15 Years after the Staines were burnt...alive

Gladys Staines speaks to FOL

by Sunny Joseph

FOL: What was your immediate reaction following the news of your husband and sons’ death?
Gladys: The reactions were gradual. I was not told the actual news for about five hours. Initially I was told that the children were missing, and so I was concerned for them. There were people gathering in small groups in the mission compound, talking in whispers and hushed tones. They were concerned for me and so were not willing to break the news lest I got a shock. Nobody wanted to come up to me and tell the truth that my husband and my children were dead. Finally, one dear friend came to me and said, “Gladys, just stand still. I don’t want you to be like a stone, but strong for Esther.” Through the roundabout story, I understood. I said, “Do you mean the family is dead?” She said, “Yes.”

Getting to Gladys Staines was not easy…a person extremely elusive to be pinned down for an interview, not even to the Christian media. Probably events and circumstances have made her so. After repeated phone calls and many emails through her trusted aides, FOL clinched a time slot with Gladys at the mission house in Baripada, in Mayurbhanj district of Orissa now called Odisha. Gladys Staines was in India for the 15th death anniversary of the killing of her husband Graham Staines and two sons, Philip and Timothy, in January 1999. This was her sixth visit since the incident. Her visit was occupied with appointments apart from a court appearance. Her visit being short in India, she avoided all meetings that did not directly concern her mission at the Graham Staines Memorial Hospital in Baripada.

With my heart gripped within, asking God to help me through this, I went inside to the lounge where Esther was. She asked me about the situation. I composed myself and told her that they were killed, but I told her that we will forgive them. I waited for her reply, and she very clearly said, “Yes, mummy, we will forgive them.” She was just thirteen years then, but she never wavered in her response. The incident didn’t hit me fully for a long time, probably because many were praying for us. Soon people started pouring in, sending messages and calling to tell us of their prayers. I had to go through the process. As things settled, the fact the family was not coming home hit me over and over, and it was painful. It is still. But the hope I will see them one day in heaven is our brightest hope. It was a huge loss to Esther, to the mission, and very personally to me. The incident impacted India and the world. When people write to me or tell that they came to Christ through this incident, I feel encouraged that it was not in vain that my family died because God used the three deaths for His glory.

Toward those who caused this loss, although my immediate reaction was forgiveness, yet, it was not an easy passage.

FOL: How was it with you and Esther these 15 years?
Gladys: I have a mixed answer. It has certainly been with God’s help that we continued and have been able to stay close to Him. I never held malice towards anyone; but it was God who helped us and sustained us. The prayers of people world all over, and especially the people of India have been our greatest strength. God has enabled us to go forward and continue to live for Him. My daughter is a great blessing to me. It must have been very traumatic for her 13-year-old mind to have

undergone such a catastrophic incident so early in life. She was not angry with God. On the contrary, she remained close to God and maintained a very personal relationship with Him and never wavered in her faith. She ran her life normally and finished university studies. In May 2010, she was married to Reuben, a keen Christian. They have a daughter Jane, and they now live in Australia. I am living in Australia too and working as a nurse. The Church we go to is a blessing to us.

FOL: How does one react to such a dastardly act?
Gladys: In short, it is through God’s help. Basically, what we put into our lives is what comes out in our lives. As a family, we gave our lives for His purpose, and this is how He wanted it. The Bible teaches us about forgiveness in small and big situations, and I have

looked back onto my life later, after that incident. It was the Lord who enabled me to look into the bigger things in life and to forgive. Not that I always did so perfectly, but I am at peace.

FOL: You preach forgiveness. How was it when it came to practicing it openly?
Gladys: Jesus clearly teaches us to forgive 7 times 70, which means ‘keep going on and on’ and continue to forgive. Because I know that Jesus died for my sins and forgave me, I could do that. Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “...Forgive our sins as we forgive those who sinned against us.” We pray this prayer, but most often, we are not willing to forgive others’ sins while expecting to be forgiven. Again Jesus says, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. If we do not have an attitude or willingness of forgiving others, how can we expect God to forgive us? Forgiveness for me is, I do not have the bitterness. The Bible says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God, and that no bitter root grows up...” [Hebrews 12:15 NIV] If we hold bitterness, we

cannot be forgiven. This goes in two opposite directions. If I have bitterness against someone and go on in life, it is like walking around with a big load on my back; but if I release it by way of forgiveness, I feel free and liberated. In forgiving others, we feel liberated from bitterness, and we can be at peace. That is the beauty of forgiveness. On the other hand, bitterness is a load of burden and leads to absence of peace.

FOL: Do forgiveness and justice go together, or are they in conflict?
Gladys: I have forgiven them, and I hold no malice towards them. Forgiveness does not mean the person goes scot free. Forgiveness does not mean condoning or justifying misdeeds. If someone robs a bank, even though the banker forgives, yet, the person has to repay the money. Further, the government would have to deal with such acts to protect the interest of the public. So, there are legal repercussions to any act of injustice or crime. Otherwise the law is nullified. In my case, the law of the land expects me to cooperate in the process of implementing the law through a judicial process. I was expected to pledge in the court of law to cooperate with the laws of the land. If the law of the land requires me to go, I must go, and I will go and tell what I know. Though I have forgiven, I cannot say in the court that I forgot the incident. That would be totally insane. So in that sense, forgiveness and justice are not in conflict.

FOL: Can a person forgive and still seek justice?
Gladys: We can forgive and still seek justice. The Bible says, that we must obey the government, and so we must cooperate with the law to bring the crime to the book; otherwise everything would be in a chaos. That is the basic purpose of law of any land.

I believe God is a God of justice. He loves justice. While telling us to forgive, God does not turn a blind eye to injustice. Even in Jesus’ case, He never held malice towards those who crucified Him; instead, He had an attitude of sympathy and forgiveness when He prayed, “Father, forgive, for they know not what they do.”

FOL: Are you reconciled with those who wronged you?
Gladys: In my heart? Yes. While forgiveness is one sided, the act of reconciliation is not; reconciliation demands two parties to come to terms. One forgives and the other accepts it by repenting. From my side, I have forgiven and hold no malice towards anyone.

FOL: What were Graham’s dreams that died with him?
Gladys: Except for one, I believe all others have been fulfilled or are coming to fulfilment. The biggest, being that many should come to the Lord, which certainly has happened and is still happening. His death brought thousands to the Lord, and many lives were and are being encouraged in faith all over the world. The ripple effect of the event even after 15 years is so impacting. Peoples are turning to Christ, and lives are still being transformed. Another dream was for the mission to have a hospital. It came in 2004. The one dream I believe that died with him was to see his children grow, marry, and we all live together. When we see what God is doing all over the world through this incident, it amazes us to watch the wonder of His marvels.


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