A mob wanting to “bury Christianity” burnt her husband and two sons alive, but that did not deter Gladys Staines from her mission. She had been working in Baripada, Odisha, for leprosy patients along with her spouse, Graham Staines, an Australian missionary who had lived there since 1965. The murder of her husband and sons in 1999 sparked condemnation across the globe. But Gladys’s response was extraordinary.
“It is far from my mind to punish the persons who were responsible,” she had declared. “But it is my desire and hope that they repent and be reformed.” Gladys publicly forgave the killers, stayed back in Odisha and continued her work for the leprosy home, established in the 1890s. She materialised her partner’s dream project—a surgical clinic catering to lepers. The 15-bed Graham Staines Memorial Hospital was inaugurated on the outskirts of the town five years after his death. It wasn’t easy. “I missed my husband and his leadership. I’m not a leader by nature. I tried to pick up where he left off,” she confesses.
After working in India for 23 years, she returned to Townsville, Australia, in 2004. What prompted the decision? “My daughter Esther had completed her schooling at Hebron in Ooty. She wanted to pursue medicine in Australia, the country of her passport. Esther had never lived there, only visited a couple of times. I wanted to move back to help her settle in the country and her university. At the time, my father also needed me. He was over 90.”
She cherishes her time in India. “I love the culture and the sense of community,” she says. “After the tragedy, the whole country came to me to console, comfort and stand in solidarity. I can never forget that support. Even today, Indians I meet in Australia greet me and offer condolences. I hold no bitterness.”
Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burnt alive in his van in 1999.
In her native country, she went to university to regain her Australian nursing registration, which she secured in 2008. She began working a nurse in a hospital and taught the Bible to primary school students. Gladys received the Padma Shri in 2005 and the Mother Teresa Memorial Award for Social Justice in 2015.
Her longing for the forests and rice fields of Odisha, the Simlipal hills and conversing in Odia persists. Does she want to return? “I miss India, but I have no plans to move back,” she replies. “I believe that our lives are made up of seasons. My season in India is complete and now is my time to be close to my family, my daughter and her family.” Above all else, she enjoys spending time with her grandchildren. “Esther and Reuben have four children and they need their grandmother nearby.”
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