And Persecution Also

‘Truly I tell you,’  Jesus replied, ‘no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — along with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life.’  
(Mark 10:29-30 NIV)

There she stood, calm, serene and poised. We were at The Leprosy Mission's International Assembly in Delhi in November 1999. Gladys Staines had been invited to join us. Just ten months earlier she had lost her husband, Graham and two sons, Philip and Timothy, burnt to death by a gang while sleeping in his station wagon at Manoharpur in Odisha, India. The Staines connection with leprosy and TLM was clearly the basis for the invitation.

During my tenure as Salvation Army Secretary for South Asia at the turn of the century, opposition to Christians was increasing. I was frequently in touch with Christian leaders supporting those affected. This had ranged from breaking up Bible studies and destroying churches to beatings and kidnappings. The events challenged many aspects of our work, causing us to question not only our motivation but also our methods of Christian witness.

I had written to Gladys Staines at the time of the murders; here we met in person.  She spoke with dignity, thanking us for our support. She mentioned forgiving the perpetrators, but asked us to pray that she remain faithful to that commitment.  She stayed in India for several years after the attack, continuing the work her husband had started. That in itself gave proof of her commitment. 

Later, in a statement during the trial of the accused, she said:
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 to 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.

Jesus was at pains to remind his disciples that persecution would be possible. That remains true for the 21st Century Christian. None would welcome persecution, whether of a relatively mild degree or paying the supreme sacrifice. But I, for one, would hope that should it come my way, I would be given the strength to endure.

And if I were left behind, as Gladys Staines was, that I would be able to respond as she did -- with forgiveness. It seems to me that therein lies the greatest power of effective witness.

January 2016