The friend of an American man who was killed by an ancient tribe after traveling to a remote Indian Island has described him as “a good person” who “cared about people.” John Allen Chau was shot dead by arrow-wielding tribesmen belonging to the Sentinelese tribe of the North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal after he allegedly traveled to the protected community with the aim of preaching the gospel.
Justin Graves, a friend of Chau’s from the Canada Institute of Linguistics, told Faithwire that Chau was a compassionate individual with a zealous passion for reaching far-flung people groups with the gospel of Jesus Christ. “More than anything, he cared about people,” Graves explained. “His love for the kids he worked with in his soccer program was very clear. He especially loved talking about those unreached people groups that he thought really needed the Gospel.”
Graves noted that he and Chau would often skip chapel to talk about John’s desire to see more people of different religions and traditions come to faith in Jesus. “We had very good chats about how strongly he felt about bringing them the Gospel, including this specific tribe,” Graves revealed to Faithwire. “That’s what stuck out to me about him.”
There is split opinion in response to Chau’s fatal expedition to the remote Andaman Islands, with some believing he was just an ill-advised tourist. Many, particularly in Christian circles, see him as something of a martyr for attempting to reach this isolated group – a community who, by all accounts, are unlikely to have ever heard of Jesus Christ. “Our dear friend John was martyred on the Andaman Islands, killed by bow and arrow,” posted one of Chau’s friends on Instagram. “Still can’t believe you were taken. It’s a comfort to know you’re with the Lord, but we’ll miss you.”
One could draw the comparison between Chau and other famed missionaries who laid down their lives as they sailed to unchartered territory in a bid to share the life-giving message of salvation. Well-known examples include American missionary Jim Elliot, who was around the same age as Chau when he was murdered by the Huaorani people of Ecuador in 1956.
In one of John’s final journal entries, he described meeting tribespeople who became openly hostile towards him when he attempted to “sing worship songs” to them. “I hollered, ‘My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you,'” he wrote in one journal entry, obtained by the Washington Post. In response, a young boy from the tribe fired an arrow at him, which pierced his waterproof Bible. Then, in John’s final note written to his family dated Nov. 16, he said: “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worthwhile to declare Jesus to these people… God, I don’t want to die.”
John added: “Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?”
“I think I could be more useful alive . . . but to you, God, I give all the glory of whatever happens,” he wrote, noting that he had asked God to forgive “any of the people on this island who try to kill me, and especially if they succeed.”
John Chau gave his life to get the Gospel to the unreached Sentinelese tribe.
"You…might think I'm crazy…but I think it's worth it to declare Jesus to these people…Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed."
Lord, make us willing to risk all for You. pic.twitter.com/pGqIXW7L1B
— Garrett Kell ن (@pastorjgkell) November 22, 2018
Oral Roberts University, the institution where Chau’s received his theological education, issued a statement on its former student. “Oral Roberts University alumni have gone to the uttermost bounds of the earth for the last 50 years bringing hope and healing to millions,” said university president, Dr. William Wilson. “We are not surprised that John would try to reach out to these isolated people in order to share God’s love. We are deeply saddened to hear of his death.”
But while many have praised Chau as a hero, others have taken a distinctly different view. The Indian Government had imposed a strict ban on any outsiders from traveling to the island or coming into contact with the endangered people group. This decision was taken to protect the tribe from outside disease for which they would not possess adequate immunity. As many have highlighted, John knowingly chose to ignore this warning and instead believed that God was on his side. “God Himself was hiding us from the Coast Guard and many patrols,” he wrote in his diary, describing the high-risk journey to the forbidden North Sentinel Island.
Progressive and left-leaning Christian group “Unfundamentalists,” posted a scathing response to news of Chau’s death, in which it wrote that his actions and death did not amount to “martyrdom,” but was a result of his “foolish” actions of “zealotry.”
The group remarked that Chau’s killing served as “a good example of how the arrogance and selfishness of Patriarchal religion and people cause them to force themselves on others without consent.”
“It was not God’s will that he thought he was following; it was his own,” the group continued. “He didn’t die because of his faith. He died because of his pride and arrogance and foolishness. He made a bad decision. Natural consequences are not martyrdom.”
As for Graves, though nowhere near as vicious in his words, he does believe that Chau made an error by attempting to reach this far-flung tribe. “What he did here was not wise,” Graves told Faithwire of Chau’s final mission trip. “As I mourn for him, I question the theological assumptions and missiological methods present within much of the world today that may have influenced his decision.”
“Now, he’s dead,” Graves continued. “The tribe may have contracted a deadly disease from his body (the major reason for their isolation from outside in the first place), and the fishermen are in terrible legal trouble.”
“I respected John and his passion,” Graves concluded, “but this cannot be a role model to emulate, but a lesson to learn from.”
As for Chau’s family, they are understandably devastated by his death, noting in a statement that “words cannot express the sadness we have experienced.”
“He was a beloved son, brother, uncle and best friend to us. To others, he was a Christian missionary, a wilderness EMT (emergency medical technician), an international soccer coach, and a mountaineer.”
“He loved God, life and helping those in need, and he had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people. We forgive those reportedly responsible for his death,” the family continued, according to Sky News.
Chau’s nearest and dearest also petitioned the local authorities to withdraw charges filed against the local fishermen who helped John reach the Island. John knew the risks, they said, and he decided on traveling to the island on his own accord.
“We also ask for the release of those friends he had in the Andaman Islands,” the family wrote. “He ventured out of his own free will and his local contacts need not be persecuted for his own actions.”
The police have since responded, noting that while they appreciate the family’s wishes, they must uphold the local laws. “I understand the emotional concern of the family,” said director general of police in the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Dependra Pathak, according to the Hindustan Times. “But we’ll be handling the entire issue keeping in mind the law.”
Do pray for John’s family and friends as they come to terms with this tragic loss.