John Allen Chau was ...

A missionary - a 21st Century Nate Saint
42% (5 votes)
A foolish adventurer
33% (4 votes)
Neither missionary nor foolish adventurer ... something else
25% (3 votes)
Total votes: 12
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Crystal's picture

From reading his actual journal entries I would suggest that his goal was to tell the tribes about Jesus.  (Note, there are some notable typos on the transcribed versions of his journal-read his actual writings) 
I don't know that stating that he was an adventurer/explorer precludes him from being a missionary when spreading the news of Jesus appears to be his primary reason for trying to reach out to this Island.    

Jim's picture

"I hollered, 'My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you,'" he wrote in his diary, pages of which were shared by his mother with the Washington Post. Shortly after, a young member of the tribe shot at him, according to his account.

In pages left with the fishermen who facilitated his trip to the island, his musings are a clear indication of his desire to convert the tribe.

"Lord, is this island Satan's last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?" he wrote.

His notes indicate that he knew the trip was illegal, describing how the small fishing vessel transported him to the isolated island under cover of darkness, evading patrols.

"God Himself was hiding us from the Coast Guard and many patrols," he wrote.


TylerR's picture


Agreed. I anticipate many on SI disagreeing. But, the man was foolish to attempt to contact a tribe which has a history of killing all intruders. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jim's picture

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.

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.”

Jim's picture

“All Nations is deeply saddened by this news and wants to publicly express our deepest sorrow for this monumental loss,” said International Executive Leader Dr. Mary Ho. “We have been in contact with John’s family and ask all to join us in praying for his family and friends during this time. We have been in contact with the U.S. State Department and continue to cooperate fully with all international, national and regional officials.”

A seasoned traveler who was well-versed in cross-cultural issues, Chau had previously taken part in missions projects in Iraq, Kurdistan and South Africa. He joined All Nations as a missionary in 2017 and trained at its North American headquarters in Kansas City, Mo.

“John was a gracious and sensitive ambassador of Jesus Christ who wanted others to know of God’s great love for them,” said Ho. “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.

“We remember too, how throughout church history, the privilege of sharing the gospel has often involved great cost. We pray that John’s sacrificial efforts will bear eternal fruit in due season.”

TylerR's picture


The article says:

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.

That doesn't sound like a well thought-out plan ...

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Crystal's picture

I'm confident we could pick apart his plan, or lack thereof.  However the question wasn't what we thought of his plan.  It was about if he was a Missionary or a foolish adventurer.  I think his writings clearly show that his priority was sharing the gospel in whatever way he could.
Was he impetuous and rash?  Perhaps.  Could his plan have stood some revision?  Perhaps.
Are there any groups actively attempting to reach this people group?  Obviously they couldn't be public about it since there are laws against contacting this group-but might I suggest that this young man was attempting to fill a void that he saw in the Gospel being shared to all nations.  

Is anyone out there attempting to learn their language?  Is their language "known" well enough to do so?  

Crystal's picture

Also- Note of clarification- It looks like the laws about contacting the people on the Island might be overblown-Apparently there was a legal change that allows people onto the Island now? I see reference to "forced contact" being out of bounds.  My guess is that Chau figured that he wasn't forcing contact-he was attempting to build a relationship (He was approaching the same dwelling each time he came based on his notes.) 

"In August this year, the Modi government removed the Restricted Area Permit (RAP) from 29 islands in Andaman Islands. North Sentinel Island is one of these islands. The RAP was removed with the objective of promoting tourism.

The order will remain in force till December 2022. This means that foreigners are no longer required to seek permission to visit any of these islands. So, victim Chau apparently did not commit any illegality when he entered North Sentinel.

The only problem was that the Sentinelese people don't like outsiders. They have lived a closed community life on this island for about 60,000 years, when they are believed to have migrated here from North Africa."

Crystal's picture

Another article (shared above) mentions that he has wanted to reach this particular people group and share the gospel with them since High School.  

Joel Shaffer's picture

 I think these articles that critique both the Auca Indian Martyrs in the 1950's and the Ayores Indian Martyrs in the 1940's can give us some wisdom when it comes to missionaries reaching dangerous tribes with the gospel of Christ and shed some light about John Allen Chau.  Although Jim Elliot has been critiqued for their impatience (among other things) John Allen Chau's lake of discernment and impatience to know and understand their culture was taken to a whole new level-for example, Why would you try to contact them all alone? Why are you trying to speak English to them?    Anyway, here are these articles:

By the way, I voted that he was something else.  

TylerR's picture


I just asked my wife and children what they thought of this sad event. They hadn't heard about this, yet. They each thought it was a bad idea. My 12 year-old said, "that was really stupid." 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Joel Shaffer's picture

Chau had made two or three trips to the island using a canoe in the days before his death. On these excursions, the 27-year-old would attempt to make contact with the tribe before returning to the fishing boat offshore. The source said Chau had taken scissors, safety pins and a football as gifts to the tribe to try and establish a rapport.   

Only 2 or 3 trips within days of his death where he brought scissors, safety pins and a football as gifts?  Nate Saint and fellow missionaries brought gifts for 3 months with the Auca tribe and it still was too soon to reach out to the Aucas.  However, Joe Moreno spent several years bringing gifts (among other things) to the Ayores before there was a level of trust developed and eventually this tribe became open to the gospel. 

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  Hopefully the next missionaries who attempt to reach the Sentinelese people will exhibit the same patience that Joe Moreno and other seasoned tribal missionaries demonstrated throughout the 20th century-learning from the mistakes of their missionary forebearers.  

Jim's picture

Coconuts, bits of iron, and plenty of caution is what anthropologist T N Pandit suggests as a means to recover the body of 27-year-old American tourist John Allen Chau who was allegedly killed by members of the Sentinelese tribe when he tried to approach them on the restricted island of North Sentinel in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. And Pandit should know.

Between 1966 and 1991, Pandit, 83, made several trips as part of the Anthropological Survey of India’s expeditions to remote islands in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and was the first anthropologist to land on the island and interact with members of the tribe. “If a small party goes in the afternoon or evening, when the tribesmen are known to not venture out on the shore, carries coconuts and iron as gifts, and stops the boat beyond the shooting range of arrows, it is possible that they will allow us to take the body. The help of local fisherman should also be sought,” he said.

Explained: Do not disturb this Andaman island

Anthropologist TN pandit who came in contact with the Sentinelese of the Northern Andaman Island gifting coconut to them. Picture Circa 1991.

Pandit, who was associated with the Ministry of Tribal Affairs until 2015, said that an estimated 80-90 Sentinelese people, who are the most reclusive tribe in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, still live there. “Many people have called these tribes hostile. That is the incorrect way to look at it. We are the aggressors here. We are the ones trying to enter their territory. What has happened is very unfortunate but I believe the tribesmen were trying to protect themselves. From what I have read, the tribesmen shot arrows at him the first time he reached out. He should have been cautious and patient,” said Pandit.

According to officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs, Chau did not inform the local police nor did he take any permission from the forest department or local administration before setting out to the North Sentinel Island. Between 1966 and 1991 – which was Pandit’s most successful outreach – parties of seven to eight people visited the North Sentinel Island regularly.

“On the first such expedition, we took a large team and managed to survey their settlements. We found 18 huts and bows and arrows, and spears. We left behind coconuts, which do not grow on the island, and little bits of iron for them to make arrow heads with,” recalled Pandit.

A photograph shows a young Pandit waist-deep in water, smiling as he hands over a coconut to a member of the tribe. Picture Circa 1991.

Read: Six days and counting: Key question here is how to get American tourist's body

In 1991 came the breakthrough. The tribesmen started trusting Pandit and his colleagues enough to show themselves and accept coconuts from their hands. A photograph shows a young Pandit waist-deep in water, smiling as he hands over a coconut to a member of the tribe.

Does Pandit believe that the Sentinelese could have killed Chau? “I wouldn’t like to believe that, but yes, they could have. During one of our exchanges with the tribe, the party somehow left me behind, knee-deep in water. A young Sentinelese boy stood across from me. He gestured towards my spectacles and took them. When I tried to get them back, he drew a knife and threatened me. I quickly retreated,” Pandit said.

He said there is no point blaming members of the tribe. “It will not serve any purpose. There is also a big chance closer contact with them will not only introduce diseases they have never been exposed to but also harm their culture and way of life,” he said.