveyed his message gently and soothingly, melting the hearts of the hearers. A contemporary said, “In almost every instance when I have heard Oakchiah preach, people have been bathed in tears before the sermon closed.”

But Oakchia's message troubled and offended many others who were wed to the old ways. Bitter persecutions arose against Oakchiah from within his own family. Oakchiah's earthly father told him that if he ever again spoke to the people about Christ, he would kill him.

Duly warned, Oakchiah had a decision to make before the next council meeting.

Would he heed the advice of his father and be silent about Christ? Or would he risk his own life and again appeal to the Choctaws to turn to Christ for salvation?

Oakchiah chose to continue to preach the gospel of Christ. He knew his decision could cost him his life.

Having faithfully preached Christ to his people for the last time, as he supposed, he returned to meet his infuriated parent, at the threshold of the cabin. There the father stood with form erect, broad and athletic, in the vigor of manhood; his tawny visage was rendered almost black by the malice which rankled in his breast; the deadly rifle was in his hand, and he was fully prepared to consummate his fiend like purpose.

Oakchiah approached, expecting to fall, but was calm and fearless; for he was in the discharge of duty, and God’s grace wonderfully strengthened and sustained him in the dark hour of trial. With deep peace in his soul and with love beaming in his countenance, and with unusual tenderness in the intonations of his voice, he addressed his parent:

"Father, will you shoot me? What have I done that I must die so soon? Father, I die a Christian, and shall go to the land of the pure and good to live with the blessed Savior!"

Although the rifle had been leveled to take deadly aim the old man paused, his muscles relaxed, the weapon fell to the ground, and a torrent of tears gushed from his eyes, and flowed down his cheeks. He was a warrior who could boldly meet the deadly foe on the battle-field; his spirit never cowered in presence of danger or of death; he scorned the rage and power of man; but the meek spirit of a follower of Christ completely unmanned him. In such forbearance and love he saw arguments irresistible in favor of the Christian religion.
Thus the father was conquered; his haughty spirit was subdued; he became deeply penitent, and was soon numbered with the believers in Jesus. \

Oakchiah would later move to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and continue faithfully preaching Christ among the Choctaw and Chickasaw people.

Not many Oklahomans know of this preacher of the gospel buried right across Oklahoma's border on the southern bank of the Arkansas River, but the testimony of faithful preachers like Oakchiah and Chau are an encouragement to all of us called to proclaim Christ to the nations.

It's too early to know, but I wouldn't be surprised if God uses Chau like he used Oakchia to soften the hearts of many toward Christ.

They though are dead, yet they speak.


Christiane said...

"Not many Oklahomans know of this preacher of the gospel buried right across Oklahoma's border on the southern bank of the Arkansas River"

for such a loving and brave servant of 'the blessed Savior', it sounds like this place of burial would make an excellent place of Christian pilgrimage and prayer . . .

" They though are dead, yet they speak" . . . and in the Body of Christ, such persons still point to Christ because they are of blessed memory and live forever in Him and yes, 'yet they speak' and in that spirit, still they call to us to 'hear Him' :)

What a beautiful and moving post

Rex Ray said...


This is a heart-breaking story, but maybe Chau’s death might lead others to use a different approach in leading these people to trust Jesus.

First, someone must record the Gospel in their language. Then they must hear it.

If we can put a man on the moon, surely it would be easy to devise a way to broadcast the Gospel to them.

A big helicopter could put something on the beach where Chau is buried. This something would be too heavy to move, and too strong to tear apart. It could speak and hear. The rest would be left to the Holy Spirit.

drstevej said...

Thank you for posting this. What a story of God's grace.

Tom said...


There are many stories of people with Faith went to and died so that the Gospel would reach the places they desired to go.

In the Pacific there is an island where people where indentured as slave to work in the cane fields of Queensland, who, while enslaved, came to Christ and when released from their indentured 'slavery' chose to take the Gospel back to their island but in the process they were killed because of their faith, almost immediately upon setting a foot onto the island. The very rock where they died cried out to the people of that island and many subsequently came to know the Lord.

This islander 'slave' died on his return to his homeland because he preached salvation through Christ.

God does not allow His words to fall empty to the ground, but instead, He uses those Saints to speak and challenge this people who they went to, as it were from the grave, to repent and turn to Christ, thus bringing salvation to those people.

Perhaps we should learn the example of trust and faith that these people, like Chau, exhibited, in that they were willing to go to where they felt God was leading them, no matter what the consequences, even unto death.

How many of us have that same level of trust?


Christiane said...

"He conveyed his message gently and soothingly, melting the hearts of the hearers. A contemporary said, “In almost every instance when I have heard Oakchiah preach, people have been bathed in tears before the sermon closed.”"

beautiful imagery of a humble man capable of drawing thousands to Christ

We could use such shepherds in our own time, the ones that minister gently and melt the hearts of those who hear them. Especially now, we need this, yes. If we were able to see the suffering of others and were moved by it and stopped by the side of the road and rendered assistance in the way of the Samaritan, how differently would we now enter into the Advent season, preparing to ‘keep the feast’, in our warm and cozy homes with plenty of food and an abundance not known in the third world?

How differently would we respond to suffering, if we who love the Lord, instead of trying so hard to remain blithely ‘unaware’ that a stone’s throw from our southern border is a camp of refugees seeking asylum huddled in the very cold nights, with little food, and among them so many children suffering with sickness . . . .

Faced with the immense suffering in this world, maybe a melting of the cold places in the hearts of Christian people is not something unrelated to our salvation IF it increases our capacity for compassion in the process,

In our own time we also need to experience ‘misericordia’: the melting of the hard places in our hearts so that we will no longer be able to ‘look away’ from suffering
but be moved to respond to it with an age-old kindness

Rex Ray said...


You dear sweet lady; “…a camp of refugees seeking asylum huddled in the very cold nights…”

It’s worse than you can imagine.

This states: “The majority of the 17 deaths there since last October have been heat related, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.”

So much of the time, we’re ‘arm-chair quarterbacks’ and can only guess what’s going on. I still believe the solution to the problem is to help them where they live; not where we live.

Christiane said...

Good Morning, Rex Ray

just to let you know, out of fifteen days forecast, Tiajuana had eight nights in the 40's

I've lived in California (San Diego) and I can verify that nights get cold even though days are warm/hot . . . it's more of a desert climate than our Southern states . . . when the sun goes down, so does the thermometer (I actually enjoyed that climate, but we lived well there)
And the reports of sick children are real, so that is sadly not mis-information (I wish it were)

Here's back-up:

Rex Ray said...


I don’t understand. The hottest temperature of your chart was 68. Is this where the refugees are, since it was reported last month that the majority of 17 deaths were heat related? I hear that dying from heat is a lot worse than dying from cold.

What do you think about broadcasting the Gospel to the natives that this post is about?

Anonymous said...

Christiane wrote:

"Tiajuana had eight nights in the 40's"

I always wondered why us English speaking Americans put a "Tia" in the name of the city south of San Diego. "Tijuana" is the city and the name has 3 syllables. I'm not trying to pick on you, Christiane, as almost everyone I hear says Tia-juana.

Sorry, I'm just being a little OCD today.

I have very mixed feelings on Mr. Chan's "courage". I may write further on this when I sort it out in my brain.

Ken P.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I misspelled Mr. Chau's name above.

Ken P.

Christiane said...

no worries, Ken P.

no offense taken . . . I have always said 'Tia' even when I lived in San Diego (Lake Murray area)

I guess in my mind, I associate the name with 'Auntie Joan' which would be a kind of Anglicized translation of 'tia' Juana . . . sorry for my lack of care in checking the spelling as is a frequent bad on my part :)

not sure about those heat-related deaths, but tomorrow is Dec. 1 and Mexico is on the Northern Hemisphere which is experiencing soon the winter solstice . . . I do remember cold nights in San Diego, which I understand is because in a climate where there are more desert plants, the heat of the day is not held to the ground as much at night and in any desert clime, you can get VERY cold at night . . . lovely blanket weather for me as I enjoyed it, but I don't think the refugee asylum seekers are exactly sleeping in luxury, no.... many of their children don't have shoes either (can you tell that this breaks my heart?)

About the island people, I'm for anything that helps them and maybe if recordings of the gospel in their language, perhaps in hymn form, could be somehow placed among them safely, they would respond to the healing message. I don't see any harm, no. You really do care about them and they seem so isolated, so fearful, and so eager to fight off any human help that might come to them. Yes! Your idea has merit. Here's something to illustrate your idea a bit, how the human spirit will universally respond to what is profoundly beautiful:

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to figure out how you get the recordings of the gospel in the language of the island people without someone going in, learning the language, and making the translation without meeting the same fate. Am I missing something?

Craig said...

No, Anon, you are not missing anything. Though many others seem to be. The only way to get their language is to spend time with them. The only way to spend time with them is to approach them.

Rex Ray said...


You’re right in saying, “The only way to get their language is to spend time with them. The only way to spend time with them is to approach them.”

This link states: “The Sentinelese have repeatedly attacked approaching vessels. This resulted in the deaths of two fishermen in 2006 and an American missionary, John Allen Chau, in 2018. In November 2018, the government's Home ministry stated that the relaxation of the prohibition was intended only to allow researchers and anthropologists, with pre-approved clearance, to visit the Sentinel islands.”

Wonder if ‘language study people’ could be classified as “researchers”. If so, maybe “pre-approved clearance” could be given to these people to study their language.

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