A 26-year-old American missionary was killed on a remote island off the coast of India, where he attempted to share the gospel with the most isolated tribe in the world.
All Nations, a Christian missions agency based in the US, confirmed that John Allen Chau traveled to North Sentinel Island after years of study and training to evangelize its small indigenous population, who remain almost entirely untouched by modern civilization. [Update (Nov. 28): All Nations shared more details on CT’s Quick to Listen podcast.]
According to news reports based on Chau’s journal entries, the Oral Roberts University graduate shouted, “My name is John, and I love you and Jesus loves you,” to Sentinelese tribesmen armed with bows and arrows. He fled to a fishing boat when they shot at him during his initial visit, with one arrow piercing his Bible.
The young missionary did not survive a follow-up trip on November 17.
“You guys might think I’m crazy in all this but I think it’s worth it to declare Jesus to these people,” the native of Washington state wrote the day before in a letter to his parents obtained by the Daily Mail. “Please do not be angry at them or at God if I get killed.”
Indian police have not retrieved the young missionary’s body and, since contact with the indigenous tribes in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago is prohibited, cannot prosecute his murderers.
The Sentinelese were known to refuse outside contact and attack anyone who stepped on their island.
Some have declared Chau a martyr and compared him to Jim Elliot, who was famously killed at age 28 while attempting to evangelize an isolated indigenous group in Ecuador. [Update (Nov. 28): A biographer of Elisabeth Elliot assessed the analogy for CT.]
“John was a gracious and sensitive ambassador of Jesus Christ who wanted others to know of God’s great love for them,” said Mary Ho, international executive leader of All Nations, which says it trains and supports 150 missionaries in 31 countries, including India.
“As we grieve for our friend, and pray for all those who mourn his death, we also know that he would want us to pray for those who may have been responsible for his death.”
This was Chau’s third visit to the Andaman and Nicobar island chain. Its police chief called his recent trip “misplaced adventure,” but his family and friends insist that he knowingly violated protocol to enter the dangerous territory for the sake of sharing the gospel.
His alma mater, ORU, released the following statement on Wednesday: “Oral Roberts University alumni have gone to the uttermost bounds of the earth for the last 50 years bringing hope and healing to millions. 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.”
According to All Nations, Chau joined their organization last year, after serving on mission in Iraq, Kurdistan, and South Africa. The agency described him as “a seasoned traveler who was well-versed in cross-cultural issues.”
His family posted a tribute on Instagram, saying they forgive those responsible for killing Chau and requesting that charges be dropped against the fishermen accused of endangering his life by helping transport him to North Sentinel Island.
The Joshua Project, a ministry dedicated to tracking unreached ethnic groups, reports that little is known about the Sentinelese due to their isolation and hostility, but asks supporters to “Pray that the Indian Government will allow Christians to earn the trust of the Sentinelese people, and that they will be permitted to live among them.”
Correction: This article originally identified Chau as 27 years old, but All Nations revised its initial release about his death to say that he was 26.