When missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burned alive by Hindu extremists back in 1999, his widow Gladys had two choices – either to leave India and go back home to Australia or stay on and let the power of forgiveness and love become the two most powerful traits in her life.
Gladys chose to stay and continue their ministry to lepers in India. In a true Christian show of love and forgiveness, she continued in her mission to a section of people no one wanted to have anything to do with.
Recently, Gladys was announced as the 2015 recipient of the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice by the Harmony Foundation, a Mumbai-based charity whose awards are endorsed by Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s Order.
Gladys thanked God for His help in empowering her to carry on with her mission – especially after her husband and two sons were killed. At the time of her husband’s death, the couple had been in Ministry for 15 years, looking after lepers.
Hers is an incredible journey of love and forgiveness – one that inspires us in the dark days we are living in. It inspires not only because of her commitment to serving God but also because she chose to forgive and move on. She chose hope over bitterness, peace over hatred.
She also chose to believe that not everyone in India endorsed the hate crime . She understood that in service, you always watch out for the needs of others. In face of incomparable personal tragedy that would have left anyone devastated, she was able to show the radiance of God’s love .
Gladys did not – would not allow her grief to overshadow her – and her late husband’s life’s work with the lepers of India. She stayed on, trusting the path God was taking her on. The people whom she was looking after, the lepers, were also grieving with her ; they shared a common bond of loss and connection.
She and her husband had been working for the Evangelical Missionary Society in Mayurbhanj (EMSM), founded by an Australian missionary a century ago. ESMS has also engaged in missions of supporting local churches and vulnerable communities.
Gladys returned to Australia in 2004 ; in 2005, she was awarded the Padma Shri for Social Service, India’s fourth-highest award for civilians. Gladys used the money to upgrade the home for lepers into a hospital.
A lot still remains to be done on behalf of persecuted Christians in India. Yet, Gladys’ story remains one of hope and true Christian love in a land that is predominantly Hindu.
Gladys Staines is best known as the most famous Christian after Mother Teresa in India. Her powerful testimony bears more witness to the mission she and her husband engaged in, than anything else. Her story is not just a story of one family ; it is also a wonderful gift that is fragrant with the power of forgiveness, love and selfless giving.
She chose to give of herself when she could have taken herself away – in many ways, her story echoes with that of Corrie ten Boom, the historic and courageous Christian Dutchwoman whose powerful story of forgiving the Nazi tormentors who killed her family, transformed her ministry and has impacted millions.
For in true forgiveness, lies hope and comfort. In choosing to share love when hate is all you can think of, bypassing the soul to let your spirit connect with God’s, is where the deepest longing of the human heart is met.