By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Ten years after Graham Staines and his two young sons were burned alive at the hands of Hindu extremists in India, the widow of the slain missionary says she has forgiven the people who murdered her family and is urging all Christians suffering persecution in that country to not give up hope.
Gladys Staines has returned to Orissa, India, the site of recent and deadly anti-Christian violence, to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of her husband and sons.
On the night of Jan. 22, 1999 Graham Staines, a Baptist minister, and the couple’s two sons Philip, 9 and Timothy, 7, were sleeping in their station wagon when a politically motivated mob surrounded the vehicle. After blocking the doors to prevent the three from escaping, they poured gasoline on the vehicle and set it on fire. The mob shouted political slogans while watching the victims burn to death in the back seat.
At the funeral, Gladys and her only remaining child, a daughter named Esther, publicly announced their forgiveness of the mob, an action that sent shockwaves through the nation and is thought to have contributed to the conversion of many people.
During this memorial visit to the area, Gladys encouraged the battered Christians of India to persevere in spite of the persecution they have been enduring.
“I tell them be strong, stay strong, and Christ will be your support, your companion, your guide and your strength. When God is working with us, nothing can be against us.”
Speaking to AsiaNews, Gladys said she remembers her husband and sons with tenderness.
“During these ten years, there have been times of sadness,” she said. “I feel sad that I do not have my husband to support me, to guard me, but these are just momentary emotions of sadness which also fill me with great hope, the hope of heaven and of being reunited with my husband and children in paradise and seeing the Father face to face. This guarantee fills me with consolation.
“I cannot express that how I felt when I got the news of my husband and sons being burnt alive. I told my daughter Esther that though we had been left alone, we would forgive and my daughter replied, ‘Yes, we will’.”
Time has not erased the sorrow, however. Last week, Gladys and Esther visited the Hebron Ooty school where Philip and Timothy studied.
“I feel sad that I do not get to see my sons growing up,” Gladys said. “Christ has been my companion, but at times I miss the support of my husband. God gives me great support, and the prayers of people has been?a source of great consolation . . . . It is Jesus who is the source of every consolation and support. God gives us the strength to be able to carry our cross and to live in?His will. Our life and our work here on earth has to go on according to His holy will.”
Staines says that she will always continue working to fulfil her husband’s dream to live in peace and harmony, and work together for the good of all.
“I forgive the other, because I have first received forgiveness from Jesus Christ – I have encountered the presence of Jesus in my life and this is the spirit I share. When we forgive, there is no bitterness and we live our lives and continue the task entrusted to us – with His grace and peace. These Kandhamal widows have also been touched by Jesus. All Christians who have known the intervention of Jesus in their lives will have this gift to forgive and to be the witnesses of His peace and presence. Support them with your solidarity and prayers.
“To the people of the world I say, do not give up hope, pray for India.”
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