A Christian missionary may be charged with “genocide” by Brazillian authorities after he illegally came in contact with a remote tribe.
Steve Campbell of Greene Baptist Church in Maine is being investigated by officials from FUNAI, the Brazilian government’s Indigenous Affairs Department, after traveling deep into the southern Amazon jungle with the intention of sharing the Gospel with the ancient tribespeople.
The missionary allegedly entered an area occupied by the remote and protected Hi-Merimã tribe sometime last month while attempting to evangelize a neighboring tribe. The Hi-Merimã is one of a few dozen isolated communities in Brazil that have had almost no contact with the outside world and have limited immunity to outside diseases.
As a result, Campbell is accused of putting the ancient tribe in grave danger by making contact with them after being led to their area by his GPS. He reportedly entered the area by mistake while teaching Indians from the neighboring Jamamadi tribe to use the device.
“It’s a case of rights violation and exposure to risk of death to isolated indigenous population,” a Funai spokesman said in a written statement to Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Even if direct contact has not occurred, the probability of transmission of diseases to the isolated is high.”
Campbell could be charged with “genocide” as a result of his actions, UNAI’s general coordinator, Bruno Pereira, said, as reported by the Fraser Coast Chronicle.
“If it is established in the investigation that there was an interest in making contact, using his relationship with other [tribespeople] to approach the isolated [Hi-Merimã tribe], he could be charged with the crime of genocide by deliberately exposing the safety and life of the Merimãs,” said Pereira.
According to the Greene Baptist Church website, Campbell works as a missionary alongside his wife, Robin, and their two children.
“Steve and Robin work with the Jamamadi Indians in the Brazilian state of Amazonas,” notes the family's bio. “Their work is to help with medical, mechanical and countless other ministry opportunities with the Indians and missionary families. This frees up Jon so he can focus on translating God's word into their language.”
The case comes just a few months after 26-year-old missionary John Allen Chau was killed by members of the uncontacted Sentinelese tribe after trying to approach them on their Indian Ocean island to share the Gospel.
Chau had admitted in his diary that he knew of the dangers but continued his efforts due to his eagerness to tell the tribespeople about Jesus Christ. Making contact with the tribe is illegal under Indian law.
Chau’s death sparked debate even among evangelicals as to “extreme missionary work,” with some calling his approach “reckless and unjustifiable” while others praised his faith and courage.
But in an op-ed written for desiringGod.org, Garrett Kell, an author and pastor of Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, suggested Chau’s death could be used by God to light a missionary fire around the world.
“We cannot know for sure what God is doing. But might He be stoking the hearts of His church with a fresh fire to reach the unreached peoples of the world? Could God be using the death of John Chau to stir the souls of more missionaries to take the Good News of Jesus to the Sentinelese people?” he wrote.
“Is it possible that God might be working to bring them the message of forgiveness for killing the missionary as well as healing from the injustice done to them generations ago? Could God be plotting a reunion of forgiveness in months, years, even centuries from now that will magnify His mercies before the world? Can you picture that moving ceremony on the shores of North Sentinel Island?”