This comes after an evangelical missionary was shot dead trying to convert the inhabitants of North Sentinel Island. The Sentinelese will attack anybody who comes near to their island, and missionary work often harms indigenous people, so should Christians continue to try to convert them, or should they be left alone?
This is a great question @Reggie_O_Donoghue. I was struggling over this since I read it occurred. I think one might rephrase the question though in anthropological terms, not in evangelical ones. Is anyone so happy in their current state that they want to remain isolated and not share ideas? This is in regard to the government’s imposed restriction from contact with others, as if a unique expression of culture made some of us an animal of a different species. I remember reading a book by Chagnon about the Yanomamo in the Amazon, in cultural anthropology, about how he wasn’t sure he should even contact them for fear of changing their culture. (He wound up taking one of their 15 year old girls as a wife and bringing her back to the States. It did not go well). From time to time, BBC mourns the contact of the modern world with another undiscovered tribe in the Amazon. And “Through Gates of Splendor” describes how 5 American missionaries were killed we they tried to contact the Amazon Waorani. Steve Saint, the son of one of the men killed, has a movie series about how not to exchange ideas (communicate, don’t proselytize) which was quite enlightening.
I think if I were a Sentinelese/Nicobar/Andaman islands I would still have the same fears for my family, 50% mortality of children before the age of 5, desire to know what happened to them when my family (or I) died, and all that makes me human. Fear might make me kill, as they also did to others y
that approached. However, fear also makes Bolo Haram and other militants and Russians and Ukrainians kill outsiders. We all have a basic need to know truth, whether it is how to heal or speculation on metaphysics. Intelligence and flow of ideas is fundamental to what makes us human. I may not agree with what the missionary did or even what he thought. If he went, then presumably other missionaries (Muslim, Hare Krishna and all sorts) could go…but I keep thinking that isolation under a glass is dehumanizing too. There are lessons to learn in avoiding abuse. But I think that medicine should come, then education, and then free flow of ideas.
I remember all the fear I have experienced when contacting new ideas myself…from cults who came to my door to evolution and atheists…and realize that it is good to investigate, rather than wall yourself off. People are just people after all, and I am grateful to learn from each person and idea I encounter. Thanks for bringing this up.
In addition, yes, God expects us to compromise the Great Commission like any other thing–we should treat Him first as our Father, and others like we would want to be treated ourselves. Going beyond that is nothing in God’s will. As Macdonald said, creeds aren’t that important to God–it’s the trying to be like Him that matters. I think that God judges us according to our lights. What He does will be worthy only of delight and praise when it comes about–so that learning about Him will make this life even better.
George Macdonald’s quotes here made me think this morning:
"The purposes of God point to one simple end-that we should be as he is, think the same thoughts, mean the same things, possess the same blessedness.
"Any faith in Him, however small, is better than any belief about Him, however great.
"Not only then has each man his individual relation to God, but each man has his peculiar relation to God.
"The truly wise talk little about religion and are not given to taking sides on doctrinal issues. When they hear people advocating or opposing the claims of this or that party in the church, they turn away with a smile such as men yield to the talk of children. They have no time, they would say, for that kind of thing. They have enough to do in trying to faithfully practice what is beyond dispute.
"A man’s real belief is that which he lives by. What a man believes is the thing he does, not the thing he thinks.
“But if God is so good as you represent Him, and if He knows all that we need, and better far than we do ourselves, why should it be necessary to ask Him for anything?” I answer, “What if He knows prayer to be the thing we need first and most? What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer be the supplying of our great, our endless need - the need of Himself?”
“God hides nothing. His very work from the beginning is revelation–a casting aside of veil after veil, a showing unto men of truth after truth. On and on from fact Divine He advances, until at length in His Son Jesus He unveils His very face.”
Sorry-I got carried away. But I think that the commission is lost if we think a creed is what brings people to God. Acting like we don’t know His creed, to bring His creed to others, will teach them hypocrisy. Acting like His Son will free us to truly love. “It is by loving and not by being loved that one can come nearest to the soul of another.”
I think they should be left alone until the desire for contact is mutual.
NPR quoted my Latin America history prof. I thought she made a good point. It’s not the 1950’s. missionaries should know better by now.
I got the feeling reading that his motivation to visit had little to do with mission work, mostly was just wanted adventure. Sad, in any case.
Ed Stetzer had a good piece in WaPo. He gives the guy more credit than some.
Yes I thought it was a good read. Have you read Ruth Tucker’s post on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2018/11/28/john-allen-chau-a-missionary-historian-perspective/). Dr.John Stackhouse on his FB page also writes about this.
A question I’ve been pondering: does the certainty that my belief system is “true” provide the warrant to put others at risk?
That question chased me down this google epistemological rabbit hole, “Can a non-falsifiable belief ever be justified?”
Looking into the depths of that rabbit hole caused me to reflect that one does not (indeed the way of wisdom is to delay) coming to quick decisions about the numerous issues of the day which our instant assess to news brings via 24/7 news cycle. (Oh look a squirrel … Trump just did something outrageous I must stay up to date).
Good read . Thanks for sharing, as it gives a more balanced picture of what happened.
The NYT had an in depth account of the sad death of John Chau this morning. Very surprising that such a place can exist especially there. Somehow I expected it to be somewhere remote in the Amazon.
I sincerely admire John Chau’s heart. As Jim Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” He was looking for what was most important and trying to communicate it in a loving way.
Here’s a missionary, and others, who have been kidnapped. My sister and brother, who worked in Niger more recently, knew Mike Woodke, who has wife and children in the US and haven’t heard much from him.
Remember the Koreans taken hostage in 2007 in Afghanistan?
While we don’t agree with what he did, we can express sympathy with his family, pray for them, and learn from this occurrence about the important questions of what is important. Thanks for opening this thread.
Here is a great video on the historical context of John Chau’s death:
Very informative. I’d wondered how they’d faired during that enormous earthquake and tsunami in 2004. Then when I heard the low population estimate I wondered just how large the island is and what its natural resources might be. Obviously they must have adequate fresh water and natural coastal food supplies are probably good. But here is what else I could find:
Area: 23.04 mi²
Population: 39 (2018); (actual population highly uncertain) May be as high as 400
After watching the video I find myself even more sympathetic to their plight. Their survival may very well depend upon avoiding contact. (It seems that poor John Chau was aware of the risk he posed to them medically and tried to ameliorate it to some degree.) I read somewhere that before British colonization it is thought they visited and were visited by inhabitants of nearby islands which resulted in some infusion of new genes.
I wonder what the best way may be to prevent future intrusions there?
Oh, my gosh…
I TAUGHT AT CANIL LAST YEAR. If I’d been teaching one of the prerequisite courses instead of MA-level grammatical analysis, John Chau could very well have been my student!
Edit: Thanks for sharing the article!
The killing this month of an American missionary, John Allen Chau on an remote island in the Andaman Sea has prompted an international debate over the role of missionaries around the world and how police should respond to Mr. Chau’s death.
Mr. Chau ventured to North Sentinel — an island that is home to one of the world’s last undiluted tribes of hunter-gatherers and, by Indian law, off limits to outsiders — to spread Christianity there.
The NY Times would like to better understand how missionaries are reacting to Chau’s death. [Have you worked as a missionary? We want to hear from you]
Many of these tribes have good reason to be wary of contact with outsiders.
Bad things often happen in that part of the world when aboriginal people meet the wider world, or anywhere I guess. There’s more on the earlier history here:
I can’t stop reading about these people and thinking about their plight. That so many want to ‘help them’ translates pretty directly into assimilate them. It is natural to feel one’s own way of life preferable but to impose it where it is clearly not wanted and has been demonstrably destructive to similar tribes? That’s just wrong.
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