John Allen Chau

John Allen Chau - Christian Martyr

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John Allen Chau

John Allen Chau

Who is John Allen Chau?

John Allen Chau is the Christian martyr God used to begin the evangelization of the North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean. A 26-year-old American missionary, John Allen Chau (above right) died by arrows on North Sentinel Island on November 16, 2018. His martyrdom received worldwide attention, put North Sentinel Island on the world missions map, and inspired other Christians of his generation to heed Jesus' Great Commission.

North Sentinel Island

Who are the Sentinelese?

The Sentinelese (above and top left) are the indigenous people of North Sentinel Island, which is one of the last places on earth untouched by "civilization." Estimated to number fewer than 500, the Sentinelese live on what God provides for them in and around their island but have never heard the name of Jesus, let alone His Gospel. And they have reacted so violently to attempts by outsiders to reach them that the Indian government gave up, and in 1991 declared North Sentinel Island a no-go zone not to be approached within 5 kilometers (3 miles).

How and why did John Allen Chau go to North Sentinel Island?

John Allen Chau was raised in Vancouver, Washington and attended Vancouver Christian High School, where he began to express a desire to take the Gospel to the Sentinelese, and graduated from Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma in 2014.

Between 2015 and 2018, John Allen Chau made several trips to the Andaman Islands, which include the North Sentinel Island, to gather information, develop contacts, and confided to a fellow missionary his desire to live with the Sentinelese, learn their way of life, share the Gospel, and eventually translate the Bible into their language.

On October 16, 2018, John Allen Chau returned to Port Blair, the capital of Andaman Islands, and began to make final preparations. On November 14, 2018, he hired five local but ethnic Karen (a people from southeast Burma) Christian fishermen and their 30-foot open wooden fishing boat to take him and tow his kayak to the North Sentinel Island. They slipped out of harbor at night to avoid detection by the Indian Coast Guard and reached the vicinity of North Sentinel Island after midnight.

At daybreak on November 15, 2018, John paddled his kayak toward the island but returned to the fishing boat after being met by arrows from the Sentinelese. Later that day, he paddled up the coast out of sight of the Sentinelese, then dragged ashore and buried in the sand a large waterproof case full of supplies. He then paddled back to the fishing boat, loaded into his kayak a smaller waterproof case of supplies, as well as two large fish as gifts, and once again paddled toward the Sentinelese, shouting, "My name is John. I love you and Jesus loves you... Here is some fish!"

As he approached, the Sentinelese men on the shore shouted at him in their language. John stayed out of the range of their arrows and shouted back at them what he thought they had said to him, which made them laugh. When two of them eventually paddled out toward him in a dugout canoe, he dropped the two fish into the water and backed off while the men grabbed the fish.

Encouraged to see the men accept his gift and more Sentinelese gather on the beach, John paddled closer to them, disembarked from his kayak to show that he had legs just as they have, and gave to them as gifts almost everything he had in the kayak. He then spent some time with them on the beach trying to communicate and learn some of their words.

When he began to sing to them a song about Jesus, however, they became violent, broke his kayak, and shot an arrow at him, which struck the waterproof Bible he was holding. John escaped by jumping into the water and swimming back to the fishing boat.

At this point, most missionaries would have returned home. After all, a valiant effort had been made and death barely evaded. But John realized that if he returned home and the Sentinelese remain isolated, they will continue to go to hell as they die. Their everlasting destiny was more important to him than his earthly life. So he decided to lay down the rest of his life, however long or short it may be, for the Sentinelese. Early morning on November 16, 2018, he wrote what would be his final letter (below) to his family, gave it to the Karen fishermen, told them to return to Port Blair, and swam back to North Sentinel Island, knowing that there no longer would be a way for him to return to Port Blair.

As he emerged ashore, the Sentinelese again shot arrows at him. The fishermen looking through binoculars saw the arrows hit him but he kept walking toward the Sentinelese until he was martyred. Heaven recorded what he said to them and to the Lord with his final breath, which may have echoed the words of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who also was promoted to heaven in a hail of projectiles:

And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not charge them with this sin." And when he had said this, he fell asleep (Acts 7:59-60).

Did John Allen Chau want to die?

Aboard the fishing boat the evening before his martyrdom, he wrote in his journal, "Watching the sunset and it's beautiful - crying a bit... wondering if it will be the last sunset I see... I'm scared... God, I don't want to die... LORD let Your will be done. 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... Perfect LOVE casts out fear. LORD Jesus, fill me with Your perfect love for these people!"

Courage isn't the absence of fear but the presence of determination that overcomes fear. John Allen Chau's fear and desire to not die was surpassed by his love for the Sentinelese and Jesus, and his desire to obey Jesus' command to "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).

Then did John Allen Chau fail?

Had he been accepted by the Sentinelese, he may well have spent the rest of his life with them, sharing the love of Jesus, evangelizing, and translating the Bible into their language. And that would have been great. But in martyrdom, he accomplished even more than that.

What did his martyrdom accomplish?

The world map of every major missionary organization now has a bull's-eye painted on North Sentinel Island (below) and Christians around the world have begun to pray for the Sentinelese, whose conversion is now a matter of time.

Even more importantly, John Allen Chau's love for Jesus and people, his passion for missions and his martyrdom will inspire a new generation of (young) missionaries to rise up, as Jim Elliot did when he was martyred in 1956 by Ecuador's Auca tribe, which now worships Jesus, who said:

"Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain" (John 12:24).

Did John Chau want the world to remember him as a great Christian martyr?

In his final email to his supporters, John worried about the “persecution of local area Christians, [and] the imprisonment of the local team members,” including the Karen fishermen, and told his supporters that if he is killed, they should tell the media, "I am simply an ‘adventurer’…and please do not mention the real reason for why I went to the island.” He told them that as a cover, he had created a website and an Instagram account that made him look like an adventure seeker. To protect the Christians in Port Blair, he had left breadcrumbs and instructions for himself to be portrayed as a fool.

What was his message to those who can understand his motivation?

John Allen Chau Letter

"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. 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 worshipping in their own language as Revelation 7:9-10 states. I love you all and pray none of you love anything in this world more than Jesus Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria,*
John Chau
11/16/18  06:20
Written from the cove on the southwest-ish (more like west) of North Sentinel Island"

* Latin for "Glory only to God"

North Sentinel Island

North Sentinel Island