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Slain Missionary Mourned in India

January 25, 1999

BARIPADA, India (AP) _ The wife of a slain Australian missionary sang a hymn of faith before 1,000 mourners gathered today at the flower-laden coffins of her husband and two sons, the first casualties in a month of anti-Christian violence in India.

Gladys Staines and her young daughter, Esther, led the mourners at a prayer service for Graham Stuart Staines, 58, and sons Philips, 10, and Timothy, 8. They were burned to death as they slept in their jeep Saturday after attending a Bible study in Manoharpur village in eastern Orissa state.

Staines had lived in the area since 1965 and had run a home where victims of leprosy were treated. He was a secretary of the New Delhi-based Evangelical Missionary Society.

Holding a Bible and wearing a traditional Indian sari, which was draped over her head in a sign of mourning, Mrs. Staines and her daughter stood in the tent where the three coffins were sheltered from the blistering sun and sang slowly.

``Because He lives, I can face tomorrow. Because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives,″ they sang.

As their voices rose high and clear, a few in the crowd joined in. Later, others sang in the local language, Oriya.

The service was held in the courtyard of the Baptist Union Church in Baripada, where Staines had been a member of the congregation and an occasional preacher. Some mourners watched from the roof of the leprosy clinic were he had worked.

The mourners marched from the church about a mile to the Christian cemetery on the edge of town, located 140 miles south of Calcutta. Baripada is near Manoharpur, where the victims died.

At the graveside, mourners recited more prayers and sang the hymn ``Shall We Gather At The River.″ The widow and her daughter were the first to throw handfuls of dried pebbly earth on the coffins.

Police have arrested 49 Hindu radicals suspected of participating in the slayings. Nearly 40 attackers doused the vehicle with gasoline and set it ablaze, beating up anyone who tried to rescue the family, police said.

In a national television interview Sunday, Mrs. Staines called for forgiveness. ``We cannot demand a longer life span from God than what he has decided for each of us,″ she said. ``I am grateful to God for giving him this long a life span to serve people.″

Most of those arrested belonged to Bajrang Dal, an ideological affiliate of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s right-wing Hindu nationalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party.

Bajrang Dal was one of several Hindu extremist groups blamed for a series of attacks on Christian churches and property that began Christmas Day in the western state of Gujarat.

In central India, five Baptist missionaries were beaten by Hindu political activists when they were found distributing Christian literature Sunday at a Hindu holy site in Allahabad, police said today.

A police spokesman said the missionaries were ordered away on Saturday and were beaten when they returned Sunday. Thousands of Hindu pilgrims bathe daily this time of year at the confluence of two sacred rivers in the town, 250 miles east of New Delhi.

The Rev. Alphonso Lobo, pastor of the Strangers Home Church in Lucknow, the capital of northern Uttar Pradesh state, told The Associated Press that Hindu activists accused him of forcing Hindus to convert and told him to leave or face ``dire consequences.″

Missionaries have worked in India for 200 years, building hospitals and schools, reaching deep into jungles and remote areas to tend to backward tribes and poor people often neglected by the authorities.

Hindus both admire the missionaries for their good work and fear them for their efforts to win converts to Christianity. Missionaries are often seen as the legacy of British colonial rule.

Mother Teresa, the Nobel prize-winning Roman Catholic nun, was a national hero in India, but other Christians engaged in similar work have complained of harassment and hostility.

Christians comprise slightly more than 2 percent of India’s nearly 1 billion people. Hindus make up 82 percent, Muslims 12 percent, and the rest include Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains. Most of India’s 23 million Christians live in south India, where religious conflicts are rare.

Attempting to justify the recent attacks, radical Hindus have accused the missionaries of resorting to bribes and inducements to win converts, which the missionaries deny.

The World Hindu Council, another affiliate of Vajpayee’s party that has been linked to church burnings in western India, condemned the killings and claimed neither its members nor those of the Bajrang Dal were involved.

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