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Who’s to Blame for the Brutal Death of Evangelical Missionary John Allen Chau?

john allen chau

Oral Roberts University graduate John Allen Chau was killed last week while attempting to evangelize an isolated tribe on North Sentinel Island — 700 miles off the coast of India. Chau, 26, did not have permission to ferry to, land on, or evangelize North Sentinel natives. He broke the law, choosing instead to “follow” the “leadership” of the Holy Ghost. His obedience to God and the teachings of his peculiar flavor of Evangelical Christianity cost him his life.

CBS News reports:

Officials typically don’t travel to the North Sentinel area, where people live as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. The only contacts, occasional “gift giving” visits in which bananas and coconuts were passed by small teams of officials and scholars who remained in the surf, were years ago.

Indian ships monitor the waters around the island, trying to ensure that outsiders do not go near the Sentinelese, who have repeatedly made clear they want to be left alone.


Scholars know almost nothing about the island, from how many people live there to what language they speak. The Andamans once had other similar groups, long-ago migrants from Africa and Southeast Asia who settled in the island chain, but their numbers have dwindled dramatically over the past century as a result of disease, intermarriage and migration.

Chau spent his young life immersed in Evangelical Christianity. He attended an Evangelical high school and college, and was trained for missionary service by Fundamentalist mission agency, All Nations in Kansas City, Missouri. Mary Ho, international executive leader of All Nations, admitted to CBS News that Chau had discussed his mission trip with her and understood the danger and risk of landing on the island. Ho stated, “He [Chau] wanted to have a long-term relationship, and if possible, to be accepted by them and live amongst them.”

The first day Chau landed on the Sentinel Island, a young boy shot arrows at him, forcing his retreat to a boat waiting for him offshore. Chau wrote in his notes:

Why did a little kid have to shoot me today? I DON’T WANT TO DIE Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else to continue. No I don’t think so.

Chau’s second return to the island was his last. He was killed by Sentinelese tribesmen — yet another well-intentioned zealot who wasted his life attempting to evangelize people who weren’t the least bit interested in what he was selling. This tribe is known for killing or attempting to kill outsiders who dare to trespass. Chau knew this, yet he believed God was leading him to take the gospel to them. I am sure he thought that God would protect him. In one comment, Chau said that “God sheltered me and camouflaged me against the coast guard and the navy.” In his mind, if God miraculously kept him from being found out by authorities, it is not a stretch to think that he believed that all would go well when he came ashore to preach the gospel. After all he brought gifts for them — fish and a football. What could go wrong, right?

As I ponder the wasted life of John Allen Chau, I ask, who’s to blame for his death? Not the tribesmen. They were protecting their land from an interloper. No, the blame rests on the Evangelical churches, school, and college Chau attended. These institutions filled his head with stories of grandeur, of missionaries God used to evangelize the “lost.”  The blame also rests on All Nations. They filled his head with nonsense about reaching “lost” Sentinelese tribesmen for Jesus, ignoring the fact that Chau’s interaction with them could have infected them with deadly Western diseases, diseases for which the Sentinelese had NO immunity. All Nations knew about Chau’s desire and encouraged him to be obedient to God. Everyone who filled Chau’s head with Evangelical beliefs about the exclusivity of Christianity and the need for people to get saved lest they spend eternity in Hell bears responsibility for the young man’s death.

Chau was a True Believer®. His heart and mind were set on being an obedient, zealous follower of Jesus. As missionaries and martyrs before him, Chau was willing to die for the cause. Is this not the true mark of zealot? I am sure he heard countless preachers talk about being willing to die for one’s faith. Jesus gave his life for us! Should we not be ready and willing to give our lives for him? countless preachers have said. Much like Islamic zealots, Evangelicals — in theory, anyway — believe that, if called upon to do so, they would die for Jesus. I say in theory, because I highly doubt, when push comes to shove, that most American Evangelicals would truly die for Jesus. It’s easy to say, “I will not deny Jesus, and I am willing to die for him,” when in fact few Evangelicals are willing to follow Chau to the grave.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the death of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) missionary Charles Wesco. Much like Chau, Wesco threw his life away thinking that he was called by his God to evangelize the lost in Cameroon. Within a week, Wesco was dead, caught in a gunfire battle between opposing forces. Both of these deaths are, on one hand, tragic, but on the other hand they are unnecessary. No one “needs” Jesus, and the world would be better off if Evangelicals minded their own fucking business. If asked about Jesus, share away, but if not, keep your cult’s dogma to yourself. Do I sound harsh? I intend to be. Both of these stories have all the markings of cultism, no different from the Manson or Jonestown cults. Oh, Evangelicalism might appear more respectable and be accepted as a “good” cult, but their teachings can and do cause psychological and physical harm, and, in some instances, death. Chau’s and Wesco’s deaths are perfect examples of what can happen when some really, really, really believes, drinking glass after glass of Jesus-inspired Kool-Aid. Their deaths left countless mourners who want to know WHY? One need not look far for the answer. The blame ultimately rests on Evangelicalism and its teachings about sin, salvation, the Great Commission, and the exclusivity of the Christian religion. These deaths should lead preachers and other church leaders to ponder and question their missionary rhetoric, but alas, men such as Chau and Wesco will, instead, be venerated and turned into martyrs, inspiring others to foolishly follow in their steps.

The next time someone tells you that religions is harmless, I hope you will think of John Allen Chau. His religion cost him his life.

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 61, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 40 years. He and his wife have six grown children and twelve grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

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  1. Avatar

    Well said, my friend

    I was sad to hear of this young mans pointless death & thought how much better to have lived his life helping humanity in a meaningful way, rather than trying to spread his cult & it costing him his young life

  2. Avatar

    Absolutely, the appalling teachings of evangelicalism are to blame (yet somehow thousands of evangelicals hear the same teachings and don’t get themselves killed trying to proselytize). The amount of ignorance and hubris represented in this event is astounding. Ignorance in not conferring with professional anthropologists, linguists, psychologists,and medical teams. Ignorance in not considering the negative effects of his contact. Hubris in breaking the law and frankly, not respecting the people when they literally proved they wanted to be left alone. Hubris in thinking that his culture is superior to theirs, and ignorance that his deity was somehow going to break linguistic barriers and have them all singing “Jesus Loves Me” and holding hands. What happened to Chau was entirely preventable but it sounds like no one tried to convince him of the futility of this fool’s errand. Sad.

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    Aram McLean

    The family’s all about ‘forgiving’ those responsible for their son’s death, when really they’re the ones responsible for planting such nonsense in his head to begin with.

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    From the point of view of the tribe I like the old morality tale that goes something like

    Missionary to tribe leader. ‘I’ve spent months trying to find you, overcome almighty obstacles, just to bring you the good news of the gospel and through Jesus Christ you may be saved’.
    Tribe leader. ‘But suppose you’d died and been unable to give us this news?’
    Missionary. ‘The Lord is merciful, would have understood that you hadn’t been given the word, so you would then still have been saved’.
    Tribe leader. ‘So why bother telling us?’

  5. Avatar

    Even if you’re from Missouri, an arrow in the Bible should give you a good inkling that the Almighty is telling you to move on.

    I think John’s mistake was that he saw the Sentinelese as a mountain to be climbed, a potential trophy, and all the glorious churchy cred he would reap if he was successful, rather than see them as human beings that made clear to the world (and to him with the arrow to the Bible) they want to be left alone. The analogy I make is if a Jehovah Witness (Mormon etc.) comes to a stranger’s door and are told they are not interested, if they insist and break inside the house it is very likely they will be killed.

    Of course this blog sees the same ilk of glory seekers come here to try to get Bruce back into the fold.

    • Avatar
      Bruce Gerencser

      “>Of course this blog sees the same ilk of glory seekers come here to try to get Bruce back into the fold.”

      And I get out my bow and shoot them with word arrows. ?

      Great point about the Sentinelese being viewed as a trophy, a prize to be won. I call such things, getting a notch on your gospel gun. It’s a sick way to look at human relationships.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    This sounds like a smaller version of the Children’s Crusade. In that atrocity, children were so convinced they were carrying the Word of God that nothing could stop them from converting the Muslim “heathens.” According to at least one account, when the Mediterranean didn’t part for them, some unscrupulous sailors offered to take them across. Instead, they captured the young ones and sold them into slavery.

    Same shit, different century (and church)!

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    I don’t understand first and foremost how he could justify God endorsing him to break the law to travel to this remote island and to do so by bribing fishermen to break the law to do it. Now those fishermen who ferried him over are in jail. So don’t lie, cheat and steal unless it’s in the service of God? Sounds like more hypocrisy to me.

    Some of the Christian pages I follow are already dubbing this man a “hero” and “martyr.” One went so far to infer that this whole incident was God’s sovereign will and that he would use it for his glory and to spread his gospel. If this kind of insanity is God’s will then I am staunchly opposed to it.

    Just as a side note, we had a local family that suffered a house fire the day after Thanksgiving. The 29 year old mother and a 6 year old son that lived there died, and her 4 other children were injured. So to those who tout the sovereignty of God I ask how could this serve any purpose? Why would God who controls everything, who is omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent allow this to happen for any reason?

    It’s all one more nail in the coffin of my Christian faith.

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    This is going to be harsh, but I would like to nominate John Allen Chau for a Darwin award. He was aware that it is illegal to go there and then tried to anyway and paid the price. He is not a martyr, just an idiot. We can blame the system he was raised in as a factor in his death but ultimately he made the decision to go there.

    Mat Staver was absolutely gushing about him in his article about the whole affair, he wants the Indian govt to prosecute the sentinelese for murder but probably would not bat an eye if someone in america shot someone else for trespassing on his property. The man reeks of christian privelege.

  9. Avatar

    Trenton, I said the same thing to a coworker yesterday that John Chau deserves a Darwin award. He researched the place enough to know it was illegal to go there and paid people to take him under cover of darkness. He didn’t bother to consider what harm his presence could do to these people (hello, anyone who watches Star trek knows the prime directive). He thinks he can magically win them over with soccer ball, safety pins, fish, etc and can magically learn their language, the basis of was high no one knows. Je literally gets shot at with arrows. SHOT AT! The universal sign for get the hell out of here. And what does he do? HE GOES BACK. Darwin award earned.

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Bruce Gerencser