On November 15, 2018, John Allan Chau, 26-year old American missionary and avid outdoorsman, began a journey of personal faith and a love for mankind that would lead him halfway around the world.
His goal sounded simple – to share the love of Jesus Christ with people he had never met….but it was made nearly impossible by his need to first go halfway around the world, then figure out a way to meet with people so intentionally reclusive, so difficult to interact with, that they had not had any contact with the outside world in over 5,000 years.
This is a resmarkable testimony of the impact that just one courageous life of faith can have, when they take seriously Jesus’ command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature…”. Any person that abandons themselves completely to God, and do whatever He asks without question or compromise, can impact the world. Need proof? Google “John Allen Chau” today,
and you will get 7.11 million search results.
During a 2013 outreach to Cape Town, South Africa, with fellow University soccer team members, John Allen Chau, then 21, was introduced to More Than A Game, an organization uniting refugee kids together through the “universal language” of soccer. It would be an encounter that would change the trajectory of Chau’s life.
Chau returned from Cape Town to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he was studying to complete a Health and Exercise Sciences degree at Oral Roberts University, and volunteered with a soccer camp outreach to Burmese refugee kids in that city. (Tulsa World reported in March 2018 that over 7,000 Zomi people from the Chin State in war-torn Myanmar (formerly Burma) have built a new home in South Tulsa, including over 1,100 school-aged children).
After graduating in spring 2014, Chau hosted soccer camps for more than 2,000 young Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. In 2015 and again in 2016, while visiting the Andaman and Nicobar Islands off of India’s western coast, Chau first learned of a small tribe of 50 to 200 people, who lived on the remote North Sentinel Island off the coast of India, and who would attack anyone who approached their island.
I have never known a more courageous, selfless, compassionate man and friend. John lived and gave his life to share the love of Jesus with everyone.
– Bobby Parks, More Than A Game
The Sentinelese people, believed to be the last pre-Neolithic tribe in the world, are resistant to outsiders and often attack anyone who comes near, and visits to the island are heavily restricted by the Government, both to protect the visitor from such attacks by the islanders – as well as to ensure the inhabitants of this tiny island in the Bay of Bengal were not overcome by measles, mumps, the flu, or even the common cold – any of which could wipe them out – as they have had no contact with other humans in up to 60,000 years, as the UK newspaper The Mirror has reported.
The logical outcome of this fact, of course, is that these were also one of the only people groups on Earth to never be told about the love of Jesus. Imagine a culture where every man, woman and/or child would die for thousands of years, and be ushered into a Christless Hell. Every single one. The concept had gripped Chau’s mind and heart, to the point that his friends later said that he was all-consumed with this small, highly-reclusive group of tribespeople who lived on this small, highly-remote island. People he had never met – people he had never actually seen up close with his own eyes – had somehow captured his whole heart.
Chau developed a very real burden for them, and he knew that there had been issues after others had attempted to visit there before. The New York Times reported that back in 1899, a British naval officer, Maurice Vidal Portman, wrote a book about his adventures in “stepping onto a remote, coral-fringed island in the Andaman Sea and encountering one of the world’s most enigmatic hunter-gatherer tribes, an extraordinarily isolated group of “painfully timid” people ate roots and turtles and stored a heap of wild pigs’ skulls.” He basically kidnapped several islanders and took them back to his house on a bigger island – and watched the adults grow sick and die. He ended his experiment by returning the kids back to the island, calling it a failture.
The island has an area of about 23 square miles and is surrounded by a natural barricade of coral reefs. It lies east of India in the Bay of Bengal, and is home to between 40 and 500 Sentinelese, although it’s impossible to estimate exact numbers.
Over the next century, few outsiders ever returned. North Sentinel Island was a bushy, hilly world unto itself, about the size of Manhattan. Just about anyone who dared to visit was greeted by flying arrows. In the 1970s, the director of a National Geographic documentary took one in the leg. The island was completely off-limits until earlier this year, but even then, visits were still heavily restricted.
At around midnight on Npvember 14, 2018, with a friend helping to arrange it for him, Chau rented a fishing boat for around $300 to take him near the infamous, access-restricted North Sentinel Island, located off the western coast of India. Early the next morning, under cover of darkness, Chau quietly rowed out alone in a small kayak away from the larger craft, inching carefully on calm seas toward one of the most mysterious islands in the world, which no man has been allowed to visit for centuries. He asked the fishermen to move their boat away from shore to avoid detection.
Chau’s stated goal was simple. This was no vacation, nor a social visit. He had come thousands of miles from his home in Vancouver, Washington, to simply share the love of Jesus Christ with a people who had never heard of Him before. Likely few knew where he even was that day, and he made the last part of his journey alone. He wasn’t receiving donations to fund this trip, or any logistical help from any NGO or Christian groups. But regardless, he had made it on his own – and was so thrilled to land on the shore, leave gifts that he had brought for them: fish, some scissors, a soccer ball – and see what happened.
Chau’s riveting journal of his last days, shared with The Washington Post by his mother, shows a treacherous journey by dark in a small fishing boat to the area where the small tribe lived in huts. The men — about 5 feet 5 inches tall with yellow paste on their faces, Chau wrote — reacted angrily as he tried to attempt to speak their language and sing “worship songs” to them, he wrote.
One young Sentinelese fired an arow that hit a waterproof Bible he was carrying. Chau was able to run for his life and escape back to the sea, swimmimg back to the fishermen’s boat and spent the next day recuperating. He posted on Instagram both of his fears of dying, and his determination to once again attempt connection with them.
“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 Chau’s last words, written to his parents on November 16
On November 17, 2018, not only did Chau have the bravery and fortitude (or insanity, depending on whom you speak to) to actually try this again, but he once again succeeded on the second attempt to reach that heavily protected shoreline. He became one of the first people in recent history to actually connect with these tribespeople twice, and to once again attempt a brief conversation with them.
“Why does this beautiful place have to have so much death here?” he wondered hours before his death. “I hope this isn’t one of my last notes but if it is ‘to God be the Glory.’”
– John Chau’s last journal post
Moments later after coming ashore this second day, the horrified fishermen in the escort boat saw the tribesmen drag Chau’s body across the beach, having apparently killed him by arrows.
The story of his death has now made headline with every major news organization in the Western world, after his family posted this powerful message on his Instagram (@johnachau) account late on Wednesday, November 21:
This was to be THE most monumental day of his life – more than could have ever dreamed. He became aware that the tribesmen walking toward him with bows and arrows on the ready had just – stopped moving. He was still standing on the same beach, but his anxiety had disappeared. And he no longer heard the ocean waves lapping the shore, or smelled the salty air. He also became aware of a fourth Man calmly and deliberately walking down the beach toward Him. The closer He came to Chau, the more the scenery around him faded away. There was something so familiar about Him…
Then Chau gasped, and his heart lept into his throat, as the Man smiled, His voice booming…
Oh, JOHN! Well done,
good and faithful servant!
You came from halfway
around the world 4 times
and gave everything,
to tell a tribe on a small island – about Me.
I have seen your sacrifice,
and now everyone will see it.
John…the WHOLE WORLD is talking about you. You have inspired millions to finish My Great Commission!
Now, I’ve come to take you Home!
- Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15)
- Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Revelation 2:10)
- Then Jesus said to His disciples: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it;…
… but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25)
- We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”
(2 Corinthians 5:8)
- Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)