Ten years after the brutal murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in India's Orissa state, widow Gladys Staines is urging persecuted Christians there to turn to Christ.
Baptist missionary Graham Staines, 58, and his sons Philip, 9, and Timothy, 7, were sleeping in their station wagon in Manoharpur village when they were attacked by a mob of Hindu extremists and burned alive inside their vehicle on the night of Jan. 22, 1999. Mr. Staines had spent more than 30 years working with leprosy sufferers in India.
In an interview with AsiaNews this week, Mrs. Staines admitted there had been times of sadness during the last 10 years.
"I feel sad that I do not have my husband to support me, to guard me," she said, "but these are just momentary emotions of sadness which also fill me with great hope, the hope of heaven and of being reunited with my husband and children in paradise and seeing the Father face to face. This guarantee fills me with consolation."
Although Mrs. Staines said she was sad that she was not able to see her sons grow up, she affirmed forgiveness for the killers and said that Christ had been her companion over the years.
"God gives me great support, and the prayers of people has been a source of great consolation, and this is the solidarity I share with the widows of Kandhamal," she said, referring to a district of Orissa state. "It is Jesus who is the source of every consolation and support. God gives us the strength to be able to carry our cross and to live in His will. Our life and our work here on earth has to go on according to His holy will."
Mrs. Staines went on to express her sadness over the recent wave of attacks against Christians in Orissa, where believers have been in a state of constant fear since the leader of the Hindu extremist group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), Laxmanananda Saraswati, was killed in last August.
Though Maoists leaders had publicly claimed responsibility for the murder, the VHP blamed local Christians for the assassinations and consequently burned or destroyed thousands of Christian-owned homes and properties and forced tens of thousands of believers to hide out in the jungle or take shelter in refugee camps.
According to a report by a Communist Party fact-finding team, at least 500 people – mostly Christians – were estimated to have been killed and at least 4,500 houses and churches in Orissa's Kandhamal district were destroyed over the course of two months.
To those women who had lost their husbands in the killings, Mrs. Staines urged them to stay strong "and Christ will be your support, your companion, your guide and your strength."
"When God is working with us, nothing can be against us," she said, alluding to the Bible passage Romans 8:31. "I am in prayerful solidarity with them, I share their sufferings and I want to encourage them with hope. It is painful and sad but importantly, it is not how we live, but what matters is 'whether we are in the will of God.'"
In 2006, Mrs. Staines returned to Orissa to continue the work of her husband in fostering peace and harmony. She encouraged Christians elsewhere to support believers in Orissa with solidarity and prayers.
"To the people of the world I say, do not give up hope, pray for India," she said.
On Thursday, a mass was held at the site of the murders of Mrs. Staines' husband and sons in Monoharpur, marking the tenth anniversary. The mass was followed by a prayer service on Friday and the inauguration of a new physiotherapy hall.
Christian Today reporter Dibin Samuel in New Delhi and Christian Post reporter Eric Young in Washington contributed to this article.