On January 22, 1999 Graham Stuart Staines (aged 58) and his sons Phillip (aged 9) and Timothy (aged 7) were burnt alive for their faith in Christ and service to the poor. Since August 2008 onward at least 67 followers of Christ have witnessed to their faith by martyrdom.
If we do not remember Orissa martyrdom and name it publicly it remains invisible. To the outside observer, the martyrdom of Christian and the violence of the persecutors will go unseen. However public remembering of wrongs is an act that acknowledges them and is therefore also an act of justice. Acknowledgement is essential to personal and social healing. The remembrance must be truthful.
What is Martyrdom?
To associate martyrdom simply with pain, blood and gruesome murder is not a correct picture of the experience. Martyrdom is an integral facet of what Christian faith and conduct may fully demand. It’s the decisive event to witness to faith in Christ and to the power of God’s grace through the response of the martyr.
To those of us who are alive, martyrdom is a persuasive challenge to evaluate our love for God and love for neighbour. It’s a reality check and a chilling reminder of evil in human nature.
Justice and Love
Eight-year-old Sabrina mustered courage on 25th January 1999 to register her protest in front of the Supreme Court of India. Print media in many parts of the world published the slogan card she carried "Burn Hatred Not Children." Her symbolic protest demanded justice after a frenzied mob with flaming torches burnt alive two innocent children Philip and Timothy and their father Graham Stuart Staines, in their jeep in Manoharpur, Orissa on January 22rd 1999. Graham, an Australian missionary, had personally nursed leprosy patients in a Home in Baripada, Orissa since 1983... He was a loving and compassionate friend of inmates of various religions. In contrast, the persecutors, inciting ideologies of hatred, were convinced their action served the nation. No right-thinking person could support such an ideology.
In the face of Staines’s martyrdom Gladys, widow of Graham stated, “I have no anger. I have no hatred. I forgive them.” People asked Gladys, “How could you forgive?” Such forgiving is not natural, but we believe it comes from Christ and reveals true Christian character.
Some question shouldn’t the perpetrator who are truly guilty be dealt with as they deserve to be treated with the strict enforcement of retributive justice? It needs to be stated that Christian love of the enemy, does not exclude the concerns for justice but goes beyond it, to forgiveness and reconciliation.
The extent of abuse in Orissa should not overwhelm the Churches capacity to think of loving our abusers, of wishing them well, of seeking to do good for them and of working to establish a human bond with them. As the Church we journey together with God revealed in Jesus Christ who loves even our enemies.
For evil to totally succeed requires that when an evil action is committed it is responded to with violence and retribution. This continues the spiral of evil. Instead of returning evil for evil, we must heed the scripture and try to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).
Suffering is part of Christian identity however it cannot consist in simply in what we remember. It’s vital how we remember. The Church must integrate the humiliation, pain and martyrdom as part of Churches life story. Healing takes place not so much by remembering traumatic events and their accompanying emotions. Rather by interpreting memories and inscribing them into larger pattern of meaning, making them part of our identity.
Suffering can make us better persons; it can draw us closer to God or make us more empathetic with others who suffer. It can bring the various Christian denominations together in unity.
The martyrdom of Christians in Orissa has contributed in exposing the injustice of Orissa government that controls its citizens, curtailed their freedoms, and sacrificed their well being out of a commitment to a destructive and unworkable ideology.
The means of healing and reconciliation is the interpretative work the Church does with the memory of suffering and martyrdom in Orissa.
Remembering the Martyrs:
1. Rasananda Pradhan of Rupagaon village
1. Bikram Naik of Tiangia village
2. Dasaratha Pradhan of Tiangia village
3. Surendra Naik of Tiangia village
4. Jaka Naik of Budamaha village
5. Gapana Nayak of Budamaha village
6. Nanamati Naik of Bakingia village
7. Rajesh Digal of Bataguda village
8. Sunaphulo Nayak of Tiangia village
1. Akbar Digal of Sulesaru village
2. Gunduri Nayak of Budamaha village
3. Bastina Mantry of Bhalipada village
4. Meri Digal of Barakhama village
5. Nabaghana Nayak of Paderkia village
6. Prafulla Nayak of Badimunda village
7. Sideshwar Digal of Sulesaru village
8. Pastor Samuel Naik(Nayak) of Bakingia village
1. Pastor Gayadhar Digal of Phiringia village
2. Pastor Dibya Sunder Digal of Sipaeju village
3. Pastor Daniel Nayak of Bakingia village
4. Bidyadhar Digal of Dugabadi village
5. Trinath Digal of Tiangia village
6. Sadananda Pradhan of Telapali village
7. Anthou Digal of Telapali village
8. Parikhita Nayak of Telapali village
9. Kasiben of Raikia burnt to death
10.An Adventist believer of Digi village beheaded
11.Baxi Bandhu of Lumungia village
1. Romani Naik of Bakingia village; mother of Samuel Naik burnt alive
2. Daniel Naik of Bakingia village
3. Michael Naik of Bakingia village
1. Baxi Bandhu of Lumungia beheaded
1. Mathew Naik of Sarangada village
2. Purander Mallick of Nilungia village
1. Iswar Digal of Gatringia village
1. Meghanath Digal of Bisipada village
2. Priyatamma Digal of Bisipada village
1. Shyam Sunder of Sindhpali village
1. Father Bernard Digal of Sulesaru village
1. Leunsio Digal died in Daringabadi Relief Camp
1. Lalita Digal of Dobali village
1. Jubraj Digal of Ganjamendi Village
2. Janamati Nayak of Bakingia village
3. Jecob Digal of Petapanga village
4. Kamolini Nayak of Mondakia village
5. 12 year old girl died in a relief camp in K.Nuagaon
6. Romesh Digal of Bakingia village
7. Joseph Digal (Place unknown)
8. Khogeswar Pradhan
9. Pastor Daniel Mallick of Bakingia
10.Mishra Digal of Balliguda
1. Mukunda Burdhan of Mukundapure
2. Kumuda Bardhan of Mukundapure village
3. Unknown person from Parlakhemundi village
1. Dhanyavad Lima in Ramgiri Relief Camp
1. Unknown person killed from Papahandi village
1. Abhimonyu Nayak of Barapalli village
1. Ramakant of Ramannaguda village
2. Balu of Ramannaguda village
Unless we are ready to die for Christ, we are no longer ready to live for Him.
Rev. Dr. Richard Howell
Evangelical Fellowship of India
New Delhi, India
Evangelical Fellowship of India (established 1951) is a charter member of World Evangelical Alliance, an accredited NGO with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations