By Natalie Sherman
On November 17, John Allen Chau, a 27-year-old missionary from Washington State was killed by the enigmatic inhabitants of the island of North Sentinel in the Bay of Bengal, reports CNN.
The Sentinelese have never had contact with the modern world and have been dubbed “the most isolated tribe on earth.” There are no conclusive reports about the size of the tribe and they speak a language that is entirely unintelligible even to the inhabitants of neighboring islands.
It is against Indian law for anyone other than the tribe to set foot on the island. This helps protect the safety of the tribe from outside diseases.
CNN reports that the tribe previously killed two anglers in 2006. Previous knowledge of the tribe’s hostility, however, was not enough to dissuade John Allen Chau from attempting to evangelize the Sentinelese.
The very isolation of the tribe is largely what inspired Chau to make it his life’s mission to convert the North Sentinelese.
In excerpts of his journals published by The Washington Post, Chau asks, “Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?” In Chau’s eyes, his desire to convert Sentinelese to Christianity was a divine calling.
Chau spent years preparing to make contact with the Sentinelese, and those who encountered him during his missionary training say he had every hallmark of a promising young missionary, according to CNN.
On the day before his death, Chau convinced anglers on the nearby South Andaman Island to take him to North Sentinel. The anglers came as close to the island as legally allowed and Chau paddled the rest of the way in a kayak.
According to his diary, when Chau encountered the tribe on the island he began to yell, “My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you.” Chau immediately encountered a barrage of arrows, one of which impaled his waterproof Bible.
The North Sentinelese destroyed Chau’s kayak, prompting him to swim back to the safety of the fishing vessel. The next day, Chau returned to the island and was slaughtered by the tribe. The anglers who helped him reach the island claim to have seen members of the tribe drag Mr. Chau’s body across the beach and bury him in the sand.
The Guardian reports that India has no plans to recover John Allen Chau’s body, citing the impossibility of avoiding a violent confrontation with the tribe.
In an interview with Inside Edition, Survival International spokesperson Sophie Grig stated, “The risk of disease, the amount of stress that we would be placing on them; it’s just not practical or safe for anyone to attempt to do that.” Grig noted, “It’s really not uncommon for an uncontacted tribe, when they first have contact from people outside, to be completely decimated by disease.”
John Allen Chau broke Indian law and put the lives of the North Sentinelese at risk when he set foot on the island. Knowing all of this, he felt compelled to convert them to Christianity. Subsequently, Chau’s actions have sparked a debate on the ethics of evangelism in the modern day.