‘Tidings’ is a newsletter published from Australia by Australian Missionary Tidings. It is a monthly publication and contains “Missionary Mail” from various countries from all over the world. Graham Staines and his wife Gladys Staines’ despatches were published in as many issues of the Tidings. From two of the despatches, it is evident that his team of evangelists and missionaries were involved in the above activity. Staines was very happy that record sales of Bibles and Christian books had taken place. Both in 1997 and 1998, world-famous Jagannath Chariot festivals (popularly known as Rath Yathra) were targeted for Bible tract distribution and sale of Bibles and Christian literature. Such a sale or distribution of Christian literature in an important Hindu festival may not be illegal but certainly not moral.
The fundamental right to practise and propagate one’s religion as guaranteed by Article 25(1) of the Constitution of India is subject to ‘Public Order, Morality and Health’. This act of late Graham Staines certainly fails the ‘Morality’ condition of the fundamental right. In the September 1997 issue, despatch date 23 July 1997, a good team of preachers came from the village churches and four OM workers helped in the second part of the festival. There were record book sales, so a lot of literature has gone into people’s hands. Pray for a man named Surja Singh who bought a Bible. He first heard the gospel in his home village in 1989. He told others to follow Christ but did not do so himself. For some time he had been wondering where he could get a Bible to read again about the Lord, who he believes is the only one who can deliver him from the fear of evil spirits.”
Then there was a despatch of Mayurbhanj, 25 July, published in the March 1998 issue. The scriptures here were put into the hands of the people through books sold and tracts distributed at the recent Jagganath Car Festival. “Pray for God’s word to bear fruit in the lives of those who have received them.”
Bearing with the extreme heat, 120 children attended the Raika Vacation Bible School in June: “Pray for the staff of the leprosy home”. Some came to work very late and did not seem to have as much interest in serving the Lord as they used to.
The despatches of late Graham Staines repeatedly talk about evangelism activities, especially in jungle camps. Accurate figures of those attending the camps, activities like Bible preaching and baptisms find repeat mention in most of the despatches. The motivation of the tribal people and rural folk to abandon their ancestral faith and convert can be gauged by testimonies of two converts mentioned in the Justice DP Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry report. Both witnesses mention “magic/miracle cure” for health issues and “getting rid of the fear of spirits” as their prime motives for conversion to Christianity.
The tribals might have been told of the miraculous healing powers of Jesus Christ in the jungle camps. One of the witnesses testified before the Commission that he reverted to Hinduism as his problems were not solved through the miracle cure of Jesus as promised to him earlier. However, the commission concluded that monetary incentives were not given for conversion to Christianity.
Then in the issue of June 1997, which covered the Mayurbhanj despatch of 25 April 1997, a different story came up. The first jungle camp in Ramchandrapur was a fruitful time and the Spirit of God worked among the people. About 100 attended and some were baptised at the camp. At present, Michael and some of the church leaders are touring several places where people are asking for baptism. Five were baptised at Bigonbadi. Pray for the Etani Trust in which the mission properties are vested. One man managed by underhand means to get parts of the property in his name and several nominal Christians of the Baripada church is trying to get some of this valuable property for themselves. The Trust is having to take legal action to rectify this.”
In the November 1997 issue covering the Mayurbhanj despatch of 19 September, which says, “Praise God we now have the Ho New Testament in Oriya script and many copies are now in the hands of the Ho people. Pray that it will be used by God to speak to many as they read his word in their language. The wife of Surga Singh, the new believer from the Car Festival, is interested but it is a slow process for an illiterate mother to understand so much that is new. Pray for them as they plan to move soon to Bhubaneswar and are concerned about finding fellowship and teaching there. The Ho believers in Thakurmunda still face persecution. From time to time the village people have beaten them up, broken their bicycles and not allowed them to worship in their church building. Three people came to Baripada to meet district officials and petition for justice. Pray that action will be taken to allow freedom to worship.”
In the March 1998 issue that covered the Mayurbhanj despatch of 20 January 1998, more than 160 women stayed at the camp held at Palasboni, and with them who came and went each day, there were up to 205 at the meetings. This is many more than last year. Pray for a continuing work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these ladies through the word of God which they have heard.
The April 1998 issue covering the Mayurbhanj despatch of 11 February, “Jungle Camp” refers to four days of Bible teaching, prayer and the fellowship of Christians living together. It enables believers from other churches to meet with local Christians to discuss experiences and encourage one another. Speakers from other places broaden the vision of those whose lives have been confined to one small village. The teaching helps the church leaders to further develop material for their regular ministry.
The camp can create hunger in the hearts of those who come just to observe. Each camp has a bookstall, which for many is the only chance to buy Christian literature. “The three camps held so far this year were well attended and others are to be held in the next few months. There are different needs in each place. Pray for wisdom for the leaders and responsive hearts in the people. One lady commented after reading some of the Ho New Testament ‘God’s word is just so fresh and new to me as I read it now. It was encouraging to see so many Ho people following the references in the Ho New Testament during the messages at Sarat Jungle Camp. We sold all the New Testaments we took there,” the despatch says.
As can be seen from the various despatches, the large scale organisation of Vacation Bible Schools and Sunday school for kids, exposure to Christianity of girls staying in Mission sponsored hostels are clear pointers that the team of evangelists led by late Graham Staines were imparting Christian religious education to minor children.
Violation of Orissa Freedom of religion Act, 1967, by Graham Staines
The act above had come into force with effect from 11 January 1968. Rules were framed under the Act in 1989 and were in force during the period in which late Graham Staines was working in the state of Orissa. From the Justice DP Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry, it is clear that neither the team of late Graham Staines nor the district administration was aware of the Act/ Rules of the above act nor did they make any attempt to follow the provisions of the Act. Thus it is beyond doubt that violations of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967 for prolonged periods were carried on with impunity by the evangelist teams led by the late Graham Staines. In his despatches, late Graham Staines made mention of baptisms multiple times. As per the above Act and rules framed thereunder, every event of baptism shall be informed to the concerned District Magistrate. But there is no mention of any such intimation by the late Graham Staines. Also, the individual changing his religion has to declare his intention to do so to a Magistrate 1st Class of the jurisdiction concerned. The dispatches do not speak of any such declaration being filed.
Many witnesses who testified before the Commission said that ‘Cure from Health Problems’ was the prime reason for conversion to Christianity. Does not the promise of Magic Cure upon conversion amount to ‘Fraud’ under the above Act? Some of the witnesses reverted to Hinduism when the promised Magic Cures did not materialise. Justice D.P.Wadhwa Commission of Inquiry recorded their dismay as follows:
“Both the District Magistrates and the Superintendent of Police also did not have a proper working knowledge of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act and were not aware of the provisions of the Act and its rules.”
Social tensions and disputes within the Christian group
The despatches of late Graham Staines and Gladys Staines speak of tensions in the villages, threats from trouble makers as within the Christian groups on issues of church management and other issues. Land ownership, church administration led to internal squabbles and closing down of churches and the cancellation of Vacation Bible Schools.
The July 1998 issue covering the despatch of Mayurbhanj, 19 May 1998, speaks of many new believers in the Manoharpur church and “the work is growing”. “The devil is now finding an opportunity to hinder the work of God. There is a disagreement between the young people and the older men of the church.”
“A problem arose about the land on which the church is built and the planned Vacation Bible School had to be cancelled. Last year more than 100 children attended this programme. The translation of Daily Life into Oriya is complete. Pray for the checking of the text and that the printing will be done well and speedily. We have been told that a militant Hindu group plans to concentrate on Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts to turn Christians back to Hinduism. Pray for wisdom, grace and steadfastness for all God’s children,” the despatch revealed.
The August 1998 Issue publishing the despatch of Mayurbhanj, 9 June 1998, said in many churches here, Sunday schools had ceased to function. “I have been advocating these and at a recent church leaders meeting, I heard that some have re-started this work. It is often difficult to find the right ones to conduct Sunday school and mostly they have to do it without materials as very little is available,” Graham Staines wrote.
The evangelist said that the Vacation Bible School that was to be held in Manoharpur had been cancelled because of problems in the church there. “Two hundred and eight children registered for the one at Raika, but because of the extreme heat, only 120 came. It was an excellent time and some young people who teach in VBS are being trained and encouraged for children’s work and Sunday school,” the despatch read.
Leprosy eradication by Graham Staines in a place nearly devoid of lepers
After reading the despatches of late Graham Staines and Gladys Staines, it becomes clear that the despatches talk mostly about evangelist activities and once in a while a passing reference is made to leprosy work. While precise figures about the number of attendees at the jungle camps, Vacation Bible School for children, number of people attending the church, number of baptised people are mentioned in the despatches, no such figures or even a passing reference is found in these despatches.
It may not be out of place to mention that leprosy is a vanishing disease and in India, the number of active cases and new cases diagnosed each year have fallen steeply. The Annual New Case Detection Rate (CDR) has fallen steeply in the last 25 years.
Thus it is clear that late Graham Staines spent a considerable part of his time and energy in evangelist activities, church planting, Bible translations, sale of Bibles, distribution of tracts and baptisms rather than leprosy work.
To sum it up, the late Graham Staines was more of an evangelist propagating Christianity amongst tribals and less of a Leprosy Relief worker. His activities violated The Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967 multiple times over prolonged periods. Social tensions and communal strife followed his activities.
Reproduced on request from Nijam Today