The missionary position: Christianity Today’s interview with Mary Ho of All Nations, the organisation that sent John Allen Chau to North Sentinel Island

“My name is John and I love you and Jesus loves you.”

That’s what John Allen Chau shouted, in English, to the indigenous people living in voluntary isolation on North Sentinel Island. He had travelled to North Sentinel Island, on a tourist visa, with no permission from the Indian authorities to convert what may be the most isolated tribe in the world to Christianity.

North Sentinel Island is a remote island that is part of the Andaman and Nicobar Island chain in the Bay of Bengal. The Sentinelese are hostile to outsiders, which, as Survival International points out, is easily understandable given that “the outside world has brought them little but violence and contempt”.

When Chau arrived on their island, the Sentinelese fired arrows at him, one of them piercing his Bible. Chau fled, but returned the next day. This time, the Sentinelese killed him in a hail of arrows. They buried his body on the beach.

Chau was not working alone on his missionary trip. About two years ago, he contacted an organisation called All Nations, whose vision is “to see Jesus worshiped by all the peoples of the Earth”. All Nation’s mission is “to make disciples and train leaders to ignite church planting movements among the neglected peoples of the Earth”.

Mary Ho is the international executive leader of All Nations. She previously worked for four years with World Vision Taiwan, and World Vision Hong Kong.

In 2017, she received a doctoral degree in “Strategic Leadership” from Regent University, a private Christian research university in Virginia.

All Nations has missionaries working in more than 40 countries.

On 28 November 2018, Ho gave an interview to Morgan Lee and Mark Galli of Christianity Today.

This is a transcript of the entire interview. Sections of the interview are highlighted for comment and analysis. Conservation Watch’s comments follow the paragraphs with highlighted text.

Mark Galli: Well first of all Dr. Ho, we want to say that we greet with you and with your organisation. It’s never easy when a missionary is killed for the gospel, so how is your organisation and how is John’s family doing immediately?

Mary Ho: Thank you so much. Obviously here in All Nations, we have just been grieving for the last week. It’s been very, very hard, because we know John Chau, we love him, he’s very, very dear to us.

But over the world we’ve been having prayer meetings, and prayer vigils to pray for his family, to pray that his story, his legacy will honoured, to pray for his friends, and to pray for the North Sentinelese people that he loved so much. So, we’ve been mourning, but we’ve also really praying, a lot.

Morgan Lee: Would you be able to tell us more about these quote unquote neglected people that are kind of the focus of your ministry. Maybe you can tell us why you use this word neglected?

Mary Ho: [Laughs.] Yes, the term neglected was actually chosen by our founder, All Nations’ founder, Floyd McClung. It simply means peoples overlooked or neglected that still have not heard of Jesus Christ.

So, for example, we have worked in ghettos, or among prostitutes, gansters, refugees, muslim refugees, it’s simply any pocket of people that still have not heard of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Conservation Watch: This interview is taking place in the context of an All Nations missionary travelling to an isolated indigenous tribe.

McClung’s term “neglected people” says a great deal about All Nations’ attitude to indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. “Neglected” suggests that the Sentinelese need something from the outside world. But the reality is that the Sentinelese have lived on their island for about 60,000 years.

They have clearly shown that they do not want to be disturbed, and clearly they have the right to remain in isolation. Yet neither Christianity Today’s interviewers nor Mary Ho at any point mention the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Mark Galli: These are people groups that tend to be overlooked by most other mission organisations, or . . .

Mary Ho: I cannot speak for other mission organisations, but we do have a passion to take the gospel to peoples and people groups and places where no one else is sharing.

Mark Galli: I see, neglected in that sense. OK.

Mary Ho: Yes neglected in that sense. So it could be in an urban city, you know, in a pocket of urban city and no one is sharing Jesus. We will come and consider those people also neglected.

All Nations was founded in 1993. Floyd McClung is our founder. He was one of the international leaders of YWAM. And he’s written many, many books, including the “Father Heart of God”, and he established All Nations, because he wanted to take discipleship one step further, and to make sure that there are local churches that are led by local leaders, and multiplied by the local leaders.

Conservation Watch: YWAM Publishing is the publishing division of Youth With a Mission, a Christian missionary organisation.

All Nations Family, Inc was registered as a nonprofit corporation in Missouri in June 2003.

All Nations’ 2016 IRS Form 990 (the most recent year available on the website Charity Navigator) shows that All Nations had a total revenue of just over US$2 million in 2016.

In 2015, Floyd McClung was paid US$61,977 for his work for All Nations Family, Inc. For this, he worked, on average, two hours per week, according to the 2015 IRS Form 990.

In 2016, McClung received US$100,486 from All Nations Family, Inc, again working for two hours per week.

But on 23 February 2016, McClung fell seriously ill, with “a very serious bactrerial [sic] infection which led to him going into septic shock”, his assistant wrote on his blog. McClung is still unable to move and unable to speak.

Morgan Lee: So that’s something that you guys are really passionate about is raising up indigenous leadership and ministers in those communities?

Mary Ho: Oh yes, abosultely. We really believe that foreign missionaries should be in the background, we should be training up the local leaders who plant their own churches, multiply their own churches, make their own disciples, who make disciples, plant churches that plant churches.

Conservation Watch: This is an extraordinary comment in the context of John Chau’s visit to an indigenous people living in voluntary isolation. How could John Chau possibly be “in the background” on North Sentinel Island?

Mark Galli: So what do we know about the Sentinelese? I mean from the bare facts of the story we can tell that they are not friendly to outsiders, that they can actually be violent toward them.

Mary Ho: It’s just like you say, we actually don’t know much. And of course there are some anthropological accounts, that we can access, but a lot of that actually needs some level of validation and further research.

There’s been some writings on the previous contact with outside groups throughout history, and that may be a factor, but again, we are trying to check all the facts. You know, without really talking to them, we can’t really for sure know what is the main motivation, right? Because I think we are all guessing. But we need to check our facts.

Conservation Watch: It is true that we don’t know much about the Sentinelese. That is not least because no one outside the Sentinelese speaks their language and they have resisted contact with the outside world. The outside world must respect their right to be left alone, rather than “really talking to them”.

As Survival International notes, “Neighboring tribes were wiped out after the British colonized their islands, and they lack immunity to common diseases like flu or measles, which would decimate their population.”

Mark Galli: OK.

Morgan Lee: How would a group like the people on North Sentinel Island become not only on your radar, but become a group that you guys would say, like, these are people that we really want to reach?

Mary Ho: Well, in this case, All Nations missionary John Chau, he first contacted us about two years ago, and he’s a very interesting young man. Very focussed.

Since he was about 18 years old, I believe, he took a mission trip and on that mission trip he really felt a call to be a missionary. And around that time, he started researching on the different people groups and he came across the North Sentinelese people.

He really felt that this was his life call. That his life call was to take the love and the goodness of Jesus Christ to the North Sentinelese. Since then, every single decision he has made has been to thoroughly prepare himself for this life call and to prepare him to love and to care for the people well.

As you pointed out earlier, All Nations missionary John Chau, he graduated from Oral Roberts University. He majored in sports medicine, and health, and exercise science. Later he got trained as a wilderness EMT [Emergency Medical Technician], worked at a national park, got trained in linguistics by SIL which is probably just about the best place to get trained in linguistics.

He became acquainted with all the writings on cultural anthropology.

Conservation Watch: Chau’s “life call” did not take into account the impact that he would have on the Sentinelese. Rather than encouraging him to follow this suicidal “life call”, All Nations should have advised him to respect the rights of the Sentinelese indigenous people and not visit their island.

Had Chau seriously studied cultural anthropolgy he would have been aware of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, for example, and could perhaps have contacted some of the many organisations that work to protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples worldwide. There is no evidence that he did so.

Even a cursory glance at the scientific literature on Indigenous Peoples would have been enough to convince Chau that visiting indigenous people living in voluntary isolation is extremely dangerous (for him and for the indigenous people), and extremely controversial.

Mary Ho: So this young man, he was intent on fully equiping himself and I think he knew what his life purpose was about.

So John Chau came to All Nations because he wanted to be trained by us, and he wanted to be sent out by All Nations. He also knew that we had people who were experts in cultural anthropology, and missiology, in linguistics, and so he wanted to have access to some of that expertise.

So he came to All Nations about two years ago and started a conversation and we could tell this is a young man who is thorough and meticulous in his preparation.

As I said, he started getting prepared since he was about 18, so even before he contacted All Nations, he had already gotten hisself trained in things like health, and in the medical field.

All Nations really reinforced his trainings. So we have experts in linguistics, and we train our workers in how to share the love of Jesus Christ, in a way that honours the local culture, in a culturally relevant way.

Conservation Watch: There is no possible way of visiting the Sentinelese “in a way that honours the local culture”. And introducing them to a completely new religion will, by definition, completely change their culture.

Mary Ho: We train people how to make disciples, how to start house churches, how to raise up the local leaders.

Conservation Watch: Again, this is an extraordinary comment in the context of John Chau’s visit to an indigenous people living in voluntary isolation.

Morgan Lee: Is there like a set programme or curriculum that everyone who works you guys has to go through?

Mary Ho: Yes. We do ask that everyone gets trained, and that is non-negotiable.

Morgan Lee: So I’m curious a little bit, when I was reading some of these reports, about folks working with quote unquote unreached people they noted that there’s been times where those who would want to come into contact with these unreached people actually end up transmitting all these diseases that decimate all these communities.

And I mean, I know sometimes that doesn’t even happen just because of missionaries themselves, but that has happened to thousands of indigenous people that lived in the United States originally, for instance. So I’m just wondering about, like, how an organisation like yours responds to concerns like that, especially with the welfare of these particular unreached people being at stake potentially.

Mary Ho: It is because of that John Chau made sure that he was trained in the medical field. You know, getting his degree in health and sports medicine, being trained in EMT, so he has a background in medicine.

Conservation Watch: Chau’s degree in health and sports medicine does not make him a medical doctor, as Survival International’s Stephen Corry points out.

Even when specialist doctors have taken part in ‘first contact’ expeditions, in Brazil in the 1970s and 1980s, for example, they proved unable to prevent widespread death from disease.

Mary Ho: Before he went to the islands, he attempted to get 13 types of immunisation.

Conservation Watch: Did he succeed in getting 13 types of immunisation, or just attempt to? “In any case,” Survival International comments, “there is no immunization available against the common cold, which has been one of the main problems with uncontacted peoples.”

Mary Ho: And in the last few days before he left for the island, he actually quarantined himself, for many, many days as a preventative step.

Conservation Watch: Ho presumably doesn’t know how long the quarantine was, otherwise she would say. Was it a “few days”, or “many, many” days?

Anyway, Chau travelled to the island by boat and had contact with the boatmen, thus making the previous days’ quarantine completely irrelevant.

Mary Ho: Of course, throughout history we know of local populations that got wiped out because of contact with the western world, but we’re also talking about a different time here, we’re talking about a time right now where there is modern medicine, where there’s anti-biotics.

Conservation Watch: Survival International’s Corry replies, “This displays an extraordinary level of ignorance which highlights why it’s so dangerous for such people to be anywhere near uncontacted tribes.” He’s right, of course. But it’s not only “such people” as John Chau or Mary Ho who shouldn’t go anywhere near uncontacted tribes.

As Survival International states in its global declaration for uncontacted tribes (signed by more than 40,000 people), “Uncontacted tribes are the most vulnerable peoples on the planet. They have made a choice to remain isolated. This is their right and it must be respected.”

Mary Ho: And none of us really know the exact health condition of the North Sentinelese and we do not know what kind of health issues or state of health they are in.

And perhaps there are some modern medicines that actually would be helpful for them.

Conservation Watch: That might be true. But Ho doesn’t address the issue that contact with the Sentinelese would expose them to diseases to which they have no immunity, which would result in large numbers of deaths.

The Sentinelese have repeatedly made clear that they want to remain in isolation.

After the 2004 tsunami, for example, Indian officals flew a helicopter over the island to check on their welfare. One of the Sentinelese was photographed firing arrows at the helicopter.

Morgan Lee: The other thing that I felt was interesting about this particular story is that John decided that he was going to go alone. Is that normal for folks from All Nations to get sent out by themselves?

Mary Ho: We encourage all our missionaries to go two by two, at the very least. And there were several others who were willing to go with John Chau, and he I think at the very end, personally decided to go alone.

He knew he was going into a risky situation, and he was always thinking of other people’s safety first.

This is kind of very typical of Our Nations missionary John Chau, because when I finally met him, I was very taken aback how considerate he was, very, very sensitive, very caring, and I would say this is typical of John Chau, that he’s always watching out for others and watching out for others’ safety.

Morgan Lee: We also noted that on a previous incident, John was attacked, and I’m wondering, what kind of details can you give us about this particular first exchange that he had with the group?

Mary Ho: Well here in All Nations we probably know as much as a lot of you know. He wrote some hand-written journals in his last few days. And according to the hand-written journals a arrow shot at him and his Bible actually protected him.

So regarding the accounts of the last few days, we know mostly through his hand-written journals.

Morgan Lee: And did he take a boat? I think North Sentinel Island is also close to Thailand if I’m not mistaken, and so he probably had to take his own boat by himself out there?

Mary Ho: Well again, we just know through mainly his journals that he did have a little boat and that he took some gifts with him. He took his Bible with him. He tried to introduce himself to them, by telling them his name.

Of course, he did not know their language yet, so he tried to introduce himself.

And so we know as much as his journals reveal.

Mark Galli: The question I had when I read the news account was that his body is still on the island. And this is a group that does not communicate with the outside world, so how did we know he’d died?

Mary Ho: Well I personally found out because my colleague called me. According to some accounts, some local fishermen saw the North Sentinelese drag his body and bury it. And that is again according to reports. You know reports that we hear second and third hand, and so we’re still gathering information.

Mark Galli: So it sounds like John was particularly well prepared for this. I mean he doesn’t sound like a lot of the enthusiastic missionaries of previous eras who just stepped into a people group without knowing anything, you know, not knowing anything about cultural sensitivities and medicine.

Conservation Watch: John Chau was extremely badly prepared. Thirty minutes googling is enough to convince just about anyone that visiting North Sentinel Island is almost certainly going to be a one-way trip. Forbes calls it the most dangerous island in the world.

Mark Galli: But you’re well aware as the head of a missionary organisation that there are those enthusiastic missionaries who sometimes will take unnecessary risks and yet, and I think a missionary organisation like yours would probably discourage people from doing that, on the other hand to be a missionary is to be at risk.

So how does All Nations play with that tension when it comes to encouraging, training people to go out into the field? At what point do you caution them to not take unnecessary risks but also encourage them to trust in God for the risks they do take?

Mary Ho: We evaluate every single case on a case by case basis. There is just no way that we can have a blanket screening process, so we do look at each person, we look at their character.

Conservation Watch: Of course it is possible to have a blanket screening process. Such a process should start with the rights of Indigenous Peoples. And those living in voluntary isolation are out of bounds for missionary trips.

Mary Ho: In the case of John Chau he had a very steady, calm personality as well. He was also very physically fit, so also just physically he was very well prepared.

You know, including working in national parks, just in every way. So we do look at each person on a case by case basis, their character, their emotions, their cultural preparation, we look at a lot of different factors, and we evaluate.

And in some cases we’ve had to turn people down, in other cases we’ve had to recommend that perhaps they go to an alternative destination.

Conservation Watch: John Chau’s personality is not relevant to a discussion about the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Neither is whether he was physically fit.

Why on earth did All Nations not recommend that Chau should go somewhere else? Surely All Nations has a duty of care, both to its missionaries and the people on the receiving end of the missions?

Mark Galli: I did notice in the, your assistant sent along some of his journals. They were not easy to read, in his handwriting, but the parts I did read, I did notice that even when he was in quarantine he took the trouble to exercise daily with push-ups etc. So, he was obviously…

Mary Ho: That sounds like John Chau. That sounds absolutely like him, you know, just always diligent, he doesn’t give up, he doesn’t get lazy, absolutely, that sounds just like him. That actually put a smile in our heart when we read that.

Morgan Lee: Mary I found it really interesting that you said that there are times where you will tell individual people, no, and the reason I thought it was interesting is because we’ve seen in some instances in the past when South Korean missionaries have travelled, I believe it was in Afghanistan, correct me if I’m wrong, Mark, a couple of years ago that a number of them were taken hostage there, I know that there’s been some kind of travel bans that have been implemented since then, but it sounds like you don’t necessarily put a ban on a place, so much as maybe a ban on a person, depending on how prepared they are.

Mary Ho: Well, as I said, we definitely look at every situation on a case by case basis here in All Nations. And we evaluate many factors, not only just how prepared they are, we also evaluate their emotional and mental stamina for where they want to go. We also evaluate their personality. So, for example, if someone is an extreme extrovert I would suspect it would be harder for them to work in a, you know, a more isolated situation.

We also evaluate whether they have spouses and children, and how does the whole family feel about their calling. So there are many, many factors to consider and to make sure they are aligned.

Morgan Lee: I’m curious too as well, Mary, would you say that this story and everything that happened with John, has advanced the cause of reaching unreached people or if it’s set it back in your mind.

Mary Ho: Morgan you ask very good questions.

Mark Galli: That’s why she’s on the show.

Mary Ho: Mark, you got the best.

Mark Galli: I know that.

Conservation Watch: A better question might have been whether John Chau’s suicidal mission to North Sentinel has advanced the cause of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. But as I mentioned earlier, rights are not something that appears to concern either Christianity Today’s interviewees, or Mary Ho.

Mary Ho: That’s good. I believe we need to wait a little while, and evaluate how much it’s advanced, and how much it’s harmed. But I know the character of God, and I know history.

And I know that over time John’s life will only reap a harvest and I know that it will inspire each one of us to pursue our God given purpose, whether it is to be a professor that raises up the next generation, whether it’s to be a doctor that saves lives, but I know that All Nations missionary John Chau story would inspire each one of us to pursue our God given purpose, to live our lives for others, and not for ourselves.

Morgan Lee: So you wouldn’t say that you have concerns that some people who might be, you know, who might have thought that going into groups that they don’t know as much about might look at that and worry about losing their own lives. I only say that because I’m sure there are many missionaries who actually, you know, want to go places where they are not necessarily concerned about whether or not they will die. Clearly there’s always a sense of risk that’s involved when you’re going to be trying to evangalise someone to something, but it does seem like there are circumstances where that type of threat is even greater than in others.

Mary Ho: Here in All Nations we would encourage anyone who was thinking about missions to really be thoroughly prepared. And I think of the missions call a little bit like the call of a fireman. A fireman or a policeman. They willingly chose a vocation to serve others and to save others and they know that their vocation may put them in harm’s way, that it may put them at risk, and yet they choose it.

But along with that they rigourously prepare and they train, and they train hard to make sure they make cautious and prudent decisions.

And so the missionary call is somewhat like that. It requires a lot of preparation, a lot of caution, a lot of character, and yet it is a vocation that puts us at risk for the sake of saving others and living our lives for others.

Conservation Watch: There is an enormous difference between being a fireman and being a missionary. For one thing, it’s possible to call the fire brigade to get them to put out a fire. More importantly, firemen stop hazardous fires that threaten life. The biggest threat to the lives of the Sentinelese is contact with the outside world.

“Cautious and prudent” . . . does not in any way reflect Chau’s decision making process that ended in his death after he turned up illegally on the island of an Indigenous People living in voluntary isolation – who have a history of reacting violently to visitors.

Morgan Lee: You mentioned at the beginning of the show that the mission of your organisation is specifically to work with neglected people and I’m sure that there are some of these communities that you currently have missionaries working in there have stories of where guys working that our listeners may not be super familiar with. Would you mind telling us where you’re seeing God at work working around the world right now?

Mary Ho: Yes. I would be happy to do that. What makes my heart especially pleased is when I see the local church planners, the local leaders, share Jesus among their own people. And in a way, foreign missionaries have already worked themselves out of a job.

So in a country in Africa, we have a local church planner, who after taking our training decided to go and share Jesus and make disciples in the urban city. And he went into the ghettos, start sharing with the slum dwellers, those who are prostitutes, with gangs.

And right now we have about at least hundreds of house churches that are locally led by the local people. And we see lives transformed.

So for example, those who used to be prostitutes, now they love Jesus and they are planting churches. We have one guy who was from the ghetto and now he is sharing Jesus with some refugees. And so those things just really make my heart happy and make me feel like what we’re doing with All Nations is all with it.

Morgan Lee: How do you ask our listeners to pray for you guys?

Mary Ho: Well here in All Nations we exist to make disciples, and to raise leaders, and to raise up the local leaders, to plant and multiply churches and to start disciple making movements.

We are driven to be part of finishing the Great Commission, and so you can pray that we have workers for the harvest.

Conservation Watch: The “Great Commission” is the resurrected Jesus Christ’s instruction to his disciples to spread Christianity throughout the world. It is recorded in Matthew 28:16-20, and it’s presumably where All Nations gets its name:
 

    16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms, “the fundamental importance of the right to self-determination of all peoples, by virtue of which they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.

The Great Commission cannot be allowed to override the rights of Indigenous Peoples, particularly when doing so risks introducing diseases to which isolated people have no immunity. Contact with the other tribes in the Andaman islands has had a devastating impact, and contact with the Sentinelese would almost certainly result in a similar outcome.

Mary Ho: I often think of second Timothy 2:2, that we train people to make disciples who make disciples, but also in second Timothy 2:2 it talks about workers who are like the hard-working farmer, who like the soldiers, who are courageous and who are like the athletes who train hard and compete according to the rules, so that has been my prayer for All Nations, that we have Godly young men and women that train and compete according to the rules.

Morgan Lee: Thank you so much for sharing this with us Mary.
 

Bookmark the permalink.

One Comment

  1. By supporting John Chow’s trip to the island, this organization has not only violated international treaties but also indian law. I suppose that indian gvt will take susequent action…?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *