Fools. That’s what the world called us. At least, the world as it was experienced in Hawaii and Southern California. I had some other… odd(?) experiences while still in the Marine Corps on Okinawa and other places, but Hawaii and California stand out as being some of the most, well, unique.
It was a sunny day in Honolulu and my girlfriend (now wife), Christina and I, along with a few friends, had decided to walk the streets of the city handing out refreshments while sharing the gospel. Honolulu is one of the most homeless areas in the United States per capita, so much so the City of Honolulu actually offered free flights for the impoverished back to mainland U.S. I’ll never forget that day, rounding a corner and seeing a man on the side of the road.
As we drew near, I realized this person was pant-less. Their feet were black from the asphalt and they had nothing on but a raggedy black t-shirt which came down just low enough to cover those undesirable parts. We gave this person food and shared the gospel with them, and all we received in exchange was drug-induced mumbling and a clear demonstration he had no idea where he was.
Similarly, the Gaslight district in downtown San Diego is the place to go if you’re a party kid in college…. or if you’re just sharing the gospel. If I can remember correctly, it was about three of us who were there on one particular night. It was almost inevitable that we’d interact with angry drunks and people who abhorred the notion of repentance and the word “Jesus.” We were hated more and more as liquid courage possessed those around us.
In downtown Fullerton, CA the same scene was happened upon. Threats were common, heated exchanges were nothing extraordinary, and the lurking concern that we might in fact get hurt was a constant gadfly buzzing at the back of our minds. But, we didn’t care. We were fools.
Of course, these accounts of mine are no parallel to John Allen Chau’s experience. But there is a similarity: Gospel-work is foolish work, no matter how you look at it.
People hate Christ, and they really, truly do hate those who claim to follow Him (Jn. 7:7). I have first-hand experience of this, and Chau experienced it more vividly than is imaginable right before the Lord of glory closed His hand over that young man’s blood-bought soul.
One of the things social media allows everyone to do is become an expert. Chau’s life has become the subject of some pretty deep strategic analysis. “Was he prepared the way he should’ve been?” or, “Did he really make a wise decision?” are examples of questions bouncing around the interwebs, as if everyone is an instant NAMB logistics expert or some evangelistic mastermind wielding a doctoral dissertation in missions. It’s great, isn’t it? Our avatars allow us to become anything we want. One minute, a theology nerd disconnected from any kind of reality; the next, a keyboard-pounding expert in quantum mechanics, just-war theory, and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.
Part of the reason I cited two of my own experiences above is to demonstrate the utter foolishness of sharing the gospel, in any place, at any time—if there is one thing I know, it’s this. My mother always taught me not to talk to strangers. Walking down dark alleys at night and proclaiming my beliefs to prostitutes, drug addicts, homeless people, and drunkards—in some of the worst parts of the city, in some of the most distant places from my childhood home—was not even on the didactic radar during my childhood. You just don’t do it. It’s dumb.
Yet, the gospel flips our idea of what “dumb” or “foolish” is on its head when it says things like, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:20).” Or, this: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me (Matt. 16:24).”
Yeah… the world? Not so much. In my [short] lifetime, teachers of “wisdom” have taught anything from, “follow your heart,” to, “love yourself,” and finally, “make all your dreams come true!”
Perhaps the reason needlessly endangering ourselves in order to share “mere religious beliefs” is ignorant and foolish to the world is because the world’s idea of “meaning” or “purpose” is completely different from the purpose Christ had in mind when He said, “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you (Jn. 15:19).”
First, for the Christian, gospel-work is no meaningless endangerment. Second, we’re not conveying “mere religious beliefs” or arbitrary opinions we wish to force on others to satisfy some longing to win arguments and make other people look stupid (despite some appearances).
On the first point, the proof is in the pudding—Chau. Not hours after his youthful blood was spilled by some rusty arrows upon the sands of North Sentinel island, the world knew. The martyrdom of this young Christian has been received like a gospelized “shot heard around the world.” Everyone now knows Chau is dead, and they all know how he died; Chau believed he had a faith worth dying for. That is incredibly powerful to a modern society which struggles to find meaning enough to get out of bed in the mornings.
That’s the significance.
The Pilgrims, in the early seventeenth century, were thought to be religious fanatics—fools—even criminals! Yet, William Bradford’s desire was that they should be but stepping stones for future generations. If they would’ve been forgotten by name ten years after their voyage while having also made a way for future generations to rightly worship God according to His Word, Bradford’s mission would’ve been accomplished. On that note, I wonder how many people thought William Carrey an idiot for not leaving India after four years, five years, six years without so mush as one conversion from the pagan natives.
Paul preached to both Greeks and Barbarians (Rom. 1:14); Perpetua refused to renounce her Savior while feeling the cold edge of a gladiator-wielded ax rest against the back of her neck, poised to take off her head; Christians were drawn, barebacked, around the circus by chariots driven by Romans until they suffered unimaginably painful deaths; Christians who refused to renounce their faith—to even lie about renouncing their faith—were nailed to stakes and set on fire so Nero could illuminate his palatial gardens during the eve of day.
What fools these early Christians were!
After all, I’m sure there were better ways they could’ve done their gospel-work. Now, perhaps this is true. There are always better ways. But we should stop and think, “is there really a way to not do foolish gospel-work?” Is there a such thing as a non-foolish missionary? I mean, some of these people give up six-figure salaries to live off skimpy church donations and MREs for years at a time. They move from middle-class America to third-world countries where their wives give birth to their fourth child in the dirt. But, come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard one missionary regret any of it.
Like Chau, they believe they have a message worth giving everything for. No reservations—this is the gospel of fools for fools, to be peddled by fools.
Soli Deo Gloria.
We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. — 1 Corinthians 4:10
…but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong… — 1 Corinthians 1:27