BURNT ALIVE: Graham Staines' legacy 20 years on
THE extremist who burnt Queensland missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons alive 20 years ago this month wanted to 'bury Christianity'.
Instead they created a firestorm of faith which went around the world and left a legacy stretching from India to Ipswich.
The global outcry over the Sunshine Coast-born missionary's death was as fierce as the fire that consumed him.
Mr Staines had worked with lepers for more than 30 years before he and his two sons, Philip, aged 10 and Timothy, aged 6, was burnt by Hindu fundamentalists while sleeping in their old Willy jeep station wagon in Manoharpur village in Odisha, India in January, 1999.
Four years later, Dara Singh, was convicted of leading the gang and was sentenced to life in prison.
Staines, along with his wife Gladys, who he met in 1981, had been working in Odisha among the tribal poor and lepers since 1985.
His death sent shock waves not only across India but back home on the Sunshine Coast and in Ipswich to Beaudesert where he and Gladys grew up.
What has been so remarkable in Graham Staines' story has been the response by his widow and surviving daughter, Esther.
Their forgiveness of those responsible made headlines around the world and has since resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of Indians coming to the Christian faith.
Despite the incredible pain of losing her soulmate and youngest children, Gladys remained in India for years, continuing to care for leprosy patients until she returned to Australia in 2004. She and Esther now live in Townsville.
In 2005, Gladys Staines was awarded the fourth highest civilian honor in India, Padma Shree, in recognition for her work. In 2016, she received the Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice.
A NIGHT OF HORROR
On the night Mr Staines and his sons died, a mob of about 50 people, armed with axes, set the station wagon alight.
The three tried to escape but were prevented by the mob.
In her affidavit before the Commission on the death of her husband and two sons, Gladys Staines stated: "The Lord God is always with me to guide me and help me to try to accomplish the work of Graham, but I sometimes wonder why Graham was killed and also what made his assassins behave in such a brutal manner on the night of 22nd/23rd January 1999.
"It is far from my mind to punish the persons who were responsible for the death of my husband Graham and my two children. But it is my desire and hope that they would repent and would be reformed."
Gladys Staines said her husband believed he had been called by God to help the poor in India, as she had.
"He used to say I will be in India for as long as God wants me here,'' she said in an earlier interview published on YouTube.
One of those he helped described Graham Staines as being like a father to her after she was abandoned by her parents.
Mrs Staines was described as like a 'big sister' to those in the leprosy home.
But the death of Graham meant she was thrown into a leadership role which did not come naturally.
"I'm not a leader by nature. I've tried to pick up where he left off,'' she said.
Mrs Staines say she did not take a great deal of interest in the trial of the men who burnt their husband and sons, as she knew "God is in control".
'WE HAVE FORGIVEN'
"As far as Esther and I are concerned we have forgiven."
But like any other wife and mother, the impact of their deaths has spanned many years.
"Sometimes you are okay and other times you realise there are little things that just twig you realise you much you miss the children, how much you miss Graham.
"I miss his companionship, just being able to talk things over with him. I miss him not being around for Esther.''
"He, as a father, had a lot of wisdom.
"Just that empty feeling of not having the children, Timothy particularly because he was with me, (Phillip was at school), just coming and giving me the spontaneous love that children give to their parents.
"I really miss that.''
But she has been continually comforted by her faith in God.
"I've been through several experiences in life where I know that God has been there with me.''
"I've never doubted he's been there with us.
"I've been thankful for that.''
'HE GAVE ME THE STRENGTH TO FACE IT'
In an interview with Charisma magazine, she says: "Since then I have passed through many shades of feelings.
Feelings that vary from day to day. It must have been God's wish. He gave me the strength to face it."
Mrs Staines says has been continually comforted by the kindness of the Indian people - from the hundreds of Hindu lepers who took part in the funeral procession to those who had sent letters to her.
"Wherever I go people recognise me and ask me why I [forgave]," she says. "Yet I feel they are inspired by the idea of forgiveness."
"Forgiveness brings healing," she says.
"If I have something against you and I forgive you, the bitterness leaves me. Forgiveness liberates both the forgiver and the forgiven. The Bible teaches you to forgive. Has not Jesus set the example?"
Mrs Staines has always been quick to point out it has taken many, including supporters back in Australia, to ensure the Mayurbhanj Leper Colony and Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home running for more than century.
The blue-eyed Queenslander grew up on a farm and was raised in the Brethren Christian Assemblies, where she read the Bible and heard missionaries' stories. She studied nursing to fulfil the vision to work among leprosy sufferers.
While they had lived only a short distance apart in Australia, she and Graham never met until a visit to India. They were married in 1983.
Mr Staines was well loved as a kind and gentle man who dressed casually with a trademark hat and rode a rickety bicycle.
"I've heard many stories of people who have come to Christ after seeing the way that I have accepted it all," Gladys told Charisma magazine.
"I heard this one from someone in a neighbouring state who was distributing tracts: One man who received a tract asked, 'Is this the same Jesus that Gladys Staines believes in?' 'Yes,' the pastor said. 'Then I want to know that Jesus,' the man stated."
HISTORY AND LEGACY
Graham and Gladys Staines served with the Evangelical Missionary Society in Mayurbhanj (EMSM), founded in 1895 by Kate Allenby from Windsor Road Baptist Church in Queensland.
The work focused on serving those affected by leprosy and other impoverished and outcast peoples; and on planting and supporting local churches.
The Graham Staines Memorial Hospital was opened in 2004, the Philip and Timothy Memorial Hostel for 40 boys in 2003.
The Staines Memorial College is also home to hundreds of students at Redbank Plains.
While he and the boys were buried in India, a memorial has also been set up for Graham Staines in Beaudesert, where he also lived.