Evangelizing remote tribes


The Church recognizes that God speaks in the hearts of all people.
Therefore, all peoples have elements of truth in their beliefs and lives, even as Christ’s Mystical Body (The Church) is the very fullness of truth.

The elements of good that are in all peoples and cultures is to be respected, and evangelism speaks to people where they are, and on that basis can move them toward the Gospel. After all, we are evangelizing people, not things. This presupposes that we know the people we are speaking to, appreciate who they are, and have relationships that will draw them to Christ.



So what are your thoughts on the early Church evangelizing a pagan world when its members knew with certainty that they would be fed to wild beasts in coliseums, crucified or beheaded?

This would seem to nullify your “means of communication” argument since the state of communication lines couldn’t change their fate and they knew with certainty that their mere acknowledgement of Christ would get them killed.

So, were those like Peter, Paul, Ignatius, and many others “dumbass and martyrs” because they should have known better than to go into a situation that meant certain death to evangelize? Paul, himself, said something about the Gospel as the foolishness of God, no?

By the way, I am not claiming the situations were equivalent, just trying to ascertain why they are different, and why audacity for the proclamation of the Gospel ought to be more tame or “prudential” in modern times than it was in ancient times?

Perhaps proclamation of the Gospel in a safe and pedestrian manner is precisly why many are unconvinced about its truth these days? I mean if Christians are unwilling to take any risks to promote the Gospel, why should anyone believe it represents the supposed eternal truth that supersedes temporal existence? Is Christianity too fond of safety and security these days?


Even Peter and Paul didn’t court death with such a limited possibility of success. They endured persecution and died martyrs, certainly, but they spent decades making converts among people who were willing to listen, and whose languages and cultures they understood (with translation help from the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, but not subsequently). Most notably, they fled when they needed to — they accepted martyrdom, but didn’t seek it out until it came to them. St. Ignatius was unusually enthusiastic about his coming death at the jaws of wild beasts, true, but even that was after he had been arrested and was 90-something years old, after a lifetime of doing the Lord’s work in ways that did not result in instant death.

Yes, being willing to risk one’s life, or even give it outright, for the Gospel is good and important. But even accepting that, there are ways to do it and ways not to do it. This guy went alone into a situation that would require months or years of interaction to actually get to the point of having his preaching understood, when he knew that the targeted population has a long history of not permitting any peaceful contact by outsiders — and that they might all get sick and die if he did get close enough to them. Even if we favor bold evangelization and prioritize spreading the Gospel over the integrity of a unique and likely dying culture, Chau was a dumbass in how he went about it.


Even Peter and Paul didn’t court death with such a limited possibility of success.

I do not think you can definitively say this…we have the luxury of viewing their deeds through the lens of time…what seems unreasonable now may have very well just been another Tuesday then.


You make some interesting points. However, perhaps BECAUSE these people are part of a dying culture, THAT is all the more reason to bring the good news of salvation to them in a timely manner, no?

Time is running out for them and, therefore, the opportunities to hear the Gospel are very limited.


Sure. It’s paragraph 30-C, sub d, where it is stated that tribesmen of remote islands as well as mainstream law enforcement of the country that those islands belong to, are well within their rights to take up arms against proseletyzing foreign intruders.

Did you miss that? If you have any further questions, let me know.


I agree.

I also don’t know that martyrdom is necessary running headlong into a Roman spear screaming, “Look at me! I’m a martyr!” The missionary needs at least SOME chance of making headway at dialogue. I hold to my analogy above - this guy was effectively running off a cliff hoping that he’d be the exception and able to fly.

Martyrdom very often happens to people who didn’t expect to be confronted by a spiritual dilemma or have their faith put to the test.


OK. I’ll take it up with the folks at RCIA. They really need to be training their converts better. I’m off to go polish my spear collection.


They aren’t part of a dying culture. They are part of a culture that, remarkably, is still very much alive, and prefers to stick to itself. It hasn’t really eroded yet, because they choose to remain isolated. Besides, even if their culture was somehow being eroded, that doesn’t mean we need to hurry to bring those people the gospel. These people will be around regardless of whether their culture survives or not – though I pray to High Heaven that it will.


These people are still around most likely because they haven’t any natural resources too exploit…and it is not an ideal place for a resort.


Yeah, in retrospect, “dying” was a poor choice of words. “Endangered” or “fragile” would have been better. They could very well go on as they are for another 55,000 years, if the rest of us don’t mess with them. But there are a few hundred of them at most, maybe less than a hundred. A mutated germ, a natural disaster, a threat to their food supply — a number of things could wipe them out in one stroke, not just their current way of life but the people themselves.


Interesting response. From a Catholic point of view they are simply pagans who are waiting for the word of God to be spread to them. Salvation is more important than any law.
It’s not like they are an ancient building or artefact. They’re people and Jesus commanded us to make desciples of all nations. He didn’t make an exception for remote tribes.

Beyond that though, why would we leave these tribes in the darkness, rather than attempting to bring them into the modern world.


Why? How does it benefit these people to be stuck in the past when they could benefit from modern technology and healthcare?

It’s nonsense to suggest that their culture is more important than their souls, or even the possibility of them living as the rest of us.
What right do we have to “protect” them? They have the right to be a part of the larger human family. They’re not endangered animals.


I love this question because it flips the issue upside down.

My feeling is mixed on this issue.
But Jesus did say to “shake the dust” of a town that wouldn’t accept His disciples.
At the same time, not evangelizing “now” is not the same as not evangelizing “ever”.

Maybe the time isn’t right at the present moment.


I’m not just talking about evangelising though.
This is part of the modern “all cultures are equal” tripe.
We should be attempting to begin an ongoing dialogue between these remote tribes and the wider world.


Yeah, I don’t know. Looking around at the “modern world” I am left with the impression that there might be more natural light in their world than in the modern world. They take up weapons against perceived threats, but to outdo the modern world in the darkness factor, they would have to engage in the wholesale killing their unborn, abandoning their natural moral responsibilities, and inculcating their children in all manner of mindless nonsense.

On the other hand, the eternal light of Christ is a different matter. That light isn’t the same thing as the artificial or LED light which illumines the “modern world,” giving it a shallow and ghoulish pall.


I agree. This is an excellent question!


Not to mention the dangers of visiting an island out in the middle of nowhere, whose inhabitants carry bows and arrows with every intention of using them on you!!!


I agree that if we were protecting them from the outside world just to have a pre-Neolithic tribe to study, without considering their good or their wishes, that would be wrong.

But they have made it clear over hundreds of years and many generations that they don’t want anything to do with the outside world. They don’t travel, they don’t trade, they don’t accept visitors or gifts. Their language appears unrelated even to those of nearby islands, and no outsider has been able to learn it, or get a handle on their culture, or even be sure how many of them there are.

Given that, to bring them into the wider human family would mean forcing ourselves on them, very much against their will. That is not going to go well even if we mean ultimately to help them. On top of that, remember that these people (and many generations of their ancestors) have been isolated like that for something like 55,000 years. Agriculture, metalworking, all of that passed them by. You’re talking about introducing modern medicine, but do you understand just how alien the very concept would be? The amount of context you’d have to provide (while they are hiding from you or shooting at you, based on past behavior) even to make the offer and receive anything that could meaningfully be called consent? That’s the same reason I don’t think much of Mr. Chau’s evangelization attempts: if he was intending anything more meaningful than “Here’s a picture of Jesus. Can you say ‘Jesus’? I’m gonna dunk you in this water now,” it would have been a project way too big for one guy faced with a lethally hostile audience.


Honestly, I would say, at this moment in time, to lift up this tribe in prayer, they know “we” are out here, and if such a time comes that they reach out to us, then we respond in charity and prudence.

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