America has an outrageously unfortunate background with spinning the truth of history to come out on top.
In the eyes of U.S. history classes, the Pilgrims are generous, Christopher Columbus is a genius, Andrew Jackson is one of our greatest presidents and General Custer is a war hero. The much harsher reality is that America has dehumanized and slaughtered millions of native people over the years, and that even beyond our borders, the fear of that continues today.
So our history books have told us a few lies, but those lies have very serious real world consequences. Missionary work, while seeming generous and holy on the outside, is much more of the attempt to wipe out other religions and cultures that do not fit within the Euro-Evangelical mold.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints says that the point of missionary work is to “invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end.”
What a beautiful way to say that the purpose of a missionary is to convince others that that their native religion is not valid because it better suits your own faith. That is exactly what got into the head of the 26-year-old Christian missionary from Washington in his desperate quest to convert the isolated people of the North Sentinel Islands.
The Sentinelese are an indigenous tribe off the coast of India that have refused all contact with the outside world. It is also illegal to travel to the North Sentinel Islands and make contact with the Sentinelese. It is entirely within the rights of the Sentinelese to want absolutely no interaction with the rest of the world, especially because they do not have immunities to Western diseases.
According to “Guns, Germs & Steel” by James Diamond, 90 percent of Native Americans were killed by exposure to smallpox, influenza and measles, all of which were indigenous to Europe.
But in his quest to illegally convert the Sentinelese, missionary John A. Chau very well may have doomed the population of a previously protected population. Chau bore very little regard to the wishes, rights and safety of the Sentinelese in order to further his self-righteous agenda.
According to the Washington Post, Chau actively broke several laws and cultural boundaries, including traveling as a tourist instead of obtaining a missionary visa, and trying to interact with the Sentinelese three times before the tribe lost its patience and put its own people’s safety first by shooting him with an arrow.
There is no way Chau could have been ignorant to the fact that his arrival among the Sentinelese could effectively wipe out the entire island. The fact of the matter is, Chau, along with many other missionaries, care far more about their self-indulgent messiah fantasies than the people they claim to be helping.
Missionary work today is about as equivalent as some suburban high school volunteers that use up more resources than they give back, post a couple Instagram pictures with some “ethnic” kids with the caption “this little buddy changed my life,” then go home after a week and cheer on Donald Trump as he talks of building a wall.
This is not to say that absolutely all missionaries are evil colonizers, but the tough pill to swallow is that missionary work is much less about helping others and much more about fanning the flames of your ego.