Listen: Screenwriter Andrew Matthews chats to Laura Bennett.
20 years ago Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were killed while serving as missionaries in India.
The tragedy was reported around the world, touching many people with the Staines’ legacy , as well as the confronting realities of Christian persecution.
Now, the story of Graham and his family is being brought to cinemas in ‘The Least of These’. Starring Stephen Baldwin (Faith of our Fathers, The Usual Suspects), the movie takes us to the rural town of Manoharpur, in Odisha state, where Graham had been working with the tribal poor and lepers since 1965. As a man who talked with – and touched – known lepers, Graham’s behaviour stood out and started to draw the attention of media groups and Hindus who were uncomfortable with his displays of faith.
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Radical locals took umbrage with Graham and accused him of illegally converting people to the Christian faith – a heavily punishable crime in India. The claim created unrest around Graham’s camp, and ultimately led to his death.
Although he was later acquitted of any wrong-doing, Graham’s family were grieving, and the people under their care suffering from leprosy, were heartbroken.
Hope Amidst the Tragedy
While ‘The Least of These’ is based on a true story of tragedy, for writer Andrew Matthews it’s also one of immense hope.
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Speaking with Hope 103.2 Andrew said, “it’s inspiring that people are prepared to serve like that, and it’s inspiring that [Grahams’ wife] Gladys is prepared to forgive like that. I don’t think that’s a natural reaction – that’s a divine reaction”.
After Graham’s death, his wife Gladys continued to live in India until 2004, and the next year she was awarded the fourth highest civilian honour in India, the Padma Shree. The award recognised her work with leprosy patients in Odisha, which was further celebrated with the Mother Teresa Memorial International Ward for Social Justice in 2016.
Shooting the movie in India, Andrew says the people there still hold the Staines family in high esteem.
“I think [Indians revere Graham] even more so than Australian audiences do,” Andrew said, “because there’s parts of the country where persecution continues.”
“It’s a difficult environment for people to become Christians – or to change religion in any form,” said Andrew, “and we’ve always prayed that thins movie would be a blessing to them, and encourage people who are going through hard times.”
On Friday, May 10, there will be a screening of the film hosted by Hope 103.2 and Reel Dialogue at Event Cinemas in Castle Hill. Tickets are available now; see the trailer below.