John Allen Chau traveled to North Sentinel Island with the help of fisherman who may have suggested he not go. Regardless, he continued on in a kayak. He knew the island was off-limits, according to officials and reports, but believed he’d been given the strength and authority by Jesus and set off with gifts and a Bible aboard.
According to his diary, written the night before, Chau asked God if the island was “Satan’s last stronghold.”
The Sentinelese of the Andaman Islands in India is among the world’s last ‘uncontacted’ people, who violently resist contact with the outside world.
As soon as Chau landed on the remote atoll, he was fired on by a torrent of arrows aimed by Sentinelese, the fiercely private inhabitants protected by Indian law. The fishermen who’d helped him reach the island witnessed tribe members drag and bury his body the following day, it was reported.
Senior police officials were quoted by India Today saying Chau was an American “Christian missionary who wanted to convert the Sentinelese tribe that inhabits the island where he was killed.”
Chau, 27, of Alabama and of late from Washington State, was an adventurer and a missionary. A graduate of Oral Roberts University, he had traveled the world and was a skilled diver, climber and emergency medic, was also a “snakebite survivor.”
Some are asking why Chau, who was described as an “American tourist” in initial reports, would go to a location both illegal to enter and clearly dangerous. A note he left with the fisherman that would later see him killed and his body dragged by the tribesman, explained his motivation; “Jesus had bestowed him with the strength to go to the most forbidden places on Earth,” as was reported to have been shared by Indian officials.
His family confirmed he was a Christian missionary: “He loved God, life, helping those in need” and the Sentinelese, it wrote in a tribute to their “beloved son, brother, uncle and best friend” on his Instagram page.
Lynda Adams-Chau shared his journal with The Washington Post . Chau, who described his contact with the tribe, as well as their appearance, men with yellow-painted faces standing around 5 feet-5, wrote on Nov. 16 that tribe members were angered when he tried to speak to them adding he understood that his family might think him “crazy” for what he was doing, but said he believed it important to “bring Jesus” to the Sentinelese.
Still, he wrote, “God, I don’t want to die.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Chau Was Helped Illegally by Local Fishermen to Travel to North Sentinel Island
Chau traveled to North Sentinel Island and, with the help of local fishermen, albeit illegally, set about to make contact with the Sentinelese tribe. He hired a fishing boat in Chidiyatapu in mid-November.
Chau had previously visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and had “expressed a strong desire to meet with the Sentinelese tribes to preach Christianity.”
“So sad that you are not alive anymore. You should have trusted Indian police about the dangers. May your soul rest in peace,” a friend wrote on his last Instagram post.
Chau had visited the island a number of times previously and in notes wrote, “”God Himself was hiding us from the coast guard and many patrols.”
Chau illegally tried to access the island at least twice, the last time before his death was on Nov. 16. It’s reported once he was struck by arrows and had his kayak damaged. The fishing boat he’d hired was just the island’s offshore.
On the night of Nov. 16, Chau wrote in his journal, also described as notes to his family, “Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?”
And so the next day, Nov. 17, Chau returned again to the island arriving singing worship songs. He did not return to the boat. Fishermen reported they saw Sentinelese dragging the young evangelical’s body.
According to Andaman Sheekha, “a case of murder has been registered against unknown members of the Sentinelese tribe.”
2. Chau, Who Described Himself as a ‘Wilderness EMT,’ Was a World Traveler & a Christian Missionary
Chau, who received a degree in health and physical education from Oral Roberts University worked in South Africa, a refugee camp in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan), and in Tulsa with Burmese refugees and at-risk youth, according to his LinkedIn.
Chau was the outreach coordinator for ‘More than a Game’ and helped to run a Burmese refugee soccer outreach in Tulsa. Chau traveled to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq in June 2014 to run soccer clinics, coaching seminars, and a tournament for Syrian refugee children and local Kurdish youth.
He was with Americorps doing community emergency preparedness work in Tulsa where he helped “build disaster resilient communities around Oklahoma by conducting emergency preparedness presentations at schools, homeowners associations, and afterschool programs.”
Chau worked with Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency in developing a Volunteer Reception Center (VRC) plan for the management of spontaneous unaffiliated volunteers.
3. ‘International Christian Concern’ Said Chau Was Murdered by a ‘Hostile Tribe,’ But His Family Forgives
“Our dear friend John was martyred on the Andaman Islands, killed by bow and arrow. Still can’t believe you were taken. It’s a comfort to know you’re with the Lord, but we’ll miss you.”
The International Christian Concern (ICC) agency said Chau “was reportedly killed by unidentified individuals from the Sentinelese community on North Sentinel Island, located in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This murder comes at a time when Indian Christians report ever-escalating levels of persecution across the country.”
The group alleges “India has a history of attacks on foreign Christian missionaries.”
“We here at International Christian Concern are extremely concerned by the reports of an American missionary being murdered in India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Our thoughts and prayers go out to both John’s family and friends. A full investigation must be launched in this murder and those responsible must be brought to justice,” said William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager. “Every day, new reports of persecution are being documented in India. Many Christians fear this may be the new normal for their community as Hindu radicals and others have been allowed to attack Christians and other minority communities with impunity. India must take steps to counter the growing wave of intolerance and violence.”
While many agree Chau should not have visited the island, some blame the Indian government for not doing more to protect the Sentinelese.
“If the Indian authorities had properly enforced the protection of the #Sentinelese & their island, this would never have happened. Our statement on the killing of an American missionary making contact with the Sentinelese tribe in the Andaman Islands.”
Perhaps the opinion that matters most is that of his family who says he alone is responsible for his actions, others, including the fishermen and “friends” he had on the Andaman Islands, should not be held to blame.
They said he “ventured out on his own free will” and did so out of “love for the Sentinelese people.”
4. The Tribe, Protected by Indian Law, Rejects Contact With the Outside World
The indigenous Sentinelese, an endangered and sovereign tribal nation, has a history of very limited contact with the outside world. With perhaps 100 of the tribe left, although some report that number as high, very high, even. The 2001 Census of India has estimated there may be 21 men and 18 women.
Chau is alleged to have visited the island a few times, paying fishermen to bring him there, which violates Indian law. It’s reported that he brought small token gifts his Bible with him, but when he stepped foot onto the island, he was fired upon. The fisherman fled. Some were later arrested, some reports indicate.
The tribe is a sovereign nation and as such, under Indian law, the tribe would be allowed to defend itself. The fishermen, however, may be prosecuted it was reported.
But his family said it does not want to see anyone prosecuted. Indeed, the family said it forgives those responsible.
5. Chau, Who Described His Contact With the Tribe in a Journal, May Have Funded His Adventures & Missionary Work, in Part, by Promoting ‘Perky Jerky’ on Instagram. Chau Also Wrote a Blog on the Outbound Collective
Chau described himself as a ‘Perky Jerky Ambassador,” on his Instagram account and often posted images of himself with the product. It may be one way on which he was able to travel so extensively. Perky Jerky’s Instagram account does not seem to reference Chau’s death.
In a ‘spotlight’ on Chau’s in Outbound Collective, he said he was looking forward to “Going back to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India is on the top – there’s so much to see and do there!”
In his journal, notes written to his family, shared with The Washington Post by his mother, Chau wondered why a place of such beauty had to “have so much death…”
“I hope this isn’t one of my last notes but if it is ‘to God be the glory.”