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Doing What They Least Expect

“I have forgiven the killers and have no bitterness. Forgiveness brings healing and our land needs healing from hatred and violence,” said Gladys Staines in response to last month’s court sentences of 13 men responsible for the brutal murders of her husband and two sons.

“I have forgiven the killers and have no bitterness. Forgiveness brings healing and our land needs healing from hatred and violence,” said Gladys Staines in response to last month’s court sentences of 13 men responsible for the brutal murders of her husband and two sons.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
In January 1999, Graham Stewart Staines, an Australian Christian missionary, and his two young sons, Philip and Timothy, were torched to death by a mob as they slept outside a church in the tribal <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />village of Manoharpur in Orissa, India. Staines had lived in that country since 1965, working among people with leprosy and serving on the board of an evangelical missionary society.
 
An Indian court sentenced one of the men to death and 12 others to life in prison for the crimes. Gladys Staines continues to live and work in Orissa, running the leprosy home her husband began.
 
Many people around the world who recall the cruelty of the Staines’ deaths are likely astounded and wonder how Gladys Staines can forgive these men. Those who know her well probably understand why she believes she can do no less.
 
The redefining nature of God’s will guides Gladys Staines to do what few people expect: forgive. She has apparently grasped one of Jesus’ most important, and hardest, teachings: Nothing is worse than to go through life—and eternity—without forgiveness.
 
“Forgiving can heal individuals, marriages, families, communities, and even entire nations,” according to A Campaign for Forgiveness Research. The campaign funded 46 research projects on the effects of forgiveness. Its Web site features some interesting results from those studies, as well as other helpful insights and examples you can use as you lead your Sunday school class to talk about Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness from Matthew 9:1-8.
 
The site’s features include “Myths About Forgiveness” and “Truths About Forgiveness.” Among the myths the site debunks: forgiveness ignores injustices and glosses over wrongs. It doesn’t. Neither does forgiveness equal forgetting, condoning or excusing.
 
The truths about forgiveness are equally challenging: Forgiveness is empathy. It is essential to recovery. And it is “a journey to freedom.”
 
A Campaign for Forgiveness Research includes such leaders as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Ruby Bridges Hall and Robert Coles. President Jimmy Carter is a campaign endorser.
 
Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his role in seeking rights for black South Africans, is now actively involved in encouraging forgiveness on a national scale through the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which he founded and heads.
 
“Forgiveness and reconciliation are not just ethereal, spiritual, other-worldly activities,” Tutu believes. “They have to do with the real world. They are realpolitik, because in a very real sense, without forgiveness, there is no future.”
 
We often think of forgiveness on only personal terms. We do, after all first experience God’s forgiveness individually and personally. Yet forgiveness has corporate dimensions too, as Archbishop Tutu and others recognize. The failure of groups, communities—yes, even churches—to forgive is paralyzing, even deadly.
 
“The man who opts for revenge should dig two graves,” a Chinese proverb says.
 
God help the church and its people who have not yet learned to forgive, or worse, are bent on revenge.
 
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.

Also see our book review of The Hopeful Heart by John Claypool and recent feature story on forgiveness.

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