Overcome Evil with Good
It took five hours for someone to pull together enough courage to tell missionary Gladys Staines that her husband and two young sons were dead.
Graham Staines, fifty-eight, had been working with leprosy patients in India since he was twenty-four years old. He cared for the sick, preached the gospel, worked on Bible translation and tried to look after the neighboring poor while also running the leprosy home. He’d met Gladys not in Australia, where they were both from, but in India, where they were both working. The Staines were committed to staying in India as long as God wanted them so their three children—born in Calcutta—learned to play cricket and spoke the native Odia language. So long as God rules and eternity awaits, evil will never triumph. Click To Tweet
The Jeep had been Burned
Every year, Graham gathered with other Christians in the small village of Manoharpur for teaching and fellowship. In 1999, he took his two sons—Philip, ten, and Timothy, six—along with him. As they usually did on trips to primitive areas, Graham and his sons crawled into their station wagon to sleep for the night.
A few hours later, a mob of Hindu extremists, angry about Christian conversions, surrounded the vehicle. Later there would be inquiries into and arguments over how closely the leader, Dara Singh, was working with an extremist group connected to the Hindu nationalist government. Over the past year, Christian persecution had ramped up dramatically; in 1998, more crimes were perpetrated against Christians than in the previous fifty years combined. “I was first told that the jeep had been burned,” Gladys said afterward. Five hours later, friends broke the news. “They were shaking like crazy,” Gladys said. “Finally one of the women said, ‘Gladys, I don’t want you to be like a stone, but I want you to be strong for [her thirteen-year-old daughter] Esther.’ ”
Gladys knew then that her husband and sons were dead—but not yet how brutal the killings had been. The mob doused the vehicle with gasoline and lit it in the middle of the night while Graham and the boys were sleeping. When they awoke and tried to escape, the mob kept blocking the way, swinging sticks, breaking the windows, and deflating the car’s tires. When the charred bodies were recovered, all three were huddled together.
Gladys immediately found Esther and told her, “It seems like we’ve been left alone. But we will forgive.” “Yes, Mummy, we will,” Esther answered. Click To Tweet Gladys immediately found Esther and told her, “It seems like we’ve been left alone. But we will forgive.” “Yes, Mummy, we will,” Esther answered. And they did. When reporters asked whether she was angry, Gladys told them she wasn’t. Instead, she shared the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Of course we are deeply shocked,” she said at the funeral. “We are deeply hurt. . . . And still my prayer and desire is that these people who took my husband’s life will be touched by that same love so that they will never do this to any other person.”
“I praise God that he chose my father, that he thought my father was worthy,” Esther told reporters at the funeral.
Joy in the Midst of Grief
The news of their loving response headlined newspapers all over India—and then all over the world. It was a major story in the West. Gladys and Esther drew attention again when they chose to stay in India—even though some tribal people hid Dara Singh for a year before he was caught by police. Even though the Orissa High Court commuted his death sentence to life in prison and released eleven of his twelve accomplices. Even though the Supreme Court upheld Singh’s commutation to life in prison by explaining that Singh was “teach[ing] a lesson” to Christian evangelists.
Through it all, Gladys kept right on working with the leprosy patients her husband had loved. Eventually she’d be awarded both the Padma Shri—the fourth-highest civilian award in India—and the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice.
“God enabled me to forgive, but it doesn’t take away the sadness and the grief that’s there,” Gladys explained in 2019, when a film about her family debuted in Australia. “It’s not a matter of moving on—it’s moving forward. It’s not a matter of saying time heals. Time of itself can’t heal, but God works through situations to bring joy out of sorrow.”
One spot of joy has been watching Esther, who studied to become a doctor, married, and had four children. (Gladys now lives close to their family in Australia.) Another source of joy has been setting up the fifteen-bed Graham Staines Memorial Hospital.
But her biggest reason for joy is seeing people come to faith in Christ.
Graham “taught about Christ. He shared about Christ through the deaths, in a sense,” Gladys said. “I have heard of many, many, many people who’ve said, ‘Their God is real. I want to be Christian.’ How many people will we see in heaven directly related to those events? We will never know. And I just praise God for that.”
Gospelbound Christians love their enemies by overcoming evil with good. Because our story isn’t over, even in death. Only this strategy can never fail. So long as God rules and eternity awaits, evil will never triumph.
**Today’s post is excerpted from Gospelbound: Living with Resolute Hope in an Anxious Age. Copyright © 2021 by Collin Hansen and Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra. Used by permission of Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.