A Christian thing to do?

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It’s not a new thing for Indigenous people to experience the determination Christians have to spread the word of God. Some historical speculation even suggests that the name Europeans use for us, Cree, is derived from a French word – “Kristenaux” – meaning Christian. It has become interchangeable with the name we use for ourselves: Eeyou, the people.

Christianity has been an influence on the Indigenous throughout the Americas, sometimes in a positive manner and at other times in a horrific way. A strange story that surfaced recently shows that this duality is still a current issue.

John Allen Chau became a household name last week for the way he died. Chau was a missionary who was killed while trying to “establish the kingdom of Jesus” on the remote island of North Sentinel in the Bay of Bengal – part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands that belong India. The island is home to an Indigenous tribe, the Sentinelese, who have had almost no contact with the outside world, nor its technology, religions or diseases. In an effort to protect this vulnerable people, the Indian government has made it illegal for outsiders to visit the island.

Yet Chau, sponsored by the missionary organization All Nations, ignored not only Indian law but basic ethics in his desire to spread the word of God. It’s not the only thing he risked spreading. Because of their lack of contact with outsiders, the Sentinelese have little immunity to the common illnesses that devastated the Indigenous population of the Americas after Europeans began arriving on these shores centuries ago.

After he first arrived on the island, Chau survived an arrow that struck his Bible – no doubt helping him believe in the righteousness of his mission. Two days later, however, the tribe succeeded in killing him.

Chau has become a martyr for many groups. Some, such as International Christian Concern, called for tribe members to be prosecuted for murder (a demand they later retracted). Bobby Parks, Missions Director for Oral Roberts University, commented that “John knew the worth and value of Jesus and His Gospel of love for all, no matter what it cost him.”

Despite his beliefs and those who supported his religious zeal, the reality is plain to see. Chau knew the dangers he faced and the illegality of his actions. Most disturbing is his arrogance. He certainly knew that he was making himself a deadly biological weapon against a people he claimed a desire to “save”.

We have to ask: was that the Christian thing to do?

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