American missionary killed by arrows trying to reach remote tribe with Gospel

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By Mark Ellis –

John Chau

A 26-year-old American missionary originally from Alabama, John Allen Chau, gave his life attempting to reach a remote tribe with the Gospel on an island in the Bay of Bengal.

God had given Chau a burden for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and specifically North Sentinel Island, home to the Sentinelese, a pre-Neolithic group of hunter-gatherers isolated from the outside world. The island is considered a sovereign nation under Indian law, which prohibits travel there.

The Sentinelese have a long history of hostile interactions with the outside world. In 1974, a National Geographic film crew, along with a team of anthropologists, were met by a flurry of arrows during a visit, and one arrow wounded a film director, before the crew escaped.

The tribal group attracted attention following the 2004 Asian tsunami, when a member of the tribe was photographed on a beach, firing arrows at a helicopter that was checking on their welfare. Two years later, two fishermen harvesting crabs were killed by the tribe after their boat ran aground.

Firing arrows at helicopter

The hostility may go back to British colonial occupation of the Andaman Islands, which wiped out thousands of tribal members. Only a fraction of the original population now survive, with estimates ranging from 150 to 500 living on the island.

Chau was warned of the dangers, but followed his calling in obedience to the Great Commission. On November 14th, he paid local fisherman to take him from Port Blair to within a half-mile of the island, then he continued alone via kayak to reach the shore.

Before he paddled off in his kayak, Chau handed the fishermen a long note, saying that Jesus had given him the strength to go to the most dangerous places on Earth. The fishermen said that tribesmen shot arrows at Chau and that initially he retreated.

Chau’s mother, Lynda Adams-Chau, of Vancouver, Washington, shared his journal — including his final days — with the Washington Post.

“The men, about 5 feet-5 inches tall, with yellow paste on their faces, reacted angrily as I attempted to speak their language and sing worship songs to them,” he wrote, according to The Post.

“I hollered, ‘My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you,’” he wrote in his journal. One of the younger tribe members shot at him with an arrow, which pierced his waterproof Bible.

“You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people,” he stated in his final note to his family on Nov. 16. “God, I don’t want to die,” he wrote.

After his first failed attempted he retreated, then tried several more times to reach the island over the next two days, the police said, offering gifts such as a small soccer ball, fishing line and scissors. But things turned deadly on his final attempt.

“He was attacked by arrows but he continued walking. The fishermen saw the tribals tying a rope around his neck and dragging his body. They (the fishermen) were scared and fled but returned the next morning to find his body on the sea shore,” a source told AFP.

The fishermen reported his death to a local preacher and friend, who called his family. They informed the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi.

“He was a beloved son, brother, uncle, and best friend to us,” his family wrote on Instagram. “To others he was a Christian missionary, a wilderness EMT, an international soccer coach, and a mountaineer. He loved God, life, helping those in need, and he had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people.”

American adventurer John Allen Chau (right) stands for a photograph with Casey Prince, founder of Ubuntu Football Academy in Cape Town, South Africa, in October 2018, days before he left for the remote Indian island of North Sentinel Island, where he was killed. (AP Photo/Sarah Prince)

Chau led short-term mission trips for young people from Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, his alma mater. He spent at least part of the year living in a remote cabin in the Whiskeytown National Recreational Area in California, according to The Post. In his bio, he said he was a follower of the Christian group “the Way,” as well as a wilderness emergency medical technician and explorer.

Neil MacLeod met Chau on a transatlantic flight where he told him he felt it was his calling to reach the tribe. “He had a very clear sense that he wanted to bring the word of God to those unreached people,” MacLeod told The Sun.

“He had a real profound sense of calling. We chatted about the dangers of going to that part of the world, and he was well aware of the dangers of what he wanted to do.

“He wasn’t a person who had no sense of what he was doing, he was aware of the dangers. He had worked with FEMA when he went down to Katrina. He’s worked in some pretty rough places.’

He also paid tribute to Chau on Twitter, writing: ‘He readily spoke of his calling to serve the Sentinelese. His calling came from a higher authority. He died a servant of the Lord. Saddened by his loss.

“He was a very warm and charismatic person, just a wonderful guy to spend time with.”

Indian authorities arrested seven fishermen that transported Chau, charging them with complicity in his homicide and violating rules protecting aboriginal tribes.

No charges can be brought by India against the Sentinelese islanders following its declaration as a sovereign nation by the Indian state. Chau violated Indian law, which states that any passage within three miles of the island is illegal, according to the New York Times.

Following the death, Indian officials have attempted to locate the body using a helicopter, but have stated that they will not land due to the likelihood of a violent response from the islanders.

T. N. Pandit, an anthropologist who visited North Sentinel several times between 1967 and 1991, said the Sentinelese people were more hostile to outsiders than other indigenous communities living in the Andamans.

During one encounter with a tribesman, Pandit was separated from his colleagues and left alone in the water. A young tribesman on the beach pulled out a knife and “made a sign as if he was carving out my body,” he told the Times. Pandit quickly left the area.

“Why does this beautiful place have to have so much death here?” Chau noted hours before his death. “I hope this isn’t one of my last notes but if it is ‘to God be the Glory.’”

24 COMMENTS

  1. Perhaps the church in Alabama, or the organisation that supported and funded his mission will be held responsible for his death? As they should be! That is a story you should follow up on and report — how missionaries are irrelevant and irresponsible. The audacity that this tribe needed to be saved due to what? Original sin of Adam and Eve? Seriously?

    • Before Jesus was taken up to heaven, he gave a final command known as The Great Commission, recorded in Matthew 28:18-20:

      18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

      Chau took this command seriously and was willing to risk his life to share the Good News, as others have done throughout the centuries.

    • You spoke for me. Believe whatever, but there’s a complete arrogance in the “my religion is the only way” religions. It’s caused far more death, destruction than this remote tribe trying to live their non-modern world, seeking out no one.

  2. Chau broke the laws of two sovereign nations. India and North Sentinel Island (the island is in effect a sovereign area under Indian protection.). He bribed people in order to break laws and he knew full well that they were going to attack him. He also directly threatened their lives by exposing them to diseases.

    He was warned, twice, by these people who have made it very clear that after 50,000 years of living there they don’t want outsiders hassling them.

    I’m sorry for his family, but what he did was stupid, illegal and arrogant. He was guilty of the sin of Pride – thinking he could accomplish what no one else has in thousands of years.

    • Starting in 1933, a sovereign nation, Germany, passed laws that essentially treated Jews as subhuman, stripping them of citizenship, imposing a nationwide boycott on their businesses, banning sexual relations between Germans and Jews, eventually leading to the “Final Solution,” with Jews sent to extermination camps. It was illegal to harbor a Jew. Would it be right or wrong to violate the laws of this sovereign nation?

    • When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.
      Acts 5:27‭-‬29

  3. “I hollered, ‘My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you,’” he wrote in his journal.
    It should have been obvious to him that they didn’t want him or his preachings and wanted him to be off to where he came from. Was he so drunk in his missionary zeal or was he simply high on substances? Did Jesus prompt him to break the laws, bribe people and make an illegal move to land there? Those who believe that Jesus things, must be out of their minds. They are so much obsessed with spreading the Gospel that they don’t care for others and their own religious rights.

  4. In a way you could say the Sentinelese were defending themselves, their bodies against the exposure to outside diseases, which might lead to genocide, as well as the integrity of their own culture and religions, which Christianity cannot respect. I don’t know if John understood this or even cared. He fulfilled his own mission to live this way and to die this way. All is well.

  5. This is an painful example of the unintended consequences of the Great Commission, which has brought destruction all over the world to indigenous peoples and their resources. This is totally inconsistent with the Great Commandment of love, which minimally is to do no harm or minimal harm. This is more consistent with how Jesus lived in support of the vulnerable. In contrast, John Chau knowingly brought harm to these people. Most faithful followers of Jesus know enough to not do this kind of thing anymore given the carnage it has wreaked to our neighbors all over the world.

  6. How many of us have done as John Chau in our own way? I have seen more then a few great plans come to ruin because I would not listen and take heed to sound council. Perhaps a day will come when a plan to communicate the gospel to the people on the island will come together and meet with the approval of the people concerned. Until then what they don’t need is my customs, trinkets, or diseases.
    Dwight

  7. According to Jim Eliot, “he is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”

    Some think Chau cared about their view or advice towards the step he took. Before leaving for the Sentinel Island, I believe he was well aware of what could befall him and many like you might have come his way to discourage him that he might have ignored. And the mistake many are making is that he went there to give them religion… it’s a misconception (not religion but Christ) he went to give Christ, to sow himself as a grain of wheat so that it could produce much grain.

    Jesus answered them, saying … I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. John 12:23-26

    History is still repeating itself, did you hear about Jim Eliot and the lives of the Auca Indians after his death?

    Do you think your life is more precious to you?
    I tell you, everyone’s life is precious in view of what he’s living for.
    What is worth living for is worth dying for…
    What are you living for?

    Life is too short and eternity too long to live for self!

    • Thank you. Finally someone who gets it. People confuse Christ with religion. We’re not going there to add new followers. Without Christ a man is doomed. Using words like exposing them to diseases… Live a 150 years without diseases and don’t have Christ, you’re doomed. Live a life of pain, in Christ and you are saved. This is why we do what we do for it is the only way a man is saved. Romans 1:16. Hence it’s worth living for and worth dying for. If you don’t believe, it’s fine. Live a 150years, then find out you were wrong. Sleep in Christ bro. We’ll meet at the resurrection

  8. Joy, what discounts your opinion is just that; it’s an opinion, made without any effort to find out what Christianity is to begin with. And what is astonishing about this process of trying to disprove what is true, is 100% of the time, you will actually become a Christian yourself! This is the nature of truth, and when seeking it, it will lead you right to it every time. Every day people like you who are skeptical, set out to try to disprove Christianity, and in trying to prove it is nothing, end up becoming believers because it is the only conclusion the truth will lead you to. Look at a list of former atheists who have found the truth this way and become Christians. There are lawyers and scientists that make up much of this list. Lee Strobel and J Warner Wallace are a couple of these people. And I do pray that you do this yourself. With love in Christ always.

  9. You have to see things from this missionaries’ perspective (which is in line with the truth, because the biblical gospel is the truth). What good is it for this tribe to be free our modern diseases if when they die they go to hell. Romans 1 talks about how all humans are without excuse when we stand before God, even those who have not heard the gospel message.

  10. I have an unusually profound insight into this event: I saw first-hand the result of the Gospel of Jesus being taken to the remote Waorani (Auca) of Ecuador, where Jim Eliott went in 1956 and was speared, much like John Chao. Shortly after the spearing of Jim Eliott, yes, the Waorani contracted a communicable disease but, my mother, Maxine Eddy, a nurse, was able to help most of them through medical intervention, and they survived! Of course, this also was brought about by much prayer. Elizabeth Elliot went into the same tribal group, with Dayuma, one of their own women, and they brought medicine. The people survived and later, the good news of the Gospel actually transformed them from the inside out and they quit spearing each other (they were already destroying one another through malicious retribution)! The result is that this tribal group of Waorani learned the Law of Love and has been transformed! They quit murdering each other! Their killers, one of which is Mincaye, became the closest of friends with Steve Saint, the son of Nate Saint, one of the speared missionaries. God will work his plan. No, Christianity has not “wrecked carnage all over the world” as one of the above writers says. Instead, it has helped and guided some of the most violent men from evil to compassion. I would challenge some of these writers to please look at the great ways that Christianity has helped savage people the world over escape. Ie. John Newton who wrote “Amazing Grace” and those in Christianity who fought to end the slave trade. Look into it!!

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