If we don’t forgive men of the wrong that they do, then how can we be forgiven?
Graham and Gladys Staines met as missionaries: they were both from Australia, but worked together at the Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home in Orissa, India. There’s something romantic about the lack of romance in their story. Both of them had given their lives over to the Lord, without intention of marrying, and it was through that work that they met. They married in 1984. God blessed them with children – Esther in 1985, Phillip in 1988, and Timothy in 1992. The family lived and worked in Orissa without incident for many years. Then, in 1999, Graham and both boys were brutally murdered.
It was January 23, 1999, just after midnight. Graham and his sons were four hours away from home, in a village called Monoharpur, sleeping in the back of their Jeep. A mob encircled the car, poured petrol on it, and lit it on fire. The Staineses tried to get out of the vehicle, but the mob of over 100 religious radicals kept them inside. Onlookers tried to rush in to help, but were held back, too. Graham, Phillip, and Timothy were burned to death, and the mob dispersed. Witnesses reported that the charred bodies were locked in a last embrace.
The religious extremist group Bajrang Dal was immediately implicated, and several witnesses claimed a man named Dara Singh was the ringleader. Many people were arrested with ties to the murders, but Singh avoided capture for a year.
Gladys and Esther responded in a way that no one of this world could ever expect or understand: immediate, total, and public forgiveness. This is what Gladys said within two days of her husband’s and sons’ murders:
I am terribly upset, but not angry. My husband loved Jesus Christ who has taught us to forgive our enemies.
Gladys had a choice before her, in the wake of the tragedy. She had a daughter to care for and family who could support them in Australia. But she never considered returning. “I never felt scared, only overwhelmed,” she said. And there was work to be done in Orissa.
Following the murders, most of Gladys’ time was invested in the leprosy home she’d always worked at. At other times, she worked to organize the founding of a local ten-bed clinic, which even included a maternity ward. She also set her sights, in the long run, on achieving Graham’s dream: to open a full general hospital. The Graham Staines Memorial Hospital opened in 2004.
In January 2000, Dara Singh walked brazenly into a trap set by Orissa police. He insisted that he’d decided to turn himself over. He also claimed that he hadn’t intended for Graham to be killed – only “taught a lesson” – and that he didn’t know the boys were in the Jeep.
A long, bureaucratic trial ensued, which was deferred again and again. Singh went on a hunger strike, which postponed proceedings further. Finally, in September 2003, he was found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.
Throughout the ordeal – the murders, and the media attention and trial that followed – Gladys continually affirmed forgiveness. Pressured to speak out about the political or governmental issues, she remained steadfastly silent. “I have decided not to answer any political question,” she said. Her message was always and only forgiveness.
And we, as her brothers and sisters in Christ, can, at least in part, understand how she does it.
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.