Foolish 'Zealot' or Compassionate Man of God? Portrait Emerges of Slain Missionary John Allen Chau
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More than a week after an American missionary was slain by a reclusive tribe on the Indian island of North Sentinel, officials say they've "more or less identified" the area where his remains are buried.
The Sentinelese, known as the world's most isolated tribe, apparently shot 27-year-old John Allen Chau to death with arrows before burying him on the beach.
Now Indian officials are trying to figure out how to recover his body. But first, they're reaching out to experts in order to get an idea of "the nuances of the group's conduct and behavior, particularly in this kind of violent behavior."
"They are a treasure," Dependera Pathak, director-general of police on the Andaman and Nicobar island groups, said of the tribe. "We cannot go and force our way in. We don't want to harm them."
Chau was killed by members of the tribe in mid-November. The young missionary reportedly paid fishermen to smuggle him onto the island, where outsiders are forbidden by Indian law.
Police noted that the 27-year-old was well aware that the Sentinelese were hostile to all outsiders. Still, notes left behind by Chau indicate he traveled to the remote island anyway, hoping to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the isolated tribe.
"I think I could be more useful alive ... but to you, God, I give all the glory of whatever happens," the missionary wrote in one of his notes.
Some critics, however, are reviling Chau, calling his death the result of his own foolish "zealotry," Faithwire reports.
"It was not God's will that he thought he was following; it was his own," the left-leaning Christian group "Unfundamentalists" wrote in a scathing Facebook post. "He didn't die because of his faith. He died because of his pride and arrogance and foolishness. He made a bad decision. Natural consequences are not martyrdom."
Dr. Mary Ho, the international executive leader of All Nations, the missionary organization that sent Chau, told CBN News he was "fully prepared" to go.
"Since he was 18 years old he felt a call from God to share the love of God, the goodness of God with the North Sentinelese. And every decision he has made in the last eight, nine years has been to equip him to love and to care for the North Sentinelese. He was extremely well-prepared in every way. So that is why we supported him," she said.
Ho explained that Chau's expertise in sports medicine and exercise science also equipped him for the dangerous journey.
Regardless, some critics argue the missionary posed a major health threat to the Sentinelese because any bacteria he brought with him to the island could have killed the people already living there.
Ho said Chau was well aware of this threat.
"Before he went to the island he got 13 types of immunization shots and a few days before he left the island he actually quarantined himself to prepare himself. He was well-researched and he took every single precaution," she explained.
Meanwhile, friends and family are remembering Chau as a compassionate young man with an unquenchable desire to take the Gospel to the unreached parts of the world.
"We had very good chats about how strongly he felt about bringing them the Gospel, including this specific tribe," Justin Graves, a friend of Chau's from the Canada Institute of Linguistics, told Faithwire. "That's what stuck out to me about him."
"More than anything, he cared about people," he noted. "His love for the kids he worked with in his soccer program was very clear. He especially loved talking about those unreached people groups that he thought really needed the Gospel."
However, Graves believes Chau erred in his ways.
“What he did here was not wise,” Graves told Faithwire. “As I mourn for him, I question the theological assumptions and missiological methods present within much of the world today that may have influenced his decision.”
“I respected John and his passion,” Graves added, “but this cannot be a role model to emulate, but a lesson to learn from.”
Meanwhile, his family continues to reel from the news of Chau's passing, saying in a statement that "words cannot express the sadness we have experienced."
"He loved God, life and helping those in need, and he had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people. We forgive those reportedly responsible for his death," the family wrote.
So far, officials have arrested seven people who helped sneak Chau onto the island. They have been charged with culpable homicide.
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