In TPM, we are made to believe that the ones which are dying because of their refusal to take medicines are Martyrs. But is that so? Can suicide be considered as martyrdom for Christianity? All that we can see is
- Buildings are constructed/Demolished/Reconstructed
- Large and small plots of land are purchased
- Conventions are conducted with Food Preparation and Personalised Money Collection as the main activity
- Lazy life is lived, without any responsibility
- And the cherry on the icing is that they are on the way to Zion.
Why do you need to believe their story? Let us see how Wikipedia defines a Martyr before we remember the life of one that impacted me in a great way.
A martyr (Greek: μάρτυς, mártys, “witness”; stem μάρτυρ-, mártyr-) is someone who suffers persecution and death for advocating, renouncing, refusing to renounce or refusing to advocate a religious belief or cause as demanded by an external party. In the martyrdom narrative of the remembering community, this refusal to comply with the presented demands results in the punishment or execution of an actor by an alleged oppressor. – Wikipedia
Introducing Graham Staines in this Salt and Light Series
It was in the year 1941, William and Elizabeth’s second child, Graham Stuart Stains was born. He obeyed God to be a missionary in a far-flung jungle of Odisha. Riding a rickety bicycle in a ‘backward’ district, he went about looking after the underprivileged ones, caring neither for success nor reward. Finally, he and his sons were martyred for Jesus Christ in the land which he so loved.
Palmwood, Graham’s hometown in Queensland, Australia had a lot of fond memories for him, but the dearest of all was the crusade he had attended when he was 10. Allan Cunningham was the preacher. As Graham stood there listening, suddenly, in a flash, everything his mother told him about Jesus Christ came alive. He just knew it was true! That day, in the Nambour Presbyterian Church, in the silence of his heart, he surrendered his life to Jesus. Little did he know at that time that the Lord would give him a heart for India and call him to serve the poor and the lepers in Mayurbhanj, Odisha.
Shortly thereafter, Graham’s family moved to Caboolture and then to Beauderest. It was here at Beauderest Baptist Church that he was baptized. He grew steadily in the faith and took an active interest in the Sunday School work as well as Scripture Union Beach Missions. It was also here that he first felt called to be a missionary, but he decided to wait for a confirmation. He met Vera Stevens who spent her life in the service of lepers and what she had to share powerfully challenged him.
God placed a burden in Graham’s heart. There was no doubt as this was confirmed yet again during his morning devotion one Friday while he was reading the Gospel according to Mark. Though he intended to read more than just the first chapter, he soon found himself blinking through tears.
As he read through verses 35-42, And Simon and they that were with him followed after him. And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee. And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth. And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils. And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean. And as soon as he had spoken, immediately leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed. In the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. (Mark 1:36-42), The Holy Spirit brought back to mind the lepers – The ones destined to pass into eternity not knowing that it was not their karma to die like animals – without the medical attention that could restore their ravaged bodies. The very same ones his Saviour loved so much that He died on a cross for them 2000 years ago. That lepers and others would not die never knowing so great a love was thought too unbearable to Graham.
Graham realized that this was a life-defining decision and one that would exact a heavy price. For six years, he worked as a clerk before enrolling in Queensland Bible Institute. Once again he heard in detail about what the Lord was accomplishing through Vera and others at Mayurbhanj Mission in India.
Graham applied to the Evangelical Missionary Society in Mayurbhanj. One of his uncles owned Brandon Timbers in Brisbane and here was for Graham a plum job with a secure future. But, while Graham did love his uncle, it was just that he happened to love Jesus Christ even more. He turned down this and another excellent offer saying, “The child of the King will do the King’s work.” He leaving for India was sad for some.
God had something else in store for Graham in India- Gladys Weatherhead. Gladys had become a nurse and her work took her to various parts of Australia. She had completed general nursing, midwifery, maternal and child health courses. She continued in the work of various Brethren Assemblies, wherever her profession took her- in Sunday Schools and youth work, Scripture Union Beach Missions and Nurses’ Christian Fellowship. At the age of 18, she felt God calling her into full-time missionary service. In 1981, having joined Operation Mobilization, she served them in Singapore, Malaysia, Europe and India. While she was with a team in Odisha, their work took them to Mayurbhanj and that’s where she met Graham.
The two of them got married at Ipswich Gospel Chapel, Queensland on 6 August 1983. On their return to Baripada, Odisha, Gladys joined Graham in his work at Mayurbhanj Leprosy Home. The asylum became their labour of love. God blessed them with three children- Esther, Philip and Timothy. In 1997, the Stains 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, Odisha.
On the night of the 22 January 1999, Graham Staines and his two sons had attended a jungle camp in Manoharpur, which was an annual gathering for Christians in the area to congregate for a conference and discuss their beliefs in a social setting.
Graham was aware that some tension regarding conversion had found it’s way to Manoharpur. This, however, did not worry him. It was a long time ago that he had decided to follow Jesus Christ no matter what the personal cost would be. Having read the Acts of Apostles a great many times, he knew that nothing significant was ever achieved without opposition.
That night after the conference, Graham had much to thank God for- a beautiful wife, three loving kids and a mission through which he could help many live a life of dignity. With that joy in his heart, as 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, a mob approached Manoharpur at around 12:20 a.m. They came in running from the fields, armed with lathis and Trishul(tridents). As they approached the station wagon, they began screaming. They struck first wielding an axe at the tyres, deflating them. Then they broke windows and prevented the Stains from escaping. Graham and his boys were beaten mercilessly. All three were pierced with Trishul. Then they 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 roast alive as the fire consumed the vehicle.
Someone brought water and tried to put out the fire but they caught him and beating hard, chased him away.
“It is the sovereign will of God that my husband should die,” proclaimed Gladys, the widow of Graham Stains after hearing that her husband and two sons were burnt alive to death. She consoled the inmates of the Home and said, “I’m thankful that God allowed them to suffer for Jesus’ sake. I truly pray- Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”It was difficult for the 13-year- old Esther but she too trusted the God her father believed in. At the funeral, she spoke- “I praise the Lord that He found my father worthy to die for Him.” It’s no wonder that Gladys and Esther could sing at the funeral to the risen Lord, with confidence and joy: “Because He lives I can face tomorrow ”
Dr Binod Das, a physician, skin specialist and co-worker with Graham of over thirty years recollects: “…Graham would come to my house and we would come to the Leprosy Home together… He had a deep concern for each and every patient…”
Kutlumaji, a Santhal Adivasi had lost most of his toes to leprosy. And while no one had cared for him, Graham did. He had brought Kutlumaji into the Mayurbhanj home and nursed him to recovery. There, once cured, he married Sarida, who was also healed at the Home. She sums up their feelings: “Our world was darkness. We always faced death. None of the religious leaders bothered to give us even one meal. When we begged for alms, they would throw stones at us and chase us away. We were untouchables. These religious leaders used to tell us that we deserved leprosy because of our sins in our previous birth- because of our ‘Karma’. And we were left to die in the jungles all alone, like worms… But then came Stains Dada and his friends… they stretched forth their hands in mercy and took us to the Leprosy Home…There we saw the Love of God.”
In his column Nation-State, Abhay Mokashi wrote- “I do not know if Graham Stuart Stains, the Australian missionary who was burnt alive with his two sons Philip and Timothy, was involved in religious conversions. One thing he definitely did- he converted leprosy patients into human beings, for the treatment meted out to them even by their near and dear ones were worse than that given to animals. Stains, his wife and his children, helped the leprosy patients live like human beings.”
Dr Subhankar Ghosh, an Odia friend of Graham of many years, remembers very clearly that “Graham never induced anyone by money or materials to become Christian, rather he took money even from the poor patients towards the cost of medicine because that was his discipline and way. There was hardly any contradiction in his being and doing. His life was transparent as glass… an open book and I am grieved that he was killed with the blame of ‘conversion’, a word that has been wrongly used and which has today taken on many erroneous interpretations. Jesus Himself also died with false charges of being a blasphemer, law-breaker and traitor.”
Graham’s purpose in serving the lepers was not to convert. The lepers he nursed also were fully aware that there was no connection between the medical attention received and their acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. Actually, no man, neither Graham nor anybody can convert another.
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 to help me try to accomplish the work of Graham, But I sometimes wonder why Graham was killed, and what also made his assassins behave in such a brutal manner on the night of the 22nd/23rd of 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 hopes that they would repent and be reformed.”
Gladys Staines decided to stay in India where she and her husband had served lepers for 15 years, keeping her daughter Esther, with her, stating: “I cannot just leave those people who love and trust us. I have high regard for the people of India and their tolerance…My husband and our children have sacrificed their lives for this nation; India is my home. I hope to be here and continue to serve the needy.”
In 2004, Christianity Today described this woman as “the best-known Christian in India after Mother Teresa.” In 2005, she was awarded the Padma Shri, a civilian award from the Government of India. As a result of the contributions earned from receiving that award, Staines transformed the leper house she served at into a full hospital. In November 2015, Staines was awarded the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice and after receiving the award, she stated: “I thank God for his help in enabling me to carry out the work in caring for people with leprosy, even after my husband was killed.”
Burnt Alive, GLS Publishing