GRAHAM STAINES – the Apostle who was burnt alive
Twenty third January 1999 is a black day in Indian history. The Australian medical missionary Mr. Graham Staines (1941-1999) and his two sons were burnt alive in the tribal State of Orissa, on this day in 1999. Though the killing of the Staines has a left stain on Indian soil, they are grains of wheat which are fallen on the ground to give plentiful harvest. Apostle Thomas was martyred in Chennai. The Church in India is strongest in this city!
Thomas Brooks (1608-1680) penned, "Divine presence made the martyrs as willing to die as to dine!" God in answer to the prayer of the Church sent an angel into the prison chamber to release Peter. What our prayers can do for the persecuted at critical hours and perilous situations cannot be underestimated. When challenged before martyrdom, Bishop Polycarp (70-160) replied, "Eightysix years I've served Christ and He never did me any injury. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?" Henry Vos shamed his persecutors with the words, "If I had twin heads, they should all be off for Christ!" Tahir Iqbal, a muslim convert, before he died in a Pakistani prison in 1993, declared, "I'll kiss the rope, but I'll never deny my faith!" Every Christian must read Foxe's Book of Martyrs. The martyrs shook the powers of darkness with the irresistible power of weakness. How much the persecuted need our prayers!
It's repeatedly observed in mission fields that the malignant opponents get powerfully converted and become mighty exponents of the Bible. This is what our prayers for the persecutors do. Stephen's prayer deeply impacted the young man Saul. When this persecutor of Christians became a preacher of the gospel, people said in amazement, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this Name in Jerusalem?" (Acts 9:21; 22:19,20). The last prayer of William Tyndale (1494-1536), the Reformer and Bible Translator, before he was strangled and burnt, was, "Lord, open the eyes of the King of England!" The Lord answered his prayer, and the King authorized a Bible translation. Who has not heard of the King James Version?
Any attack on the Church must primarily be discerned as the direct activity of wicked spirits. Spiritual powers cannot be combated by numerical or physical strength. Fasting prayers in secret are more effective than protest fasts in public. Restudying of the Book of Acts will keep us in the right perspective.
In 1965, God called a quiet, intense and prayerful young man from Queensland, Australia to Mayurbhanj, Baripada, Orissa State, India, to serve Him in a 105-year-old leprosy Mission field, known as the Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home which had been established in 1895 by the Maharaja (King) of Mayubhanj, Rama Chandra Bhanj Deo. Driven by the desire to serve Christ in this mission field, Graham Staines landed in India and started his noble work among the socially outcast lepers, reaching out to them in the love of Christ.
In the meantime, a young nurse hailing from Australia who had accepted Christ as her personal Savior at age thirteen, heard the call of God in her life to serve God, in 1981, through Operation Mobilization. She served this organization in Singapore, Malaysia, Europe and India. In India, she met Graham. Though the two of them were only thirty km. apart in Australia, they never had the opportunity of meeting each other. The ministry leaders of Operation Mobilization arranged their marriage. By divine prudence, Graham Staines and Gladys were married at Ipswich Gospel Chapel, Queensland, Australia on 6th August 1983. After the marriage, both of them returned to India. The Staines made their home in an old house within the Mission compound and chose a very simple lifestyle. God blessed them with three children; Esther Joy (born on 7th November, 1985), Philip Graham (born on 31st March, 1988) and Timothy Harold (born on 4th May, 1992). Esther and Philip were 2000 km. away from their parents, studying in a Christian School in Ootacamund, Tamil Nadu, South India.
In 1997, the Staines took leave to visit Australia. But somehow, it no longer felt like home. They were glad to get back to the only home they knew – Baripada, Orissa.
Graham along with his two sons reached a village namely Manoharpur on 22nd January 1999 to attend the annual jungle camp. The two sons were thrilled to be with their loving father. Graham, Philip and Timothy had retired for the night. It had been a long and exhausting day. But also, an exciting one for the boys. On the night of 22nd January 1999, Graham Staines had much to thank God for. A beautiful wife, three loving kids and a mission through whom he could help many live a life of dignity. With that joy in his heart, he tucked in both Philip and Timothy, and drew a straw-pad over the roof of the station wagon to shelter them from the icy winds. And he himself rested for the night.
Jesus said in John 16:2-3, “A time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.”
On that fateful night, drums were beating as a group of young tribals were enjoying a traditional dance. They were just about a 100 meters away from the Staines’ station wagon. It was around 12.20 a.m. on 23rd January 1999.
Earlier at 11 p.m. on 22nd January, another group had set out from Ramada who had a leader, namely, Dara Singh. He was a criminal with a record of crimes against minority communities in India. He hated Christianity and the Christian missionaries like Graham Staines. He and his mob approached Manoharpur at around 12.20 a.m. They came in running from the fields, armed with sticks and tridents. They had just one target, the station wagon. And as they approached it, they began screaming.
Dara Singh struck first, wielding an axe at the tyres, deflating them. The others broke windows and prevented the Staines from escaping. Graham was beaten mercilessly and his boys were not spared either. All three were pierced with tridents. Singh then put straw under the vehicle and torched it. In seconds, the vehicle was on fire. Graham held his two boys close to him. Anyone who knew him would say that the one name on his lips would be – Christ Jesus.
The killers stood there and watched the three being roasted alive as the fire consumed the vehicle. Someone approached with water to douse the flame but was scared away.
A visiting friend of the Staines from Australia, Gilbert Venz was also present at Manoharpur. He heard a commotion in the street outside. They were screaming, “Don’t come out, we will kill you”. He was indoors and found that the door had been blocked from outside. As he was trapped inside, Venz did not know the station wagon had been set alight. But he kept hearing the terrifying roar of the mob.
Thousands were waiting to pay their respects to the Staines. It seemed as if all of Baripada had come to a halt. Shops were shut and many officials joined in the funeral procession. It was a farewell with a difference. In most funerals, either a close relative or a friend takes control. But here, there was no one like that. But all – both the locals and those who came from outside - were just doing the right things – as if it was all divinely controlled.
At the service, the inmates of the Leprosy Mission were besides themselves with grief. Only Gladys was able to console them. Both Esther and she sat with them on the ground right by the three coffins. Whilst condolences were expressed and others shared comforting verses from the Bile, many then joined in with Gladys and Esther singing in Santhali, the local language, the following hymn:
There is not a friend like the lowly Jesus,
No, not one! No, not one!
None else could heal all our soul’s diseases,
No, not one! No, not one!
Jesus knows all about our struggles,
He will guide till the day is done,
There is not a friend like the lowly Jesus;
No, not one! No, not one!
There is not an hour that He is not near us,
No, not one! No, not one!
No, night so dark, But his love can cheer us,
No, not one! No, not one!
Earlier, as she passed by the coffins, Gladys noticing the beautiful roses said, “Timothy loved roses. It was nice of you to put so many roses here.” Throughout the service, she seemed composed and at perfect peace. All her life she had taken the living God at His Word, implicitly believing His every promise.
God had prepared Gladys for bearing this greatest grief. She recalls:
“I believe God very specially spoke tome on January 14, during my morning quiet time. I use a particular daily Bible reading book as help. The story for that day’s reading ran like this: There was a young 12-year-old girl in hospital that was losing her sight. Her pastor came to visit her and she told him, “Pastor, God is taking away my sight.” For a long time, the pastor kept silent and then said, “Jessie, don’t let Him.” The girl was puzzled, and then the wise pastor said, “Give it to Him”. As I meditated upon this story, an inner voice asked me whether I was also willing to give all that I love – my husband, children, and possessions for Him. I spent much time on this. Tears began to roll down my cheeks. Then I told Him, “Lord Jesus, yes, I am willing. Take all that have, for your use – my husband, children and everything that I have. I surrender them all to You…The Lord comforted me by saying, “don’t you know that Abraham pleased me by sacrificing his only son, Isaac….” These days, our blessed Lord has been strengthening me in very unusual ways.”
Asked whether she now plans to leave India for good, she said: “Never. My husband and our children have sacrificed their lives for this nation. India is my home. I am happy to be here”
She further said, “The Lord has called each one of His workers to serve Him wholly and live a life that would be a ‘sweet-smelling sacrifice unto God’. Be faithful to whatever you are called to do. Never yield to the temptation to “go back”; never say “quit”, even if there is persecution or threat…. keep ‘looking unto Jesus who has gone before….’ I have only one message for the people of India. I am not bitter. Neither am I angry. I can forgive their (killers’) deeds. Only Jesus can forgive their sins. But they will have to ask. I have one great desire: that each citizen of this country should establish a personal relationship with Jesus Christ who gave His life for his or her sins. Every Indian should know that Jesus loves him or her, and in turn they should trust Him and endeavor to love one another. Let us burn hatred…and spread the flame of Christ’s love”.
Esther Staines stated, “I praise God that He found my father worthy to die for Christ”.
Gladys still continues to serve Christ in the Leprosy Home by washing the wounds of the lepers. The then President of India K.R.Narayanan referred to the killing of the Staines as that “which belongs to the world’s inventory of black deeds”.
Dear reader, will you please rededicate your life to the service of Christ as Gladys Staines has done?