Twenty years ago, January 23, 1999, Graham Staines, an Australian missionary to India, was burned to death along with his two sons, Philip, age 10, and Timothy, age 6. Staines was 57. For 35 years Graham had ministered to lepers in a remote tribal village in India where he established the Mayurbanj Leprosy Home in 1982. In 1983 he married his wife, Gladys, who joined him in the work.
The mob that killed Graham Staines and his sons was apparently a hard-line Hindu organization intent on retribution for the missionary’s effectiveness in converting members of the lower cast to faith in Jesus Christ. After the attack, Gladys Staines forgave those who murdered her husband and sons. She remained in India with their daughter, Esther, and continued their ministry among the lepers. She stated, “I cannot just leave those people who love and trust us. I have high regard for the people of India and their tolerance.”
The government of India awarded Gladys Staines the fourth highest civilian award in 2005, Padma Sri in recognition for her outstanding contribution to India. She has been called the best known Christian in India after Mother Theresa. In 2015 she was awarded the Mother Theresa Memorial Award for Social Justice.
Their story was recently made into a movie entitle The Least of These and released into theaters on February 1. It appears the movie will be shown in a limited number of theaters for a limited time. The Executive Producer for the film, Victor Abraham, said the movie “beautifully illustrates the power of love, hope and forgiveness to overcome hate.” It is a gripping reminder of the cost paid by followers of Christ in every generation and the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ. According to Christianity Today “215 million Christians experience high, very high or extreme levels of persecution.”
Most of us suffer little for our faith. Few of us will ever be required to shed our blood or give our lives. But such global persecution of Christians is widespread. Everyone who follows Christ in every time and in every place is called to follow the instructions of Scripture: “ Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “