In 1999 Gladys Staines became a widow and a single parent after Hindu radicals torched the jeep in which her missionary husband and sons were sleeping. Four years later, she is becoming one of India's most celebrated peacemakers.
In an exclusive interview with Christianity Today, Staines, 50, said strife-torn India urgently needs communal harmony. Theodore Williams, former chairman of World Evangelical Fellowship and now a pastor at large at the Richmond Town Methodist Church, Bangalore, endorsed her call. He said Staines's campaign for tolerance and religious harmony is "more relevant now than ever." The western Indian state of Gujarat, for example, has been reeling under severe religious tension since February 2002. About 1,800 people have died in the continuing conflict between Hindus and Muslims.
Four years ago, the Staines family's tragedy appeared on the front pages of newspapers worldwide. Graham Staines, 57, and the couple's two sons, Philip, 10, and Timothy, 8, were burned to death January 23, 1999, in a remote village in the eastern Indian Orissa state, outside a small, makeshift church in the village of Manoharpur, about 600 miles southeast of the Indian capital, New Delhi. The eldest Staines child, Esther, now 16, and Gladys Staines were at home on the night of the fire.
The news media in India prominently featured Staines as she publicly forgave the killers. "I have forgiven the killers, but the law must take its own course," she said.
Months later, officials arrested Dara Singh, a charismatic Hindu radical, and 10 supporters. Their murder trial in the Orissa state capital of Bhubaneswar has had many delays. Singh protested his arrest by engaging in two hunger strikes in his Orissa jail cell, causing the trial to ...1