A martyr, or misguided? Death of missionary sparks debate over evangelical work
Conversation around danger of youth doing missionary work often 'silenced,' former worker says
The recent death of a U.S. Christian missionary in the Bay of Bengal is a chance to discuss the training and work of evangelical groups in the wider world, according to a man who was once a missionary himself.
"They train utter, ultimate dependence on this Father God, and that's not inherently bad," said Corey Pigg. He grew up in Missouri but worked as a youth missionary for seven years in his early 20s, including several trips to rural China.
"But where it goes sideways is when you're depending on Father God to take you to dangerous countries, to impose on other people's property, to give them something that you think that they have no access to," he told The Current's guest host Michelle Shephard.
Pigg, now 30, left religious work and moved back to the U.S., where he hosts a podcast called Failed Missionary.
He said he came to believe the message he was trying to spread was not an "ancient one," but a "recent message of the American gospel."
Young missionaries often unaware of danger
John Allen Chau, a 26-year-old Christian missionary, was killed last month after he paid local fishermen to smuggle him to North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean.
Notes that the Alabama man left behind revealed he wanted to bring Christianity to the unconverted tribe there, but they apparently shot him with arrows and buried his body on the beach.
The Sentinelese people live on the small forested island and are known to resist all contact with outsiders, often attacking anyone who comes near. Visits to the island are heavily restricted by the Indian government and authorities have not been able to recover Chau's body.
Pigg said while Chau's death is "very unfortunate," the conversation around young people doing missionary work is often "silenced."
"When I look back and think about when I was 21, I had no idea what I was doing then," he told Shephard.
"I had no idea about the dangerous places I was … allowing myself to go, or the things that I was allowing myself to do."
He said his family, who are not religious, tried to talk him out of going overseas, but he didn't listen.
"When I was at that age I wanted to do things that I was programmed to think were noble," Pigg said.
Chau 'knew that he could be killed'
There have been two types of reactions to Chau's death within the Christian community, said Mat Staver, who met the young man in 2015 and was stunned by his death.
"The majority of the people in the Christian community believe he is a martyr," said Staver, a lawyer and the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, an international non-profit dedicated to advancing religious freedom.
"There are some people in the Christian community though, that raise questions about whether or not he was prepared enough, should he have gone with additional people," he told Shephard.
Staver explained those people don't know all the facts, and that Chau has been preparing for this mission for 10 years.
"No one was putting him in danger, this was John Chau, he was an adult," Staver said, pointing out that Chau knew he could be killed.
"In fact he even told his parents, if I die and if they kill me, don't be mad at God and don't be mad at them," he said.
"Just live your life and your relationship with Jesus Christ."
Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.
Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Samira Mohyeddin and Ines Colabrese. With files from The Associated Press.
- This story was updated to clarify the length of time that Corey Pigg spent doing missionary work in China.Dec 07, 2018 2:11 PM ET