Missionary John Chaus Fatal Encounter With The Sentinelese Tribe Image Credit: GQ
Missionary John Chaus Fatal Encounter With The Sentinelese Tribe Image Credit: GQ

Missionary John Chau's Fatal Encounter With The Sentinelese Tribe

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.

Doug Bock Clark


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 the 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

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