John Chau, the young American missionary who died last fall while trying to convert the hostile natives on an island in the Andaman Sea east of India, caused quite a lot of international comment after he passed.
Most media moved on, eventually, but three months after the fact, the Guardian has come out with a late obituary that includes an interview with Chau’s father. Until now, Chau’s parents, who are based in Vancouver, Wash., have remained silent.
Finally, one journalist got the dad to talk.
When Chau’s death became international news, many Christians were keen to disavow his actions; Chau’s father believes the American missionary community is culpable in his son’s death. John was an “innocent child”, his father told me, who died from an “extreme” vision of Christianity taken to its logical conclusion.
All Nations, the evangelical organization that trained Chau, described him as a martyr. The “privilege of sharing the gospel has often involved great cost”, Dr Mary Ho, the organization’s leader, said in a statement. “We pray that John’s sacrificial efforts will bear eternal fruit in due season.”
Ho also told news organizations that Chau had received 13 immunizations, though Survival International, an indigenous rights group, disputes that these would have prevented infection of the isolated Sentinelese people. The Sentinelese, hunter-gatherers who inhabit North Sentinel Island in the Andaman island chain, are considered one of the Earth’s last uncontacted peoples; their entire tribe is believed to number several dozen people.
Why is the Guardian telling this story so late in the game?
The reporter explains that it took awhile to dig the truth up. J. Oliver Conroy is a New York-based writer whose major topics are “ US politics, the far right, religion, Donald Trump, US crime.”
After talking with people who knew him, and delving into the blogposts, diary writings, photos, and social media he left behind, a complicated picture emerges.