‘Ex­plorer at heart’: Mis­sion­ary killed near In­dia loved roam­ing Pa­cific North­west

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - STAY CONNECTED - As­so­ci­ated Press SEAT­TLE

John Allen Chau spent sum­mers alone in a Cal­i­for­nia cabin as a wilder­ness emer­gency re­spon­der, led back­pack­ing ex­pe­di­tions in the North­west’s Cas­cade Moun­tains, al­most lost his leg to a rat­tlesnake bite, and coached soc­cer for poor chil­dren in Iraq and South Africa.

But kayak­ing to a re­mote In­dian is­land, home to a tribe known for at­tack­ing out­siders with bows and ar­rows, proved an adventure too far for the avid out­doors­man and Chris­tian mis­sion­ary. Chau was killed last week on North Sen­tinel Is­land, in the An­daman Is­lands, sit­u­ated be­tween the Bay of Ben­gal and the An­daman Sea.

Vis­its to the is­land are heav­ily re­stricted, which Chau knew, au­thor­i­ties said. Po­lice ar­rested seven fish­er­men ac­cused of help­ing him reach it, and

Chau’s fam­ily pleaded for their re­lease, say­ing he acted “on his own free will.”

Chau, 26, was from south­west­ern Wash­ing­ton, where he at­tended Van­cou­ver Chris­tian High School. He went on to grad­u­ate from Oral Roberts Univer­sity, a Chris­tian col­lege in Ok­la­homa, in 2014, with a de­gree in health and ex­er­cise science. While there, he worked with the univer­sity’s mis­sions and out­reach depart­ment.

Chau also worked with a non­profit organization, More Than a Game, a soc­cer pro­gram for poor chil­dren, in­clud­ing refugees. Chau trav­eled to the Kur­dis­tan re­gion of north­ern Iraq in 2014 to work with Syr­ian and Iraqi refugee youths, ac­cord­ing to an em­ployee of the organization, and he worked with Burmese refugee chil­dren in Tulsa, Ok­la­homa, for sev­eral years.

On Fa­ther’s Day last year, Chau noted on In­sta­gram that his fa­ther came to the U.S. as a refugee dur­ing China’s Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion. He also doc­u­mented his ex­ten­sive trav­els, post­ing pho­tos of climb­ing Cas­cade peaks, scuba div­ing on pre­vi­ous trips to the An­daman Is­lands and fish­ing in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

One of Chau’s friends, Casey Prince, 39, of Cape Town, South Africa, met the ad­ven­turer five years ago, when Chau trav­eled with mem­bers of the Oral Roberts soc­cer team to vol­un­teer at a soc­cer de­vel­op­ment and so­cial lead­er­ship pro­gram that Prince founded, Ubuntu Foot­ball Academy.

Since then, Chau had been back to visit Prince and his fam­ily or tu­tor and coach boys in the pro­gram about four times. Most re­cently, he was there from mid-septem­ber to mid-oc­to­ber, Prince said.

Prince de­scribed Chau as easy to like, kind, joy­ful and driven by twin pas­sions: a love of the out­doors and fer­vent Chris­tian­ity.

“He was an ex­plorer at heart,” Prince said. “He loved cre­ation and be­ing out in it, I think hav­ing prob­a­bly found and con­nected with God that way, and deeply so.”

Po­lice in In­dia say Chau be­lieved God was help­ing him dodge the au­thor­i­ties.

“God shel­tered me and cam­ou­flaged me against the coast guard and the navy,” Chau wrote be­fore he was killed last week.

In­dian ships mon­i­tor the waters around the is­land, try­ing to en­sure out­siders do not go near the Sen­tine­lese, who have re­peat­edly made clear they want to be left alone.

When a young boy tried to hit him with an ar­row on his first day on the is­land, Chau swam back to the fish­ing boat he had ar­ranged to wait for him off­shore. The ar­row, he wrote, hit a Bi­ble he was car­ry­ing.

“Why did a lit­tle kid have to shoot me to­day?” he wrote in his notes, which he left with the fish­er­men be­fore swim­ming back the next morn­ing. “His high-pitched voice still lingers in my head.”

Po­lice say Chau knew that the Sen­tine­lese re­sisted all con­tact by out­siders, fir­ing ar­rows and spears at pass­ing he­li­copters and killing fish­er­men who drift onto their shore. His notes, which were re­ported Thurs­day in In­dian news­pa­pers and con­firmed by po­lice, make clear he knew he might be killed.

“I DON’T WANT TO DIE,” wrote Chau. “Would it be wiser to leave and let some­one else to con­tinue. No I don’t think so.”

Alex Burgdor­fer, who lives in Eu­gene, Ore­gon, said he met Chau last year when the two went through a re­cer­ti­fi­ca­tion course for wilder­ness first re­spon­ders. The two hit it off be­cause of their mu­tual in­ter­est in travel and hik­ing and had re­cently been try­ing to get to­gether for a hik­ing trip in the North­west.

“He was an in­spi­ra­tion for me,” he said. “His en­ergy was pure. He gave you his full at­ten­tion and his full thoughts.”

John Allen Chau

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