In 2018, a young American missionary named John Chau met a tragic end on North Sentinel Island, off the coast of India.
The 26-year-old was killed by a hail of arrows as he attempted to make contact with the Sentinelese tribe, one of the world’s most isolated indigenous groups. His aim was to spread the word of Jesus Christ, a mission he had been committed to despite the inherent dangers.
Chau’s passion for outdoor activities and his deep faith in Jesus Christ led him to undertake missionary training at the All Nations International headquarters in Kansas City in October 2017.
This organization believes in spreading the word of God to all nations, which they believe will hasten the second coming of Jesus.
How could this have happend? From acclaimed directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, #TheMissionFilm explores the final days of John Chau's life. Now playing in select theaters. https://t.co/jvK7mJ9G3I pic.twitter.com/Qc1oFTXdy1
— Nat Geo Docs (@natgeodocs) October 14, 2023
However, Chau’s mission was fraught with danger from the start.
The Sentinelese tribe is known for its hostility towards outsiders. They consistently reject contact with the outside world and little is known about them. Their isolation has been so complete that even their self-designation remains unknown.
The Indian government made it illegal to have any contact with the Sentinelese in an effort to protect their indigenous way of life and shield them from diseases. Despite this, Chau persisted in his attempts to reach out to the tribe.
His father, Dr. Patrick Chau, later blamed the American missionary community for pushing his son into a dangerous situation, calling it an ‘extreme vision’ of Christianity taken to its logical conclusion.
A new documentary is released about John Chau, who was killed in a hail of arrows as he went ashore on North Sentinel Island off the coast of India in 2018, to preach to the Sentinelese, one of the most isolated people on Earth, about the teachings of Jesus Christ. pic.twitter.com/LhdgHGRMNz
— SynCronus (@syncronus) October 21, 2023
The Sentinelese tribe, numbering only about 150, has thrived on their small forested island for up to 55,000 years. They live a simple life, hunting and gathering in the forest, and fishing in the coastal waters using narrow outrigger canoes.
From a distance, they appear healthy and thriving, with many children and pregnant women observed at times.
Chau’s tragic death sparked a debate about the ethics of missionary work among isolated tribes. While some view his actions as courageous and bold, others argue he was pursuing a fantasy and there is a fine line between faith and madness.