What exactly befell John Chau at the hands of the Sentinelese tribe will never be known. But in a lengthy piece for GQ, Doug Bock Clark writes that chances are a nail-headed arrow would have been aimed not at his brain or heart—"small targets ... encased in bone"—but his abdomen. Meaning death would not have been instantaneous. "I have faith that he welcomed his killers with Christlike love," writes Clark, and he delves deep into Chau's life to arrive at that conclusion. The story of Chau's attempt to bring God to the uncontacted tribe was widely reported in the wake of the 26-year-old's November 2018 death. Clark fills in many of the blanks, diving into Chau's Pentecostal upbringing in Portland, Oregon; his deep love of nature and the connection he felt it had to God; and the website that alerted him to the "unconverted" Sentinelese when he was a teen.
By the end of his first year at Oklahoma's Oral Roberts University, Chau was convinced that God was calling him to go to the tribe. He graduated in 2014 and spent four years traveling to India's Andaman archipelago, where he worked to befriend locals who would ultimately take him to Sentinel Island. It was just part of his preparation: Over 2017 and 2018 he read more than 110 missionary books. He took a 2-month course on translating the Bible at the Canada Institute of Linguistics. He packed an "initial contact response kit" that included dental forceps he could use to remove arrows from his body. Then it was time: He made it close to shore and "things started happening confusingly fast." His kayak was taken and an arrow was fired at him, striking his Bible. The Sentinelese let him wade into the water, and he swam nearly a mile to his boat. But he decided to go back. It would be for the last time. (Read Clark's full story here.)