By Mark Ellis –
John Chau, the missionary that gave his life to reach a remote tribe with the love of Christ, took every precaution to avoid any health dangers to them, including a self-imposed quarantine and 13 immunizations.
“He was wilderness EMT trained and was trained in health,” says Joshua Johnson, executive director of All Nations, the missions organization that supported Chau. “He took as many immunizations as he could before he went. He put himself in a self-imposed quarantine before he went. He did not want to endanger the tribe.”
Chau’s November 14, 2018 journal entry was written from a “safe house” in Port Blair, in the Andaman Islands, where he quarantined himself.
“I’ve been in a safe house in Port Blair since returning from Hut Bay, Little Andaman for the past eleven days!” Chau noted in his journal.
Then a cyclone in the Bay of Bengal caused further delays to his plan. “Being stuck in the safe house meant that I hadn’t seen any full sunlight till today…the benefit is that I was essentially in quarantine,” he wrote.
In preparation to reach the Sentinelese, he spent much time in prayer and reading. He read The Lives of the Three Mrs. Judsons by Arabella Stuart, chronicling the sacrifices made by the wives of Adoniram Judson, who brought the Gospel to Burma (Myanmar).
Chau was inspired by the way the Judsons overcame hardships in their pioneering effort, which he contrasted with the harm caused by British colonialists, “who failed to be a blessing to the nations and rejected the commands of Jesus.”
The 26-year-old missionary overflowed with gratitude about the privilege of undertaking his mission. “God, I thank you for choosing me, before I was even yet formed in my mother’s womb, to be Your messenger of Your Good news to the people of North Sentinel Island.”
He thought God would use his multi-ethnic background. “Even my heritage points to you – me, an American citizen, part Irish, part Native American (Choctaw), part African, and part Chinese and southeast Asian – thank You Father for using me, for shaping me and molding me to be Your ambassador.
“Please continue to keep all of us indeed hidden from the physical and spiritual forces who desire to keep the people here in darkness. Holy Spirit please open the hearts of the tribe to receive me and by receiving me, to receive You. May Your kingdom, Your rule and reign come now to North Sentinel Island. My life is in your hands, O Father, so into Your hands I commit my Spirit.”
Chau firmly believed that God’s plan to reach the Sentinelese will ultimately be accomplished. “His plan will succeed and I pray that not my will nor my plan be done but only His good, pleasing and perfect will. Forever You Jesus, are to be praised,” he wrote, before his departure for the island at 8 pm on the 14th in the company of fishermen.
Their boat reached North Sentinel Island by 10:30 pm, but motored away from other boat lights in the distance. “All along the way our boat was highlighted by bioluminescent plankton – and as fish jumped nearby we could see them like dancing mermaids shimmering along,” he wrote.
“The Milky Way was above and God himself was shielding us from the Coast Guard and Navy patrols.” At 4:30 am on November 15th, they entered a cove on the western shore. Chau and two men jumped into the shallow water and unloaded two pelican plastic containers and a kayak.
Chau spotted a Sentinel Islander house about 400 yards away and waited for someone to emerge. By 8:30 am, he tried initiating contact. Chau got two large fish from the boat and placed them on top of the kayak and began waving to the house, while he stood atop dead coral in four feet of water. He could hear the sound of women’s voices in the distance.
Then suddenly, two armed Sentinelese men came rushing toward him, yelling. “They had two arrows each, unstrung, until they got closer.”
“My name is John,” he called out. “I love you and Jesus loves you. Jesus Christ gave me authority to come to you. Here is some fish!”
Fear momentarily overtook Chau as he recognized the men’s hostile intent. “I regret I began to panic slightly as I saw them string arrows in their bows. He threw the fish toward them, but the men kept running and were almost within arrow range.
“I turned and paddled like I never have in my life back to the boat. I felt some fear but mainly was disappointed they didn’t accept me right away. I can now say I’ve been nearly shot by the Sentinelese.”
After a meal of “dal and rice” Chau put the two big fish on top of his kayak, and a waterproof plastic case that held pencils, a medical kit to handle arrow wounds, picture cards, vitamins and multi-tools. It also contained his passports, a waterproof Bible, and some gifts: scissors, tweezers, safety pins, fishing line and hooks, cordage and rubber tubing, and towels.
He set off in the kayak toward the north shore of an area where he spotted a dilapidated structure and two destroyed dugouts via binoculars. He waded into the shallow water and affixed some gifts to the fish.
Then six “juveniles” suddenly emerged from a hut whooping and shouting. Not knowing their language, he tried to parrot their words back to them. “They burst out laughing most of the time, so they probably were saying bad words or insulting me. They were also yelling into the forest behind the hut,” he recounted in his journal.
Then Chau spotted one man wearing a white crown on his head that might have been made from flowers. He climbed atop a rock and yelled toward Chau.
Chau yelled a phrase in Xhosa, a South African language, and began to sing several worship songs and hymns in English.
They fell silent for a moment, then two of them dropped their bows and grabbed a dugout canoe and began to move toward him. “I couldn’t tell if they were truly unarmed or not. So still I got a safe distance away and dropped off the fish and gifts and at first they poled their dugout past the gifts and were coming at me, then they turned and grabbed the gifts.”
An adolescent and a young woman with bows followed behind the two gift receivers.
Chau waved his arms to say “no bad” but they didn’t understand.
The islanders attempted to block his exit. “Then the little kid with bow and arrow came down the middle and I figured that was it.”
Chau began to preach to them from Genesis. Now he was inches from one unarmed man, who was well built, with a round face and pale yellow pigment circles on his cheeks. Chau gave them all the gifts in his possession and they took his kayak.
Then something terrible happened. “The little man shot me with an arrow – directly into my Bible which I was holding off my chest. I grabbed the arrow shaft in front it broke in my Bible (on pg 433 Isaiah 63:5-65:2) and felt the arrowhead. It was metal, thin but very sharp.”
Chau stumbled backward and yelled at the young man that shot at him. Shocked and frightened, he turned and swam almost a mile back to the boat at the mouth of the cove.
“I saw the boat with figures with their arms up waving and I thought briefly that another group of Sentinelese had attacked the boat while they were watching me but thank God that wasn’t the case. Although I now have no kayak, or my small pelican and its contents, I’m grateful that I still have the written word of God,” he recounted.
He decided to rest and sleep on the boat and return to the same beach the next morning.
But Chau admitted in his diary: “I’m scared…There, I said it…also frustrated and uncertain – is it worth me going on feet to meet them?
“Lord…if you want me to get actually shot or even killed with an arrow, then so be it. I think I could be more useful alive though, but to you, God, I give all the glory of whatever happens. I DON’T WANT to DIE! Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else continue? No. I don’t think so – I’m stuck here anyway without a passport and have been off the grid. I still could make it back to the US somehow as it almost seems like certain death to stay here. Yet there is evidenced change in just two encounters in a single day. Will try again tomorrow.”
That evening there was a spectacular sunset. “Watching the sunset and its beautiful – crying a bit… wondering if it’ll be the last sunset I see before being in the place where the sun never sets…”
“God, I don’t want to die. WHO WILL TAKE MY PLACE IF I DO? Oh God, I miss my parents, my mom and my dad…I’ve never felt this much grief or sorrow before. WHY! Why did a little kid have to shoot me today? His high pitched voice still lingers in my head. Father, forgive him and any of the people on this island who try to kill me, and especially forgive them if they succeed.
Chau wondered what had caused the Sentinelese to become so antagonistic toward outsiders. “What made them become this defensive and hostile? Legends passed down through the millennia of their escape from a slave ship? Why does this beautiful place have to have so much death here?”
In his journal, Chau recounted a vision he received from God the previous evening. “Last night, I had what I’d call a vision as I’ve never had one before – my eyes were shut but I wasn’t asleep and I saw a purple hue over an island-like city as a meteorite or star fell to it and it was a frightening city with jagged spires and I felt distressed. Then a different light, a whitish light filled it and all the frightening bits melted away.”
It may have been a prophetic warning. Chau continued to wrestle with his emotions. “Lord is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had a chance to hear your name?
“Lord strengthen me as I need your strength and protection and guidance and all that you give and are. Whoever comes after me to take my place, whether it’s after tomorrow or another time, please give them a double anointing and bless them mightily.”
The plan Chau developed for the next day was to have the boat to drop him and leave for the day, returning at night. “If it goes badly on foot the fisherman won’t have to bear witness to my death,” he wrote. “Perfect LOVE casts out fear. LORD Jesus, fill me with your perfect love for these people!”
Chau’s final journal entry was written at 6:20 am on the morning of November 16th.
“Woke up after a fairly restful sleep, heading to island now. I hope this isn’t my last notes but if it is, to God be the glory.”
He added a note to his family: “You guys might think I’m crazy in all this 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 – rather, please live your lives in obedience to whatever he has called you to and I’ll see you again when you pass through the veil. Don’t retrieve my body. This is not a pointless thing – the eternal lives of this tribe is at hand and I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God worshiping in their own language as Revelation 7:9-10 states.
“I love you all and I pray none of you love anything in this world more than Jesus Christ.
“Soli Deo Gloria, John Chau”
Joshua Johnson at All Nations, admires Chau’s character. “John was a courageous and bold man, but also very humble. Above all he had a love for Jesus that was unmatched. He just wanted to love and obey Jesus.
“John Chau and All Nations believe in honoring other cultures. That is one of the core things we train people on, is how to honor cultures, to go in as a learner and to figure out who they are. I believe John’s intentions were righteous and good and he had years of rigorous training and planning to reach the North Sentinelese with the love of God.
“He didn’t go into it without accepting the risks and challenges. He cared about their well-being. He didn’t do it without wanting the best for them and to have the love of God within their tribe.”