John Chau, American Missionary, and the Uncontacted Tribe | GQ
Voici la triste histoire d’un jeune homme sérieux et doué qui a mis en danger l’existence d’une des dernières tribus vivant sans relations avec la civilisation capitaliste. Les détails de l’histoire font comprendre l’énorme danger auxquel nous sommes tous exposés à cause des croyances irrationnelles de la classe dominante étatsunienne.
When a 26-year-old American missionary set out for a lush island in the Indian Ocean last year, it was with one objective in mind: to convert the uncontacted Sentinelese tribe, who had lived for centuries in isolation, free from modern technology, disease, and religion. John Chau’s mission had ambitions for a great awakening, but what awaited instead was tragedy.
By Doug Bock Clark, August 22, 2019
1. First Contact
For 11 days in November 2018, John Chau lived mostly in darkness. While a cyclone thrashed the Bay of Bengal, Chau quarantined himself inside a safe house in the tropical backwater of Port Blair, India, never stepping outside to enjoy sunlight. The 26-year-old American missionary was hoping his body would ﬁnish off any lingering infections so that he wouldn’t sicken the Sentinelese, a hunter-gatherer tribe that he dreamed of converting to Christianity. They’d been isolated on their remote island for enough centuries that they’d never developed modern antibodies. Even the common cold could devastate them.
During this retreat Chau kept his mountain climber’s body hard with triangle push-ups, leg tucks, and body squats. But it was his soul that he primarily fortiﬁed, with prayer and by reading a history of the tribulations faced by pioneering American missionaries in Southeast Asia, who were an inspiration to him. “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,” he wrote in his diary. “May Your Kingdom, Your Rule and Reign come now to North Sentinel Island.”
After the storm ﬁnally passed, a crew of local Christians hid Chau on their 30-foot open wooden boat and struck out under darkness for the most extreme outcrop of the Andaman archipelago, on a route presumably meant to resemble that of a normal ﬁshing expedition. As they dodged other craft, Chau recorded, “The Milky Way was above and God Himself was shielding us from the Coast Guard and Navy patrols.” The Indian government bans contact with the Sentinelese as a way of protecting them from outsiders—and outsiders from them. The Sentinelese have maintained their independence by frequently repelling foreigners from their shoreline with eight-foot-long arrows.
Bioluminescent plankton illuminated ﬁsh jumping “like darting mermaids” as the boat motored more than 60 miles. Sometime before 4:30 a.m., the crew noted three bonﬁres on a distant beach and then anchored outside the island’s barrier reef. While resting, eyes shut but not asleep, Chau had “a vision as I’ve never had one before,” of a meteorite—possibly representing himself—streaking toward a “frightening city with jagged spires,” seemingly Sentinel Island. Then “a whitish light ﬁlled [the city] and all the frightening bits melted away.” He couldn’t help wondering in his diary: “LORD is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had a chance to hear Your Name?”
Dawn soon revealed a hut on a white-sand beach, backed by primordial jungle. Chau off-loaded from the ﬁshermen’s boat a kayak and two waterproof cases jammed with wilderness survival supplies. He paddled a half mile in shallow water over dead coral, and as he approached shore, he heard women “looing and chattering.” Then two dark-skinned men, wearing little, if anything, ran onto the beach, shouting in a language spoken by no one on earth besides their tribe. They clutched bows, though they hadn’t yet strung arrows onto them.
From his kayak, Chau yelled in English: “My name is John. I love you, and Jesus loves you. Jesus Christ gave me authority to come to you.” Then, offering a tuna most likely caught by the ﬁshermen on the journey to the island, Chau declared: “Here is some ﬁsh!” In response, the Sentinelese socketed bamboo arrows onto bark-ﬁber bowstrings. Chau panicked. He ﬂung the gift into the bay. As the tribesmen gathered it, he turned and paddled “like I never have in my life, back to the boat.”
By the time he reached safety, though, his fear was already turning to disappointment. He swore to himself that he would return later that day. He had, after all, been planning for this moment since high school. It was his divine calling, he believed, to save the lost souls of North Sentinel Island.
2. The Calling
On the surface, John Chau enjoyed a normal 1990s childhood in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, playing soccer and performing charitable work with his church. Family photos show a chubby-cheeked boy grinning with his Chinese psychiatrist father in national parks, his American lawyer mother presumably behind the camera. But it wasn’t just those vacations that inspired his love of the wild. One day, while still in elementary school, Chau found a book in his dad’s downstairs study and wiped dust off its cover to reveal: Robinson Crusoe. The story of a solitary castaway on a tropical island hooked him on adventure tales.
As Chau matured, he mastered the skills necessary to strike off on his own adventures in the rugged mountains just outside Portland, earning the equivalent of an Eagle Scout award from an evangelical version of the Boy Scouts. It wasn’t just a love of exploration that drove him. Wandering through mossy forests caused him to marvel at “the beautiful creation around us that we are all called to care for” and connected him to God, like the Old Testament prophets who found the Lord while alone in the wilderness.
As posted on Instagram: Chau took public ferries to several outlying islands to test his kayak for his final trip to North Sentinel Island.
Chau grew up Pentecostal, a charismatic Christian movement that is generally considered intensely evangelical and conservative. His mother wrote that she worked as a fund-raiser for organizations like Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and the Ethics and Public Policy Center, which describes itself as “Washington, D.C.’s premier institute dedicated to applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy,” and then for many years on the faculty at Oral Roberts University, a historically Pentecostal institution. It was during his junior year at a small Christian high school that he underwent that American evangelical rite of passage: a mission trip to Mexico. Sermonizing months later, as seen in a video uploaded to YouTube, Chau said the trip helped him realize, “We can’t just call ourselves Christians and then the next day just be like, Yeah, you know, let’s go to a party and get drunk and get high, whatever, get wasted, and live a lifestyle that’s totally against what Christ has called us to do. We actually have to do something.” The skinny teenager in an American Eagle polo reminds his listeners that one of Jesus’s commands was: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” This passage comes from what is known as the Great Commission, and it is a primary biblical justiﬁcation for missionary work.
Though overseas missions might seem a relic of the British Empire, America dispatches a signiﬁcant number of missionaries abroad each year—approximately 127,000 in 2010, for example, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity. This number grew for decades because of American Protestantism’s emphasis on every believer’s responsibility to proselytize and the increasing ease of air travel, which has meant that spreading the Word internationally can be done over spring break. These factors have contributed to an explosion of self-regulated missionary groups that can seem practically freelance compared with the bureaucratized Catholic missionary orders of old. Chau would have likely believed missionary work “to be a divine obligation,” said Joshua Chen, a friend raised in a household with similar beliefs.
Among some evangelicals, few missionaries are as celebrated as those who work with remote tribes. After returning from his high school trip to Mexico, Chau was surﬁng JoshuaProject.net, a website that catalogs unconverted peoples, and stumbled upon an entry for the Sentinelese. Today the site describes them as a “hostile” tribe that “need to know the Creator God exists.” Before long he was conjuring the islet on Google Maps, promising that he was going to bring the Sentinelese the Good News. His father, Patrick Chau, overheard him telling others this was his “calling,” but Patrick later wrote, “I hoped that he would be matured enough to rectify the fantasy before too late.”
Indian anthropologists pass coconuts to the Sentinelese in 1991—one of the most notable attempts at contact to date.
3. Satan’s Last Stronghold
The Andamanese tribes, of which the Sentinelese are one, are “arguably the most enigmatic people on our planet,” according to a team of geneticists who published a paper in 2003 about trying to track their origins. The scientists found some evidence that they were part of the ﬁrst wave of humans to reach Asia, more than 50,000 years ago—which makes sense, as their appearance is similar to that of Africans. But if that theory holds true, Asiatic peoples, who arrived later, eradicated their forebears, except for a remnant in the Andamans. This would mean that the estimated 50 to 200 surviving Sentinelese have been refugees since prehistory.
Records from Roman, Arab, and Chinese traders, dating from the second century A.D., tell of Andamanese murdering sailors who put to shore looking for fresh water. In the 13th century, Marco Polo passed nearby and recorded from secondhand accounts that “they are a most cruel generation, and eat everybody that they can catch, if not of their own race,” though he was almost certainly wrong about the cannibalism. Consequently, most people who even knew about the Sentinelese were happy to avoid them until the British Empire established Port Blair, a penal colony for rebellious Indians, on nearby South Andaman Island.
In 1879, the 19-year-old aristocrat Maurice Vidal Portman was charged with overseeing the Andamanese and—drawn by whatever impulse has moved young men across the ages—soon led an expedition to Sentinel Island. At ﬁrst he and his soldiers freely roamed a jungle that was “in many places open and park like,” he wrote, and ﬁlled with “beautiful groves of bullet-wood trees.” Eventually they discovered some recently abandoned lean-tos and evidence that their inhabitants survived by hunting sea turtles, wild pigs, and ﬁsh, as well as by foraging fruits and roots. Portman, however, was not satisﬁed.
After scouring the Manhattan-size island several times, and having glancing contact with the Sentinelese, the outsiders ﬁnally stumbled across an old Sentinelese man with his wife and child. The old man was tackled before he could ﬁre his bow, and the whole family, along with three other Sentinelese children captured about the same time, was abducted back to Port Blair where Portman kept all of them in his house. (Over two ensuing decades of ostensibly civilizing the natives, Portman habitually photographed naked Andamanese captives, though it doesn’t seem that any of the disturbing pictures that survive are of the Sentinelese.) The old Sentinelese man and his wife rapidly died of sickness, and Portman eventually released the surviving children back to the island with gifts—and, perhaps, pathogens. “This expedition was not a success,” Portman wrote. “We cannot be said to have done anything more than increase their general terror of, and hostility to, all comers. It would have been better to have left the Islanders alone.”
Some have speculated that Portman turned the Sentinelese against outsiders. Certainly his misadventures couldn’t have helped. But historical records suggest that the Sentinelese had isolated themselves long before Portman, perhaps because Southeast Asian kingdoms had raided them for slaves. Regardless, the Sentinelese violently maintained their independence until the British Empire collapsed, shortly after World War II, and the new Indian government eventually realized that some of its citizens didn’t even comprehend they were Indian.
Consequently, in March 1974, a team of Indian anthropologists attempted to befriend the Sentinelese. As they approached the island, the anthropologists were guarded by policemen equipped with shields and shadowed by a ﬁlm crew. The Indians had brought three Andamanese from a friendly tribe to interpret. “We are friends!” they shouted through a loudspeaker from a boat offshore. “We come in peace!” Evidence suggests the Sentinelese’s language has diverged from those of nearby tribes so much they are mutually unintelligible. But from about 80 yards away, one archer bent so far back that he seemed to aim at the sun, then launched an unmistakable reply. In a recording of that moment, an eight-foot bamboo shaft, with an iron nail lashed to its tip, plunges out of the heavens, ricochets off the boat’s railing, and into the water. When the camera refocuses, a Sentinelese man is pumping both ﬁsts in what is obviously a victory dance as the boat retreats.
The anthropologists then motored up the coast, leaving coconuts, bananas, and plastic buckets on a deserted beach, and later watched as the Sentinelese carried away the offerings. But even that did not win over the tribe: The expedition was halted when the ﬁlm director was wounded in the thigh by an arrow. When the anthropologists subsequently tried to leave even more gifts, the tribe immediately speared a bound live pig with their long arrows and buried it in the sand. A cotton doll left to test if they would let a human-shaped object cross their beach into the island’s interior suffered a similar fate.
After that, anthropologists continued to make intermittent and unsuccessful visits to the island, and sometimes the outside world washed up on its shores. In 1981, a Panamanian freighter ran aground on the barrier reef during a storm. A few days later, a lookout spotted about 50 naked “wild men” waving bows and arrows on the beach. As described in The American Scholar, the crew then radioed the Regent Shipping Company’s Hong Kong office and begged for an airdrop of guns: “Worrying they will board us at sunset. All crew members’ lives not guaranteed.” Robert Fore, an American pilot who was working nearby, ended up landing a helicopter on the ship’s deck in high winds and plucking more than 30 sailors and their dog to safety. Fore had ﬂown combat missions in Vietnam, he said, “but this was unique.” They left behind a ship’s worth of iron to be hammered into arrowheads, as well as tons of less useful chicken feed.
The most recent contact of note was in 2006, when two Indian ﬁshermen, believed to be drunk on palm wine, drifted ashore. Other poachers watched from outside the barrier reef as the Sentinelese hacked them to death with what were probably adzes, which an anthropologist has speculated that the tribe “must have endowed with magical power, to keep away the evil spirits.” When a helicopter investigated the deaths, archers drove it away, but not before rotor wind whipped sand off shallow graves—revealing a pair of corpses. After some time, the bodies were reportedly dug up and hung like scarecrows on bamboo poles, facing the sea.
4. God’s University
Chau learned this violent history while researching the tribe on his laptop. As he read on a missionary’s blog the summer after his freshman year of college: “The Sentinelese may be the greatest missions challenge anywhere!” Instead of being daunted, though, he appears to have tried to strike up a correspondence with the missionary, writing, “Hi! I genuinely believe that God has called me to go to the Sentinelese.”
Chau was attending Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Oral Roberts, nicknamed “God’s University,” has the stated goal of fostering “evangelistic capability” in its students. In 2018, the school sent about a seventh of its student body abroad on missions. Chau enrolled in History of Missions, a course in which he learned, as a syllabus put it, “a people-to-people strategy working from within the culture” for proselytizing. According to Dan McCarthy, a friend who said he took the class and later went on a mission overseas with him, this meant: “You learn the culture of those people. You learn their language. You blend in, and then you hope you get a chance to share Jesus because they ask questions about how you’ve been modeling His love. You don’t go in and force it down their throats.”
Putting theory into practice, Chau worked with the university’s Missions and Outreach department, under Bobby Parks, a boyishly handsome and enthusiastic 30-something. Chau helped Parks coach refugee children in soccer for Park’s not-for-proﬁt organization and perform local missions. Parks would later describe on social media his mentorship of Chau as similar to how the older apostle Paul guided the younger Timothy. While at Oral Roberts University, Chau traveled twice to South Africa—once with Parks’s department and later to coach and teach “life values” at a Christian soccer academy, one of the countless institutions that accept short-term missionaries in the world-spanning evangelical travel industry. Chau also represented his faith closer to home. Nicole Hopkins, a university friend, said that when her sister was in the hospital for a year, John provided her with daily support but “never pushed the gospel on her during that season.” Hopkins said that a couple of years later “my sister became a Christian and she says John’s actions were a big part of her believing God is real.” Despite his conviction, Chau doesn’t seem to have been an in-your-face proselytizer; secular friends said he barely discussed religion with them. After these experiences, Chau wrote, “ORU missions gave me direction in my life.”
Other than his dedication to missions, Chau was basically a typical college student, albeit at a school without frat parties. He had an affinity for root beer, discussed Jesus for hours, and signed a pledge to abstain from “unscriptural sexual acts, which include any homosexual activity and sexual intercourse with one who is not my spouse.” Even in such a God-fearing environment, Chau stood out for his piety, making Hopkins “question whether or not I was as sold out for Christ as I claimed to be,” as she later wrote on social media. Despite his conservative background, he was “hardly the stereotypical, Bible-thumping ‘fundamentalist,’ ” said a friend, who came out to him as homosexual. In a message responding to that revelation, Chau wrote, “I see people as people, sons and daughters of God as their identity,” and said he would be willing to bless his queer brothers as much as his straight brothers. Chau was “an introverted social butterﬂy,” said another friend—reserved at ﬁrst, but forging many deep relationships over time. Hopkins wrote me: “I’ve never met a man who loved others so selﬂessly.” And yet whenever Chau could, he left the city of Tulsa—which he described as “relatively devoid of natural beauty”—for the spiritual solitude of the woods. He cultivated a backpacker vibe, sprinkling his speech with “stoked” and “rad,” and bulked up through constant athletic activity.
Upon graduating with a degree in exercise science, in 2014, Chau led a third mission trip to South Africa for the department run by Parks. Then, according to his personal blog, it was on to an autonomous region in northern Iraq to organize soccer games in refugee camps for Parks’s organization. After the high of adventures like these, Chau settled into a one-year AmeriCorps contract on a disaster-preparedness team back in Oklahoma. Staring at the gray felt walls of his workspace in October, he Instagrammed, “Never thought I’d be working in a cubicle. #reallife #whereisthebreeze #tooquiet.” But as he waited out the dreary winter, Chau laid plans for the following summer that would eventually take him to the Andaman archipelago.
When June arrived, Chau road-tripped across the States, anthems from the likes of Angels & Airwaves shaking his rattletrap car. In California he passed a month-long course to become a wilderness emergency medical technician that involved simulations with actors employing “tons of (fake) blood” and actual helicopters, which jazzed him with a “ﬂood of adrenaline,” he wrote.
Then, in August, as a ﬁnal test to harden himself before India, he embarked on an ambitious 120-mile trek through the Northwest’s Cascade mountains with two friends. Chau had plotted a route through backcountry that proved impractical, so they ended up trailblazing for two days over mountains—until they found themselves with no way forward except downclimbing a dry yet slippery waterfall. He later said that as he descended, “I remember thinking about how strong the contrast was between the vibrant beauty and life seen in view,” referring to the mountainous panorama below, “and the stark potentiality of death lingering at every misstep.” It was the “scariest” thing he had ever done. But the realization of “how fragile life is” inspired his personal motto: “Make the most of every good opportunity today because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow!”
Soon after making it out of the woods, Chau boarded a plane for the Andaman archipelago.
5. Giant Seeds
Improbable as Chau’s calling seemed, there was an outside chance that he might befriend the Sentinelese, for it had almost happened once before. In 1967, Triloknath Pandit became the lead government anthropologist for the Andamans and promptly started depositing gifts on Sentinel’s beaches. Pandit said his project “wasn’t idle curiosity. Whatever knowledge we were able to obtain could help us protect [the Sentinelese]” and ﬁght ignorant myths.
For years the Sentinelese had remained hostile, as in 1974, when the ﬁlm director was struck by the arrow. But after more semi-annual offerings, Pandit observed, in 1988, a “Sentinelese [who] started dancing with an adze in his hand” after presents were left on the beach. The next month, as Pandit and other anthropologists deposited bags of coconuts, some Sentinelese approached as close as ten yards. “All the Sentinelese took the gifts and expressed their joy through gestures,” he later wrote. “We reciprocated in kind.”
In January 1991, expecting nothing unusual, Pandit dispatched a junior anthropologist, Madhumala Chattopadhyay, to help lead a gift drop—and was stunned when she reported that Sentinelese had waded out to the boat to accept the offerings. Perhaps, she suggested to me, her female presence had signaled that the researchers didn’t have warlike intentions. The next month, the horn of Pandit and Chattopadhyay’s boat echoed at dawn. Later that day, about a dozen Sentinelese splashed out to them. Soon, Pandit and others were standing in the water and passing out coconuts. There exists a photo in which Pandit, in sunglasses and a tank top, holds out a coconut to a naked Sentinelese man, who accepts it with a single hand. For a moment, modern citizen and hunter-gatherer, both, held the giant seed.
Pandit was so exhilarated that he didn’t notice the lifeboat drifting off, making it look as if he intended to stay. Suddenly a Sentinelese youth pulled a knife from his bark belt and drew a circle with his other hand, as if saying, “I’m going to carve out your heart.” Pandit retreated and threw back an ornament of green leaves that had been given to him. The Sentinelese man tossed him a lifeboat oar that was ﬂoating nearby. The two worlds had once more separated. But Pandit was greatly encouraged and wrote in a trip report, “We felt we must carry a lot more coconuts on our future visits.”
The next year, however, Pandit says, he struck mandatory retirement age. Perhaps feeling the Sentinelese were more trouble than they were worth, the government decided to forgo any future visits. “I regret not visiting them again,” Pandit told me in his apartment on the mainland. He was now in his 80s, and health problems meant that he was unlikely to ever return. “I think had we continued for another year or so, maybe they would have extended an invitation to come ashore.”
6. An Incredible Adventure
“My life becomes an incredible adventure when I follow the call of God,” Chau captioned an Instagram photo of himself riding a motorbike down a hectic street in October 2015, soon after arriving in the Andaman Islands. “I’m excited to see where He leads!” Foreigners are primarily allowed to shuttle between seedy Port Blair and a handful of resort beaches, as much of the island chain is reserved for four hunter-gatherer tribes, including the Sentinelese. But Chau quickly began testing the archipelago’s security. “John knew it was illegal,” said John Ramsey, a friend. “His facade was just that he was a traveling adventure tourist.” As Dependra Pathak, the director general of the Andaman police said, “He built the logistical support and friendships he needed during those trips.”
Chau stayed in a $13-a-night hotel, with only a fan to stir the tropically hot air, and rode packed public buses to scuba-diving excursions, where he would question guides for more information that might help him get to Sentinel. Acquaintances of Chau’s—whose identities I have withheld, since the Indian police have asked them not to speak to journalists—described him as “enthusiastic” and “friendly.” He cultivated a wide network of contacts, from tourist guides to ﬁshermen, and strove unsuccessfully to learn the Hindi language. Most importantly, he connected with the local Christian community, a minority in the Hindu nation. He preached at a local church and in social media posts thanked Oral Roberts’s Missions and Outreach department for teaching him to always have a sermon handy, tagging one of them “#relationshipbuilding #missions.” Parks, his former boss there, responded: “Praying for you Chau boy. Proud of you. Keep loving big.” (Parks did not respond to multiple requests for comment.) Chau was correct in his assumption that locals would eventually show him the way to Sentinel Island, but after several weeks his path there wasn’t yet clear. He would have to return the next year.
For four years, Chau made annual visits to the Andamans, bringing gifts for a widening circle of friends until it felt like a “home away from home.” According to the Indian police and two local sources, he became close to “Alex,” a 28-year-old engineer who lived in Port Blair. Alex is Keralese, descended from a small sect of intensely Christian Indians who, tradition has it, were converted about two decades after the Cruciﬁxion by the apostle Thomas, who’d sailed on a spice trader to southern India. At ﬁrst, Alex warned Chau against his mission, but according to Indian police, Chau eventually won him over. (A lawyer for Alex said that charges had not yet been proven in court, and so the narrative of him helping Chau was “false for now.”) Alex introduced Chau to a small community of Karen, an ethnic minority from Myanmar who’d been converted to Christianity by American missionaries. During Chau’s second visit to the Andamans, in late 2016, he likely bused through the jungle reserve of a friendlier hunter-gatherer tribe, the Jarawa, to reach the remote Karen village on its outskirts. There lived the ﬁshermen who would eventually ferry him to Sentinel Island. On returning home, Chau had an argument with his father about whether he was following the Scriptures in pursuing his missionary work. After that, they decided to “agree to disagree.”
Now that he had an idea about how to get to Sentinel Island, Chau began to prepare with characteristic relentlessness for what he might do once he set foot on shore. A list written by Chau shows that in 2017 he read 47 missionary and anthropological books. In 2018 he read 65. He contacted several missionary organizations with reputations for supporting attempts to reach uncontacted peoples and missionaries who had actually done so, plumbing them for information. Chau even discussed with a missionary engineer using a drone to make contact, but he eventually decided it had to be done face-to-face. Any plans to make an attempt in 2017 may have been scuttled when he stepped too close to a large rattlesnake near the cabin he lived in while working at an environmental-science school in the California mountains. From his hospital bed he Instagrammed numerous shots of his grotesquely swollen foot, smeared in blood, tagging one of them #selfrescue.
Chau was still rehabbing when he arrived that summer at the Canada Institute of Linguistics, which runs an intensive two-month training in how to translate the Bible into new languages. Fellow participant Kaleb Graves remembered, “[Chau] was the center of just about every conversation when he was comfortable,” and other aspiring missionaries were drawn to his “sense that every second was an adventure.” And yet Graves remembered that Chau also seemed “outside the norm” of the class, and they bonded while avoiding communal chapel and discussing how “all chapels feel exactly the same—you’ve heard that sermon, you’ve sung those songs—and you know time alone is the best way to encounter God.” Graves noted that Chau would often take long solitary hikes. “He seemed sort of lonely, despite everything,” Graves said. “If you think you have this one monumental divine task, but you can’t share it, you’ve got to cover up that loneliness, and maybe that’s why he was so friendly with everyone.” Chau’s friend Ramsey said, “John received a fair amount of attention from girls,” but “he didn’t want any romantic attachments because he was focused on his mission—and he was afraid that a heart could get broken.”
Since Chau had acquired some basic tools to try to crack the Sentinelese language, there was just one more form of training he would undergo. Later that summer, when Chau visited Ramsey’s home, the two friends had a heart-to-heart. Ramsey asked him, “What are you going to do with your life, bro?” Though Chau had previously described his missionary hopes in general terms, now he explained his speciﬁc calling to the Sentinelese. Even more, he asked Ramsey and Ramsey’s mother, who was a trained editor, to look over his application to All Nations, an organization that supports missionaries targeting “neglected peoples” in places where such work can be illegal or dangerous. Chau had long known of All Nations: His first Oral Roberts mission trip to South Africa had also been supported by All Nations. Ramsey said there wasn’t any point in trying to dissuade Chau from going: “He’d already made the decision.”
In the fall of 2017, Chau attended an All Nations program, one of the many unregulated missionary courses in America. As the New York Times reported, Chau’s training culminated with him hiking several hours through an area south of Kansas City. When he managed to track down a mocked-up tribal village, Americans dressed in secondhand clothes threatened him with spears and babbled an unintelligible language to simulate what he might experience on Sentinel Island. Chau distinguished himself as “one of the best participants in this experience that we have ever had,” the international executive leader of All Nations told the Times. (All Nations disputed the Times’ description of the event, explaining that no weapons were used and that it trained participants “to share the Good News of Jesus in a way that is cross-culturally sensitive,” but said that it had not raised its concerns directly with the newspaper.) Then he took one more preparatory trip to the Andamans, in early 2018.
Finally, as autumn arrived that year, Chau said goodbye to his siblings and parents, knowing it could be for the last time. Since he ﬁrst began to speak of going to Sentinel Island while in his teens, his parents had encouraged him to pursue medicine instead, or, failing that, to save souls in a less dangerous location. His father, Patrick, wrote in an essay about him, the existence of which was ﬁrst reported by Outside, “John became the victim when my [inﬂuence],” of a more moderate Christianity, “failed to counter the irrational religious and glamorized ambition of adventures of exploration.” Patrick blamed John’s immersion in the “fanatical evangelical extreme” on professional troubles that damaged his ability to be a role model for John during his high school years. John’s elder brother and sister seem to have happily followed their father’s path into medicine and a moderate Christianity, but Patrick noted that John was always different from the more obedient pair. John may have also sought his own path outside the home because of his parents’ disharmony. Elkanah Jebasingh, an Indian friend, said that during visits John prayed for his parents’ strained marriage. John’s social media was replete with pictures of him hiking with his mother and ﬁshing with his father, along with loving testimonies about both—but by the time of his ﬁnal visit, after years of arguments, parents and son had become entrenched in their views. Patrick wrote me that before saying goodbye, John “did not have a sustained argument with me, but only a few words.” Then Patrick cited a Chinese proverb that translates as “When words get sour, adding words is useless.”
On his way to India, Chau stopped in South Africa to see Casey Prince, an American ex–pro soccer player who ran the academy where Chau had coached during his ﬁrst Oral Roberts missions. Chau had stayed in Prince’s house on two previous visits to South Africa, and the two became so close that Casey’s wife, Sarah Prince, claimed him as “family.” He admired the Princes for spending nearly a decade living in and ministering to Cape Town’s poorer communities, and now he sought their advice on integrating with the Sentinelese. When Chau had described his calling during previous visits, Casey had privately doubted whether his plan was possible, but “I now saw [John] was totally serious,” he said. They discussed how Chau would need to spend years learning the tribe’s language and culture, and then sensitively introduce them to the gospel. “The best-case scenario would be ‘I’ll see you and all my friends and family in ten years,’ ” Casey said. “Success would still be a huge sacriﬁce.” Chau also received counsel from a South African missionary, whom he calls “Pieter V.” in his diary, who regaled him with stories of eluding Indian authorities and who, Chau suggests elsewhere, successfully preached to the Jarawa tribe in the Andamans from 1997 to 2003.
Chau’s final plan probably looked similar to a 27-step one laid out in a document that he had shared with confidants earlier that year. In the section “Initial Contact (2018),” Chau wrote he would overcome the Sentinelese’s mistrust with gifts and then communicate “my desire to stay with them…using pictures, drawings in sand, and/or drawings in waterproof notebook.” Once he had sufficiently learned the language and culture, he explained in section “Long-Term Contact (2018-?),” he would use “oral storytelling” to find “culturally applicable stories” that would “translate the Gospel into a context [the Sentinelese] can understand without Western cultural additions.” He hoped to identify and then convert a few influencers in the tribe, who would help him win over everyone else and lead an indigenous church. He even envisioned eventually dispatching them as missionaries to the Jarawa. “After all of the evangelism and discipleship has been passed on to local tribal believers,” he wrote in his “Exit Plan” section, he might paddle a “dugout canoe/kayak” to a beach near Port Blair. But if leaving the tribe seemed too likely to get him caught and expose everything, “I could potentially reside for the rest of my life on the islands.”
Soon, Chau’s month of respite was ﬁnished. He sent a final email to a select group of supporters, saying goodbye, asking for prayers, and offering updates on his plans. Signing off, he described seeing outside of Cape Town a “horrific car crash” that had resulted in several corpses. “It was a stark reminder to me of how fragile our lives on earth are,” he wrote. Then he paraphrased Ephesians, “Use your time carefully…. Understand what the Lord Jesus wants you to do, and do it.” Throughout the letter, he sounds like a man who is confident he is fulfilling his destiny.
“It was weird, to have your hugs and part ways with him saying, ‘I could arrive on the island and get shot with arrows,’ ” Casey said. “It makes you think of what it was like for people going off to war in the past.” Before Chau left, Sarah said, they had several conversations about how he had tried to “check his motives with God, asking ‘if I’m just being an adventure junkie, or rebelling, or a religious extremist.’ But he just kept feeling that this is what God was calling him to do.” They also discussed the fact that though “he loved and respected his family,” he was going against the wishes of his parents. “He knew they weren’t at peace,” said Sarah, “but he had peace at the end, leaving them—he had given it to God in his heart.” When they separated, Sarah felt divinely inspired to share a psalm with Chau: “I will not die, but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.”
When Chau landed in Port Blair, in October, he likely already carried with him most of what he needed to go all the way: a collapsible kayak, two waterproof cases full of equipment—including ﬁshing gear, medicine, multivitamins, and picture cards to help communicate—as well as gifts, like safety pins, that the Andaman police believe he chose by researching what offerings other hunter-gatherers had appreciated. Shortly after Chau’s own arrival, Parks, Chau’s former boss at Oral Roberts, and another evangelical friend from college met him at Alex’s “safe house” apartment.
Police director Pathak believes the other Americans were there to “encourage [Chau] to feel enthusiasm” about the mission. They had timed their trip to see Chau off to North Sentinel, but once the cyclone spun up, they had to leave before the seas calmed. Chau waited out the bad weather. According to Pathak, Chau then paid the ﬁve Karen ﬁshermen about $350, a windfall in a country where a billion people survive on less than $5.50 a day, to sneak him out to sea at night. The next morning the Sentinelese rebuffed Chau’s ﬁrst attempt to save them.
7. The Biblical Shield
“I felt some fear, but mainly was disappointed they didn’t accept me right away,” Chau wrote in his diary on returning to the Karen’s boat. But after a quick meal of fresh-caught ﬁsh, rice, and dal, he paddled about a mile up the coast. Once he was out of sight of the Sentinelese, he buried his larger waterproof case so he would have a secret stash of supplies should the tribe accept him. Then he returned to the fishermen’s boat and outﬁtted his kayak with two more gift ﬁsh; his waterproof Bible; his second, smaller waterproof case; and his “initial contact response kit”—which included dental forceps, to pull arrows from his body, and a chest-seal bandage. Then he paddled back to the island.
As he neared the beach, he heard shouts and drumming. From the sand, about six Sentinelese began yelling at him in a language full of high-pitched b, p, l, and s sounds, seemingly led by a man wearing a crown of ﬂowers and standing on a tall coral rock. Chau stayed offshore, trying to keep out of arrow range, and parroted their words. They burst out laughing most of the time, meaning the phrases were probably bad or insulting, Chau thought.
Eventually, two men traded their bows for paddles and approached him in a dugout canoe. He dropped the ﬁsh into the waves and backed away. The men detoured to grab them. Chau discerned increasing friendliness from the tribespeople, and so he paddled very close to land as more Sentinelese arrived—most unarmed, though one boy wielded a bow with a nocked arrow. Chau kept waving his hands to signal, unsuccessfully, for the kid to disarm. The wind had nudged Chau’s kayak into the shallows. The canoe slid in behind Chau, cutting off his escape. Chau threw the two paddlers a shovel as a gift, but one of them still clutched his bamboo knife. The kid with the bow and nocked arrow approached. Chau ﬁgured this was it. So he disembarked to show that he, too, had two legs. Then he preached to them from Genesis, likely reading from his waterproof Bible.
Chau found himself inches from the Sentinelese man who didn’t have a knife. The hunter-gatherer stood about Chau’s height—ﬁve feet six—and had yellowish clay smeared in circles on his face. Chau noted a ﬂy land on the man’s cheek. Hastily, Chau handed over his gifts and, in his rush, gave the tribespeople essentially everything he had. Surely, the Sentinelese couldn’t help but be moved by his good intentions?
Then things started happening confusingly fast. The men grabbed the kayak and made off with it. The boy suddenly ﬁred his bow. Miraculously, the arrow struck the waterproof Bible that Chau was holding, saving him.
Chau grabbed the arrow and felt the sharpness of the nail-like arrowhead. He retreated, shouting and stumbling. The Sentinelese let him wade over the submerged dead coral. He swam nearly a mile back to the boat, thinking in his panic that rocks in the bay were pursuing canoes. Back on board, he confronted the fact that he had lost his kayak and had no access to any of his supplies. Though, he journaled, “I’m grateful that I still have the written Word of God.” Chau now had to make a momentous choice alone. “It’s weird—actually no, it’s natural: I’m scared. There, I said it,” he wrote in his diary, his handwriting becoming increasingly agitated. “I DON’T WANT to Die! Would it be wiser to leave and let someone else continue?”
8. The First One to Heaven
The sun smoldered on the waves. Chau prayed. Practically anyone else would have asked the ﬁshermen to return to Port Blair, but judge the situation from Chau’s point of view. He considered the Sentinelese to be living in “Satan’s last stronghold” and destined for hell unless he rescued them for heaven. To him, there could have been no greater act of love than risking his life to save them from eternal torment. Even more, according to police director Pathak, he indicated to the ﬁshermen that the arrow striking the Bible was a sign of God’s protection. “John assumed that they wouldn’t automatically welcome him and that the only way to win them over was to be like, ‘I’m here, and I’m not going away,’ ” said Casey Prince, his mentor in South Africa. And if Chau gave up now, he was unlikely to get another chance.
Chau knew he could perish if he returned to shore, and he was prepared for that. As Jim Elliot, a missionary whom Chau idolized, said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Like many evangelicals, Chau grew up celebrating Elliot, whose widely publicized story helped launch, in the late 1950s, the missionary boom that is still ongoing today. It is uncanny how closely Chau followed Elliot’s footsteps. They grew up miles from each other, hiked the same mountains, and formed convictions as teenagers that they were called to uncontacted tribes. Shortly after graduating from college, Elliot was lanced to death by an Ecuadoran tribe infamous for killing outsiders. However, after a few years, Elliot’s widow and other missionaries converted some of the tribesmen who slew Elliot—leading many evangelicals to declare the original mission a success. Should he die at the hands of the Sentinelese, Chau may have reasoned, he would simply be following Elliot’s example—and that of the original missionary, Jesus Christ.
But it’s also doesn’t seem that Chau viewed confronting the Sentinelese again as seeking martyrdom. “I can say explicitly that John wasn’t on a suicide mission,” said Jimmy Shaw, who taught the History of Missions Class taken by Chau at university, remained close to him, and was privy to his plans. “He was a person of faith. If he died, then he died. But he was a believer, and he believed he was going to get the chance to share the gospel with those who’d never otherwise have a chance to hear it. And that was the risk worth taking.” The mission plan he had shared with supporters also included his return. And not long before, he had told Sarah Prince that he hoped one day to have children and a family like hers, “if God wants it for me.”
Though the odds of success may have seemed daunting, after overcoming so many previous challenges, Chau may have thought he could beat this one, too, by himself. Or he may have hoped for a miracle. Pentecostalism, the Christian movement Chau grew up in, gets its name from the miracle of the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowered the apostles to convert foreigners by preaching in their languages. After baptism, many Pentecostalists speak in what they believe are similarly divinely inspired “tongues,” and they celebrate stories of modern missionaries performing Pentecost-like miracles. Chau’s friend McCarthy, who is now a Pentecostal minister, said, “He definitely had the gift of speaking in tongues,” though it is unclear if Chau thought that gift would manifest in this context.
And, ultimately, converting the tribe may have been only of secondary importance to Chau. For many evangelicals, trying to discern every twist and turn of God’s master plan is impossible and presumptuous. Instead, the best a believer can do is follow what directives they can grasp. “To John, the measure of success has always been obedience,” said Hopkins, his friend. And Shaw described a video, which he believed was likely meant to be shared only if Chau did not return, in which Chau declared that the measure of a person was their obedience to Christ. So if John had felt God wanted him to go, then he would have gone.
Whatever Chau’s ﬁnal reasoning, as afternoon descended into evening, he wrote in his diary, “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.”
Watching the sun burn out, Chau was moved to tears and wondered if “it’ll be the last sunset I see before being in the place where the sun never sets.” He described intensely missing his family, friends, and Parks, and wished there was “someone I can talk to and be understood.” He ﬁnished his thoughts for the day: “Perfect LOVE casts out fear. LORD Jesus, ﬁll me with Your perfect love for these people!”
The next morning, after a “fairly restful sleep” on the boat, he wrote, “I hope this isn’t my last notes but if it is, to God be the glory.” He stripped down to his black underpants, as Pandit had taken off his clothes so as not to spook the naked Andaman tribes. Then he stroked toward land.
The ﬁshermen motored out to sea, as Chau had requested. Pieter V., the missionary whom Chau had consulted in South Africa, had told him that he believed that the Jarawa tribe didn’t kill him when he landed because he had no boat. Chau also didn’t want the ﬁshermen to have to witness him possibly being slaughtered. The ﬁshermen carried away Chau’s diary and two letters, one of which was to Alex. “I think I might die,” Chau confessed in it. But he comforted his friend: “I’ll see you again, bro—and remember, the ﬁrst one to heaven wins.”
The next day, the ﬁshermen returned to the island. They motored along the coast, searching for signs of Chau.
Eventually they spotted something on the beach. They looked closer. It was a body in black underpants. And it was being dragged by the Sentinelese, with a rope tied around its neck.
9. A Strenuous Case
When I met police director Pathak in his office this summer, he described the situation as “a very, very strenuous case.” According to him, after discovering the body, the ﬁshermen had rushed back to Port Blair and, crying, turned over Chau’s journal and letters to Alex. Alex then contacted Parks, who in turn informed Chau’s mother. Chau’s mother then alerted the U.S. Consulate General in India, which contacted the Andaman police. In the subsequent investigation, Pathak had to decide: Could a people who didn’t recognize laws be prosecuted under them? Should Chau’s remains be recovered? Chau had written, “don’t retrieve my body,” and Chau’s family posted on his Instagram account, “We forgive those supposedly responsible for his death.” So Pathak decided the rights of the “uncontacted group needed to be respected.”
But though Chau was beyond the laws of this world, the ﬁshermen and Alex were soon imprisoned, before being released on bail. The lawyer representing them said that the punishment of his clients was “not fair,” as Chau went to the island of his own free will, and noted that Chau must not have thought about how the subsequent legal troubles would “badly affect” their lives. According to Pathak, the Indian police had also begun the bureaucratic process to request American assistance to talk to Parks.
The sufferings of Alex and the fishermen was the last thing that Chau would have wanted: He worried deeply that they could be harmed should his mission go awry. In his final email to supporters, he directed that if he perished 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.” This was to lessen the chances of “persecution of local area Christians, [and] the imprisonment of the local team members.” He explained that he had built a website and Instagram account that looked like those of an adventure bro to throw people off the trail. Instead of desiring posthumous Elliot-like fame, he preferred to be remembered as a fool.
As Chau had predicted, when the story of his death spread worldwide, in November 2018, the criticism of him was ﬁerce. Much of it followed the red herrings he had left, but information about his missionary purpose came out soon enough, once the fishermen confessed. Pandit, the anthropologist, said, “I felt sad that the young man should lose his life, but this was a foolish thing to do.” In the news, some commentators characterized his attitude as “puritanical, prejudiced, and patronizing.” Survival International, an NGO that advocates for uncontacted tribes, declared, “The Sentinelese have shown again and again that they want to be left alone, and their wishes should be respected.” The organization warned that by supposedly saving the tribe, Chau might have ended up destroying them.
The Andaman tribes numbered about 5,000 people when the British arrived, but today only a few hundred remain. These survivors are wracked with measles and consumed by alcohol, subjected to “human safaris” by tourists, and have increasingly become dependent on government handouts. When I joined a hundred-car convoy through the jungle reserve of the Jarawa tribe, crossing between Port Blair and another town, I saw 11 Jarawa squatting on the roadside and staring at the traffic as if watching TV.
This was “the danger of contact” that had made Pandit “worried about the future” when he ﬁrst handed the coconut to the Sentinelese back in 1991, despite his simultaneous excitement at the meeting. Pandit knew the poisonous fruit that seed could bear, because he had already led the acculturation of a Jarawa clan. In the mid-1970s he felt he had no choice; they were fatally ambushing settlers on the outskirts of Port Blair. He won their trust with gifts and then lived with them for stints before imposing government oversight. When I interviewed him this year, however, he clearly thought they had suffered from the decades of contact. “Once, they laughed so much more than us,” he said. He thinks that the Sentinelese probably have had a happy life, similar to that of the Jarawa, before his arrival, easily fulﬁlling their needs in their tropical Eden. Hunter-gatherers are often called “the original affluent society,” as anthropologists have found they average only three to ﬁve hours of work a day, are more egalitarian, and have fewer mental health issues. (Although it is important not to romanticize their shorter life spans and other disadvantages.) Ultimately it’s not that Pandit thinks the Sentinelese should be barred from modernizing, only that they have the human right to choose whether to do so—and they have conscientiously objected. “Change should be for the better,” Pandit said. “But if we as an external force bring the change, are we sure we are helping?”
Though the Sentinelese have no knowledge of what has happened outside their barrier reef, they seem to have intuited Pandit’s fears. And they have adopted a defensive strategy that has preserved them as one of the approximately 100 uncontacted groups still abiding on earth.
10. A Rebellious People
As harshly as some individuals criticized Chau, I was struck by how often people who knew him described him as a considerate, capable young man. Even those who didn’t agree with his ﬁnal actions grieved. As Nathan Fairchild, his boss at the environmental camp in California, told me through tears: “There’s a tendency when people pass away to knight them, but even when John was living, everyone would have praised him the same way.”
Many evangelicals were outspoken in celebrating his sacriﬁce. “There was no colonial intention,” said Ramsey, Chau’s friend. “[John’s] motivation was love for these people.… I think he’s up there in heaven.” Oral Roberts University released a statement that concluded: “We are not surprised that John would try to reach out to these isolated people in order to share God’s love. We are deeply saddened to hear of his death.” Parks, Chau’s boss, wrote on social media that Chau was “one of the best and most selﬂess human beings there ever was.” Many Christians spoke of being inspired to do missions themselves—missions that might reach all the way to Sentinel Island. On the Facebook page “I Admire John Allen Chau,” a post described a young American declaring at a missionary conference, “I am called to go to the people JOHN Allen Chau tried to reach.” Ramsey said, “I could see John as a modern Jim Elliot, someone who made a greater impact in death than life.” At All Nations’ annual fund-raiser in April 2019, the organization celebrated Chau and featured as the keynote speaker the grandson of a missionary pilot who perished alongside Elliot.
And yet not all Christians supported Chau’s actions, including many prominent evangelicals, such as the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “Christian missionary work has evolved over the ages, and it is now profoundly important for missionaries to be sensitive to the culture of the people they are sent to,” said Ben Witherington III, a professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. “Chau is a pretty classic example of how not to do missions in the 21st century.” Some ﬁeld missionaries criticized Chau as insensitive, ineffective, and even ignorant of biblical directives. As Mark 6:11 commands: “And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” The detractors and supporters of Chau often seemed to be screaming past one another about different realities. Where some people saw a sensitive missionary prepared by years of training, others saw an overconﬁdent, underprepared young American cheered to his death by his mentors.
One recent afternoon, while pondering all this, I ﬂipped open an edition of the waterproof Bible that had stopped the arrow the Sentinelese boy had ﬁred at Chau. He recorded the verses that the shaft broke on, which conclude in Isaiah 65:1–65:2: “I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts.”
While Chau didn’t record if he interpreted the “rebellious people” as the Sentinelese or if the verse impacted his decision to return to the island once again, it’s telling he swam ashore the next morning. And yet Witherington, the Asbury seminary theologian, who has written a book about deciphering Isaiah, said, “I don’t dismiss Chau’s sincerity or sacriﬁce, but the question is whether he interpreted Isaiah rightly—and the answer for that, I think, is clearly no.” Two more theologians confirmed that in the above passage, the “rebellious people” are actually those inside the church, as God is criticizing the Israelites for worshipping false idols.
In all my months of reporting, I never found any evidence that Chau even once questioned his calling. His certainty was so absolute that he was willing to bet not only his life on it but the lives of the Sentinelese. (Multiple doctors have stated that his self-quarantine wouldn’t have worked.) But one inscrutable thing about religion is that while it offers deﬁnitive answers, believers draw different answers from the same words, and often different answers throughout their lives.
Patrick Chau, John’s father, was born in China, endured six years of forced labor harvesting rice during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, escaped to the United States, studied medicine at Oral Roberts University, which John would attend, and eventually brought John up evangelical. But during a weeks-long correspondence with me, Patrick described how over the past decade he had begun to ﬁnd biblical truths in the Confucianism of his youth. He came to believe that the commonalities undergirding world religions meant that people “not following Western religious terms could still be following the teachings of the Bible.” In this context, he decided, “the theology of the Great Commission”—of missions—“is the byproduct of Western colonization and imperialization, and not Biblical teaching at all.” He wrote, “I have no common opinion in faith with my youngest.” John “was not there yet.”
I wrote back: “But it seems you think that he would have come to that realization, in time?”
“Eventually,” Patrick answered. “I hoped.”
The central message of Jesus and Confucius that he tried to get his son to accept was: “Fairness. Do unto others as you would have done unto you. It is the only standard of right and wrong in the whole Bible.”
The morning of his death, Chau wrote his ﬁnal letter, addressed to his parents and siblings: “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.” He concluded: “I love you all and I pray none of you love anything in this world more than Jesus Christ.” He signed it with a scrawl that looks a lot like “JC.”
11. Christlike Love
We can’t know precisely what happened when Chau encountered the Sentinelese for the ﬁnal time. Shortly after reports of Chau’s death, his mother told the Washington Post that she still believed he was alive because of “my prayers.” She later declined my interview requests, explaining to acquaintances that she preferred to let Chau tell his own story when he returned. Patrick concluded his essay memorializing John: “This is [the] riddle of life I cannot see through now,” and then paraphrased a verse from the Book of Job: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Chattopadhyay, the anthropologist, speculated that when Chau emerged from the lagoon, the tribe would have likely warned him with “utterances and hand gestures” to go away, fearing “he would try to enslave them.” Pandit added, “The Sentinelese don’t go out of their way to do violence.… But of course he couldn’t understand.”
And so Chau crossed the line in the sand that the Sentinelese hadn’t even let a foreign doll transgress all those years ago. And of course they shot him.
A skilled hunter doesn’t aim for an instant kill with a relatively fragile bamboo arrow tipped with an iron nail—the human brain and heart are small targets and encased in bone.
No, the projectile would have been aimed at Chau’s large and soft gut. Once he was crippled, the Sentinelese would have charged in, wielding their long arrows like spears.
But before then, Chau would have had time to confront the fact that he was going to die.
And I have faith that he welcomed his killers with Christlike love.
Doug Bock Clark is a GQ correspondent.
A version of this story originally appeared in the September 2019 issue with the title “Contact.”