A lot has been written about John Allen Chau, the American Christian missionary who was killed last month while trying to preach about Jesus to the isolated people living on North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal area near India.
The indigenous people living on North Sentinel Island have been extremely hostile to outsiders. They fired arrows at a 1974 National Geographic documentary film crew. They attacked the crew of a cargo ship that ran aground near the island in 1981. They killed a pair of fishermen in 2006 after their boat broke free from its anchor and drifted towards the shore.
Chau paid fishermen to take him to the island last month, knowing that it was illegal to come within 3 miles of the island. He made multiple attempts to approach the islanders. In his first attempt he tried shouting in English, "My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you." He then retreated. On his second attempt, he offered the islanders gifts, and they responded with arrows, one of which pierced his Bible. He wrote in his journal, which the Washington Post obtained, "God, I don’t want to die. WHO WILL TAKE MY PLACE IF I DO?"
Chau's third visit to the island resulted in his death. On November 17th fishermen saw islanders dragging his body and later burying it.
Chau's death has brought up memories of Jim Elliot's death, an evangelical Christian who was killed in Ecuador in 1956 while trying to preach to an indigenous tribe.
An interview conducted by Christianity Today with Mary Ho, who is the the international executive leader at All Nations, sheds more light on the story. All Nations is a missionary group that was founded in 1993 by Floyd McClung.
In the interview, Ho attempted to defend Chau's decision by talking about a few different things. She mentioned his degree in medicine, but the problem is that his degree was in sports medicine from Oral Roberts University. She talked about his study of linguistics, but the tribe on North Sentinel Island speaks a language not known by any language program. And according to Chau's own journal, when he approached islanders on the first day, he yelled out to them in English. Ho mentioned that Chau quarantined himself and was inoculated against several diseases, but that still does not guarantee safety for the tribe if they have no immunity to common diseases that we may carry.
And that is where we start to get into why John Allen Chau was wrong from the beginning in this endeavor. Reports indicate that Chau became obsessed with bringing the Gospel to the North Sentinel Island people when he first learned about them nearly a decade ago.
That means that for the last several years he was focused on this objective and discussing it with people like those at All Nations, his local church, his family, and anyone at university he may have spoken to about it.
Did none of these people try to talk him out of it? If they did, his religiosity blinded him to the rationality of their arguments. If they did not try to talk him out of it, then his like-minded religiously-motivated community failed him.
If Chau was really concerned about these people, then the fact that they may not have immunity to any diseases he would introduce to them should have been a much bigger issue for him. Quarantining himself for a few days, or getting some shots beforehand, is just not enough. Ho's comments in the interview about modern medicine and treatments is a moot point, since none of those treatments are available on the island. It is profoundly ignorant of her to use modern medicine's advancements as a defense when none of that modern medicine is currently available to the people most jeopardized in this situation.
These people have been living on the island for thousands of years and have shown themselves to be deeply committed to avoiding the outside world. The government of India has made it illegal to visit the island because it has become painfully clear that attempting to force contact with these people will result in the deaths of both the islanders and people who try to communicate with them. Chau knew all of this and pressed on with his plan.
Chau's death is a sad waste of a young life that had great potential, but his faith drove him to extreme recklessness, and he paid the price for it.