How many of you remember where you were on November 22, 1963? How many of you have no idea why I’m asking that? On November 22, 1963 two important men died. One was Professor C.S. Lewis, English Christian author and teacher. The other was (anyone).
Look at the dates on the Confederate soldiers monuments. Lincoln County’s monument was dedicated 1911 – 50 years after the beginning of the war. Catawba County’s monument at the old courthouse on North College Avenue was dedicated 1907 – 42 years after the end of the war. As the soldiers die we publicly remember their service. The Honor Air program brought many western NC veterans of World War II to Washington to see the World War II memorial. When I was younger I used to think 50 years was a long time. As I get older it gets shorter.
The gospels were written down 40 to 60 years after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, based on the oral tradition of the first generation that had received the gospel from the apostles just as that generation began to die in significant numbers, but while there were still people living who had been there and who could testify to what they knew personally.
The early church expected the return of the Lord Jesus any day now, and Paul’s letters to the church at Thessalonica last Sunday tell us of the problems when the Lord delayed his return. But the church as a whole believed that Jesus had promised to return. St. Luke also records Jesus’ warning about conflict and persecution and his promise, “they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
From the time of St. Stephen the first martyr Christians had learned that proclaiming a crucified and resurrected Savior meant trouble with those who refused to believe. But they also remembered that Jesus had said this trouble was coming, and he had also said, “But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” This life may end in martyrdom, but our eternal life continues. By endurance we gain our souls.
This good news has strengthened many Christians in their time of trial. It continues to strengthen Christians in Africa, in India, in Egypt and the Middle East, and in other places where is is dangerous to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Let me tell you about Dr. Graham Stuart Staines. He was born January 18, 1941 in Queensland, Australia. When he was 15 he saw a photograph of a boy his age who was suffering from severe leprosy and decided to dedicate his life to serve God by serving leprosy patients. Two years later he learned of a medical mission to lepers in Orissa state, India. Orissa is about as far southwest of Calcutta as our companion diocese of Durgapur is northwest of Calcutta. The population is 41 million people, about 2.4% Christian – or just over a million people – about half the size of the Episcopal Church.
Dr. Stains did his medical training in Australia and on his 24th birthday (1965) arrived in India. He joined the medical mission, and learned the local languages so well the local government asked his help with a polio immunization drive. In 1983 he married an Australian nurse missionary; they had three children.
The leprosy mission treated about 80 patients at a time and included a vocational training center where patients learned to weave clothing, mats, and towels - a self-sufficient haven where patients were treated with dignity and learned skills to become economically independent. In addition to his medical work Graham trained students, and did work in literacy, translation, discipleship, church planting and social development. He helped with the 1997 Ho language translation of the New Testament.
On the night of 22nd January 1999, Dr. Stains and his two sons Philip and Timothy attended an annual gathering of area Christians in a rural area. It was cold and the three spent the night in his station wagon. During the night a mob of about 50 people, armed with axes and other implements, angry at his Christian work, attacked his vehicle and set it on fire. Stains and his sons were burnt alive.Four years later the mob ringleaders were tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. Dr. Stains’ wife continued the work for five years. At the sentencing of the killers she said she had forgiven the killers and had no bitterness towards them. In 2005 she received a civilian award from the Government of India, in recognition for her work.
“They will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”