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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 May, 2005, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Missionary widow's emotional return
Gladys Staines
Mrs Staines spent more than 20 years in India
Gladys Staines, the Australian missionary recently awarded India's second-highest civilian honour, has been speaking about her return to the country in which her husband and children were killed in 1999 by religious extremists.

Mrs Staines was given the Padma Shri in recognition of her work with leprosy patients in Orissa, where she stayed to continue helping after her husband Graham and their two sons - Philip, 10, and Timothy, eight - were burned alive as they slept by an extremist Hindu mob.

Gladys stayed in India to oversee completion of the 40-bed Graham Staines Memorial Hospital, but left in July 2004 saying she was tired and needed a rest. However, she returned for a month to collect award.

Calling from God

"I knew again that I have a huge family in India," she told BBC World Service's Everywoman programme.

If we don't forgive men of the wrong that they do, then how can we be forgiven?
Gladys Staines

"Though I don't have an immediate family and I do miss them, I've got so many people across India who are like family to me.

"We managed to build and to commence a hospital for people affected by leprosy in the name of my husband. He had already planned that before he died, so people felt that was a fitting memorial."

In total, Mrs Staines spent more than 20 years in India, in one of the country's poorest states.

She believes that God "actually called me to work for him" there.

The jeep in which Gladys Staines' husband and sons were killed
Hindu activists claimed the Staines were running a "conversion camp"

She finally left last year saying that she hoped to spend more time with her 91-year-old father and her teenage daughter who wanted to study in an Australian university.

However, she also insisted at the time that she held nothing against the people of India - something she reiterated on her return to the country.

She recalled how after the violent death of Graham and their two sons, people had begun to pour in "from all over India - they said they wanted to come and give their condolences and comfort".

"Along with that came donations - for my own personal expenses, for the leprosy home, and then personal gifts - lots of people gave me saris, which is apparently the traditional thing."

She said that later this generosity extended further - people would approach her saying "'we're sorry for what happened, please forgive us. We're really glad about what you're doing - please stay.'

"That was such a huge encouragement to me," Mrs Staines added.

'Persecution'

The 1999 killing was condemned around the world. Following a judicial inquiry, Hindu activist Dara Singh was sentenced to death, while 12 others were sentenced to life imprisonment.

However, Mrs Staines emphasised that she has "maintained from the beginning that I have forgiven them.

Dara Singh, escorted by Indian police
Dara Singh - Mrs Staines forgave him and the other attackers

"I feel sorry for them in a sense - that they should actually do something like this. I know that some of them did it not really knowing what they were doing - they were told to come and help cause a disturbance.

"But the people who engineered it - it's like any extremism, any fanaticism. You just get to the point where you're not acting rationally anymore.

"In that sense you feel sorry for the people as much as anything else."

And she stressed the importance of forgiveness, referring to Christ, on the cross, saying "Father forgive them for they know not what they do".

"If we don't forgive men of the wrong that they do, then how can we be forgiven?" she asked.

"I've been hearing of other Christians who have been suffering persecution and how they actually forgive those who have done something wrong to them.

"Altogether, I think if we don't forgive, and hold grudges against people, then it affects us, creates bitterness in our own life."


SEE ALSO:
India honours missionary's widow
26 Jan 05 |  South Asia
Missionary's widow leaves India
15 Jul 04 |  South Asia


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