The Light of Life Magazine
A ministry of Christian writing

February 2009

Abhijit Nayak

21st century is no exception when it comes to persecution and martyrdom. The 20th century closed with the martyrdom of Graham Staines and his two young sons in Orissa. Local Christian leaders in different parts of the country say that the RSS and its agencies have finalised a special plan for Orissa, the place where Graham Staines and his two children were burnt alive bringing Christian persecution in India to the eyes of the Western world. Since the end of 1999, there have been a number of cases of persecution and they are hardly reported in the news media. This attempt is to remember the Staines family and their sacrificial work in serving the lepers, widows and the poor in the remote villages of Orissa. The intention is also to argue that the story of Staines did not end with the funeral a few days later. Instead, it touched off a fresh round of internal reflection among many Indians about the resurgence of Hindu nationalism. It is also possible that a sense of outrage is invoked in the hearts of every Indian who heard of the gruesome murder of three innocent human beings. This essay is a tribute and also a reminder to every Indian Christian. The happening on Jan 22/23 of 1999 is hardly removed from the minds of those who have seen and known Graham Staines and his family. This heinous crime took place opposite to a church in Kacha Sahi village Manoharpur. Manoharpur village is bordering Mayurbhanj District. Graham Staines and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, went to attend a jungle camp. This jungle camp is held once annually. The mob led by Dara Singh, also known as Pal Singh, reached the church around midnight. The mob did not see any tent. They surrounded the vehicles and started banging them with lathis. Dara Singh, who led the first group, attacked the vehicle ORM-952. They were joined by the second group who reached immediately afterwards. Third group was guarding the houses. They cut the tyres of the vehicles. On realising that there was nobody in vehicle ORM-952, Dara Singh diverted his attention to the vehicle ORM-1208. The mob then tried to open the door of the driver of that vehicle, which they could not do; but the door lever was broken. They broke the glasses of the vehicles. The mob then picked up the straw, which was kept on top of the vehicle, and pushed the same inside as by now the glass-panes had been broken. Straw was put inside and under the vehicles, and then set on fire. Staines and his children attempted to come out, but were prevented from doing so by the mob. Staines shouted and children cried. After the vehicles were put on fire, the mob guarded them for about half an hour and watched Staines and his two minor children meeting their gruesome end.

What Did People Say?

There were different opinions about the Staines murder in January 1999. These opinions contain both positive and negative reactions about the Staines killing. Swami Agnivesh, a key leader of Arya Samaj, said on the funeral day, “The massacre of Dr. Graham Staines and his two sons in Manoharpur has justly pricked the conscience of the nation. Very few events in recent history have evoked such strong, spontaneous and universal indignation as this inhuman deed has.” In contrast, Madan Lal Khurana, former Union Minister under BJP regime, remarked, “You stop these forcible conversions and the problem will be solved.” This statement was aimed at Christian missionaries and their preaching work. K. R. Narayanan, President of India, saw the work of Staines very positively when he commented, “That someone who spent years caring for patients of leprosy, instead of being thanked and appreciated as a role-model, should be done to death in this manner is a monumental aberration for the traditions of tolerance and humanity for which India is known.” In comparison, Jaswant Singh, former external affairs minister, said, “It’s a heinous crime that has shocked the conscience.” The most notable statement released by L. K. Advani, Union Home Minister during 1999, stated, “The Bajrang Dal as an organisation could not have been involved in the Orissa tragedy because it has no criminal background.” It is a clear indication that there were attempts to cover the culprit who committed the crime.

Can The Staines Be Called Martyrs?

In the theology of martyrdom, martyr is a key word. The word “martyr” is an English word translated from the Greek equivalent term martus. This word is closely connected with the word witness in the Scripture. The Old Testament Hebrew equivalent term for martyr is moed which is used in the case where God established a covenant with His people. Generally, usual terminology describes Christians persecuted unto death as martyrs (martures) and their death as bearing witness (marturein) and martyrdom (marturion). As generally understood, martyrs are those who undergo violent death in witness to a religious truth or on account of practices which derive from the religious truth. Lopez-Gay, professor of the Gregorian University, clarified that “from the 2nd century onwards this Greek word ‘martus’ was reserved for those who shed their blood because of the public profession of their Christian faith. It is a witness sealed by faith.” The martyr does not defend his life, but his cause, which is his conviction and faithfulness to God or his neighbour. In order to defend the cause, he throws himself into death. The martyr is also destined to death at any time by God. Persecution and the face of martyrdom have always existed in the history of missions. Down through the ages, beginning with apostolic age till today, they have become an active element of both missionary expansion. The forms of martyrdom are many. Crucifixion was a form of martyrdom that existed everywhere, as for example, in the Roman Empire and then in Japan. Death by the sword was frequent, and this is how the first Apostles died. Also, being burnt to death was one of the most common forms of martyrdom. Another form was stoning, and flagellation, together with other forms of torture.

One can easily raise objection to the death of Graham Staines, naming the incident as “murder,” not “martyrdom,” because while sleeping in the Jeep at night, fire was set. Staines and his two children were not killed while preaching the Gospel in the market place.

The objections can be dismantled in two ways. First, Australian missionary Graham Staines served the Gospel in remote parts of Orissa. The anti-Gospel groups who rejected the proclamation killed him and his two sons, Philip and Timothy. The cause for his killing was hatred towards the Gospel preached by them. Second, Staines was willing to sacrifice his life by making his way to the tribal dominated district of Orissa. He and his family were firm with the conviction of preaching and transforming the lives of the people. No fear of death grappled their minds. J. Ray Tallman’s article on martyrdom is significant. He rightly puts, “The word martyr also extends its meaning to include Christ-like values such as faithfulness, truth, witness, and life-style.” In the light of this, Staines died as a martyr and, without any doubt, we can call this fact as “purely martyrdom.” Thus, the death of Graham Staines is not a murder, but martyrdom.

A Brief Biographical Sketch

Graham Stewart Staines was born in Palmwoods, Queensland, Australia. Graham yielded his life to Christ at an early age during an evangelistic meeting conducted by (late) Alan Cunningham. At the age of fifteen, Staines, while still in Australia, saw the photograph of a Mayurbhanj boy, Josia Soren, approximately his age, with severe leprosy. This motivated Staines to come to India and work for leprosy patients. His ties with Orissa became stronger, when he became pen friend of Santanu Satpathy in 1956. Staines joined the Evangelical Missionary Society of Mayurbhanj (EMSM) and started his work in 1965. He first worked at Rairangpur in the District Mayurbhanj and later shifted to Baripada (District Headquarters of Mayurbhanj) in 1983. The entrance of Graham Staines into the mission of EMSM is described as a “pillar of strength.” Ralph Cameron, president of Evangelical Mission Society, Australia, wrote in a tribute after the death of Graham Staines about his commitment that “his life had one purpose and he diligently kept his attention on that one goal. An uncle with no sons offered him the opportunity to join him in his business with a view to eventual control, but Mayurbhanj was his only ambition.” The passion and love for lepers is highly esteemed.

The entrance of Gladys in the life of Graham in 1981 is fascinating. Gladys met Graham in 1981 while she was working with Operation Mobilisation (an organisation involved in evangelism and literature distribution) teams. Ailsa Rolley, a historian, writes, “The more Gladys saw of Mayurbhanj, the more she loved it. Of all the other places she was to see while in India, no other place drew her as did Mayurbhaj. In this exotic Indian setting, Graham and Gladys fell in love and were married in Australia on 6 August 1983.” During their fifteen years of marriage, their daughter Esther and their two sons, Philip and Timothy, were born. In her statement before the Wadhwa Commission, she described Graham Staines as a “person who was faithful in whatever he did, whether it was serving leprosy patients, doing accounts, involving himself in the service of the Rotary club, or caring for animals.” The whole family committed them to the service of the poor, needy, widows and lepers in the Mayurbhanj district. Currently, Gladys is residing in Australia, but the mission of Staines continues to work. It has expanded work in a significant way with a new Hospital at Baripada (Graham Staines Memorial Hospital). Mayurbhanj Leprosy Mission is still functioning with rehabilitation facility. A Boys’ home has been established in memory of Philip and Timothy at Rajabasa, Mayurbhanj. Evangelical Missionary Society, Mayurbhanj is moving forward with the vision of Staines.

The Challenge Ahead

The tasks that Staines carried out since 1965 in Orissa belong to every individual Christian, Christian missions and churches, in particular. Graham Staines has left the unfinished tasks before us; we are to finish them. The Hindutva force is a challenge before us, but it does provide opportunity for mission. We cannot deny the fact of persecution and martyrdom today. It is very much on the rise. “The cost of discipleship reminds every mission volunteer that MARTYRDOM is a reality in an era where terrorism, violence, and explosive brutality stalk the mission field.” In the context of martyrdom and persecution, the role of mission becomes urgent and crucial. Let us not forget the sacrifice that the family of Graham Staines has made for India. The blood of Staines is a reminder for Indian Christians in face of hostility, anti-Christian violence. It is impossible for Gladys and the workers of Staines Mission (EMSM/MLM) to carry out the daunting task alone and our help, cooperation, therefore, is most essential and vital.

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