Missionary killed by indigenous tribe in the Andaman Sea trained in Kansas City
The leader of the Christian missionary group that helped train him, Kansas City-based All Nations, refrained on Tuesday from saying that she regrets sending Chau on what would be his fatal mission, or that she might have prevented it.
She does not think he was ill-prepared.
“He was just emotionally, culturally, physically, intellectually very, very well prepared,” she said.
She does not blame All Nations for his death only two days after he encountered tribesmen on North Sentinel Island, renowned for chasing away interlopers from their shores with bows and arrows and spears.
The organization has more than 200 missionaries operating in some 40 countries and paying their own way. But it had never before trained a missionary to venture into a land known to be so uniquely violent. But Mary Ho, the group’s international executive leader, told The Star on Tuesday that long before Chau came to All Nations and Kansas City, he had his mind made up.
The idea to try to evangelize to the Sentinelese was his, crafted in his teens.
“He was a young man who, from the time he was about 18 years old, went on a mission trip and knew that he was called to be a missionary,” Ho said. “Even as a young man, before we met him, every decision he made, every step he took, was to share the love of God with the North Sentinelese. … Knowing John, he would have pursued this calling no matter what.”
Ho said profound sadness has gripped All Nations since authorities announced last week that the young man had been killed some 8,000 miles from his Washington state home, likely by bow and arrow on either Nov. 16 or 17.
The island is part of the Andaman and Nicobar islands, India’s most distant territory. Indian authorities are still trying to determine a way to safely recover the young missionary’s body, believed to be buried in the sand. On Tuesday, a nonprofit, Survival International, called on officials to rethink any recovery.
“We urge the Indian authorities to abandon efforts to recover John Allen Chau’s body,” the group said in a statement.” Any such attempt is incredibly dangerous, both for the Indian officials, but also for the Sentinelese, who face being wiped out if any outside diseases are introduced.
“The risk of a deadly epidemic of flu, measles or other outside disease is very real. … Mr. Chau’s body should be left alone.”
For more than a week now, those involved with All Nations have been gathering to pray and grieve, both for Chau and for the Sentinelese, Ho said.
“A colleague called on the day he died. My husband and I went home and I think we sat there a couple of hours and just wept,” Ho said. “We were in shock.”
Chilling to some, spiritually inspiring to others, the details of Chau’s missionary saga have cast light on a world that many may not have known existed.
In one corner of the globe: a tribe of indigenous people thought to be the most isolated in the world. They are considered so dangerous to unwelcome outsiders, that Indian authorities patrol the island’s waters to keep would-be adventurers away.
Then arrives a young man of deep Christian faith willing to risk his life to bring them to the God he loves.
On his Instagram page he beams in a black and white photo with this caption, taken from one of his final journal entries: “You guys might think I am crazy in all of this but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people.”
Dependera Pathak, director-general of police on India’s Andaman and Nicobar islands, told The Associated Press that Chau’s mission was a fatal mistake. “It was a case of misdirected adventure,” he said.
Others see it as a martyr’s cause, played out in the remote islands between India and Southeast Asia.
This year was not the first that Chau has been near North Sentinel Island. He had visited the nearby Andaman and Nicobar islands in 2015 and 2016.
One of Chau’s friends, Mat Staver, told The AP that Chau had pondered going to North Sentinel Island since high school.
Raised in a deeply Christian home in southwestern Washington state, Chau attended Vancouver Christian High School. He graduated from a Christian college, Oral Roberts University in 2014, with a degree in health and exercise science. Christ and outdoor adventures were his deepest passions.
In his short life, Chau led backpacking expeditions in California and the Northwest’s Cascade Mountains. He’d coached soccer to poor children in South Africa and, in 2014, worked in Kurdistan with Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Friends spoke of him as fun, spirited, engaging.
In 2015 Chau traveled to Israel with Staver, the founder and chairman of Covenant Journey, a program that takes college students to Israel to affirm their Christian faith. It was there that Chau talked to him about the Sentinelese.
“He didn’t go there for just adventure,” Staver said. “I have no question it was to bring the gospel of Jesus to them.”
Chau arrived in the region in mid-October to prepare for his eventual contact with the tribe. In Kansas City, in 2017, Ho said, his training included ways to approach other cultures.
“He was trained to be prudent, to take certain precautions, to understand culture, to understand languages, to understand what others have done before that may have worked,” Ho said.
Chau kept a detailed journal, left with a friend on shore and written in before and after his excursions to the island.
One Nov. 14, the day before his first foray to North Sentinel Island, he wrote: “God, I thank you for choosing me before I was even yet formed in my mother’s womb to be your messenger of your good news to the people of North Sentinel Island. … Holy Spirit please open the hearts of the tribe to receive me and by receiving me, to receive you. …
“My life is in your hands, O Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.”
Chau paid $325 to hire several fishermen to take him near the island in their boat, towing a kayak that Chau used to paddle to the island’s shore.
Police say Chau knew that the Sentinelese resisted all outside contact. He brought along a Bible, gifts such as scissors, a soccer ball and fish, which he put on top of his kayak.
He spotted the Sentinelese. Women began chattering.
“Then I spotted two dugout canoes with outriggers,” Chau wrote in his Nov. 15 journal. “I rowed past one and then saw movement on the shore. Two armed Sentinelese came rushing out yelling at me — they had two arrows each, unstrung, until they got closer.
“I hollered my name, ‘My name is John. I love you and Jesus loves you.’”
He wrote that he saw young Sentinelese fit their arrows in their bows. They shot them. One struck his Bible, and he fled and returned to the fishing boat.
Later, in the journal, he would concede, “I’m scared. There, I said it. Also frustrated and uncertain.”
He appealed to God. “If you want me to actually get shot or even killed with an arrow, then so be it. I think I could be more useful alive though, but to you, God, I give all the glory of whatever happens. I don’t want to die!
“Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else continue?”
His writings, which would later be sent to his family and to All Nations, wandered into other thoughts, but then returned. “God, I don’t want to die. Who will take my place if I do? Oh God I miss my parents, my mom and my dad.” He would list many others.
“I’ve never felt this much grief or sorrow before. Why! Why did a little kid have to shoot me today? His high pitched voice still lingers in my head. Father, forgive him and any of the people on this island who may kill me, and especially forgive them if they succeed!”
On Nov. 16, Chau would try again.
“Woke up after a fairly restful sleep,” he wrote. “Heading to island now. I hope this isn’t my last note, but if it is, to God be the glory.”
The rest of the note would go on. But it would be his last.
The boat dropped Chau off again. No one knows what transpired afterward. But the the next morning, Nov. 17, the fishermen would see the members of the tribe dragging Chau’s body across the beach to bury his remains. The sailors alerted the Indian authorities.
Seven sailors were arrested last week for aiding Chau in his attempt. Indian authorities have contacted an anthropologist to help them figure out how to possibly approach the island, remove Chau’s body and determine his exact cause of death.
Chau’s family last week on Instagram asked not only for the sailors to be released but also offered forgiveness for those who took Chau’s life.
Words, they said, “cannot express the sadness we have experienced about this report. He loved God, life, helping those in need, and had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people.
“We forgive those reportedly responsible for his death.”
Most forgiving of all: Chau, who in his final journal entry wrote, “Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed — rather please live your lives in obedience to whatever He has called you to and I will see you again when you pass through the veil. …
“This is not a pointless thing — the eternal lives of this tribe is at hand and I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God.”