North Sentinel Island is located in the Bay of Bengal off the eastern coast of India. The stone age Sentinelese people, whether they know it or not, are ruled by the Indian government. Little is known about the Sentinelese people, as they respond violently when anyone draws near to North Sentinel Island. Official and unofficial estimates put their population between 40 and 500 people.
The Sentinelese speak their own language and have resisted numerous intentional and accidental contacts from outsiders over the past 100 years. Many have tried to contact and catalog the Sentinelese; however, none have been welcomed and most have fled back to the sea under a rain of arrows. It is not known if the Sentinelese fear death and kidnappings, like they experienced in 1880 at the hands of a British naval officer, or if they simply fear outsiders. The only thing known for certain is strangers are not welcome.
John Chau, a 27-year-old Christian from Washington, knew the history of the Sentinelese. John was burdened by his love for Christ and wanted to reach North Sentinel Island with the promises found in the gospel of Christianity.
Mary Ho, the head of All Nations acknowledges her organization evaluated and trained John for his specific “life’s calling” to reach the Sentinelese. All Nations helped to prepare John and explained to him the inherent risks of his missions calling. However, the advanced preparation was short and insufficient.
In October Mr. Chau obtained a tourist visa and traveled to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India. India has adopted anti-conversion laws and in some cases police arrest people accused of proselytization. Tourists are not permitted to travel to North Sentinel and Chau did not inform the government of his plan to travel to that island. John Chau broke many of man’s laws to get to the Sentinelese.
On November 15th Chau made his first of several journeys to North Sentinel. He spoke and sang in English and Xhosa, a Bantu language. John had long term plans to live among the people, learn their language and culture, and share Christ with the them.
Chau offered gifts and sang to the people, but he was repeatedly chased off the island. On November 17th he returned to the island for his final visit. The fisherman who John bribed to take him close to the island reported they saw the Sentinelese dragging Chau’s lifeless body across the beach.
In missiological terms the Sentinelese are an unreached people group. John Chau was going to the island to, “declare Jesus to these people.” Many have claimed Chau was an imperialist attempting to impose his culture on the Sentinelese. John was not going to North Sentinel with a Yankees jersey, an apple pie, and democracy. He went to the Sentinelese with the noblest of intentions. John Chau went to the Sentinelese because they did not know Jesus, and John knew without Jesus the Sentinelese were destined for an eternity in hell.
It is never wrong to try to share the love of Christ with those who do not know him. The people of North Sentinel Island should not have been ignored and left alone. It is evil for us to know the truth of Christ and not share it with those around us.
While John’s intentions were pure, and his efforts should be applauded by every Christian church, his methods were ill-informed and poorly executed. Experienced missions sending churches and missions sending organization have learned things over time. John was under trained, inadequately prepared, and insufficiently supported through prayer. Future missionaries should and will reach out to the Sentinelese people. It is the prayer of this author those future missionaries progress with urgency and wisdom.
No law of man supersedes the truth of God. My apologies to the Indian government, but no ill-intentioned efforts of man are sufficient or worthy of being obeyed when they attempt to slow the spread of God’s mercy.
To those who claim the Sentinelese should be left alone so as not to be spoiled by the rest of the world, I declare you the enemy of Christ and simple human decency. Why should these people be deprived of common medicines which will save their children? And, there is no philosophy superior to Christ. Depriving these people of Christ is evil.
Innocent people should not be left alone to be unspoiled by modern cultures. There are no innocent people. The only innocent person who ever lived was Jesus and our world hung him on a cross. That is why missionaries must reach the lost with the gospel of Jesus. Thank God for John Chau and for the glory his labors brought our Father. We can only pray the martyrdom of Chau results in greater praise for our Father and the raising up of more missionaries with the same selfless zeal for the grace and justice of Christ.