The faith-based film ‘The Least of These’ opens this weekend, telling the true story of Graham Staines, a career missionary whose life ended in a tragedy that gained worldwide headlines.
Graham Staines is a fearless-yet-careful missionary living in a country, India, that doesn’t trust Christians.
The year is 1999, and the 50-something Australian is working among India’s lepers, giving them medicine that heals but also offering the hope that only the Gospel can provide. For many lepers, he is their only friend. That’s because lepers are considered heavily contagious and outcasts for life, even though most people can easily fight off the disease.
“He is taking care of lots of people who were rejected by their own people,” one acquaintance says.
Yet in a country that is 80 percent Hindu and that cares deeply about its traditions, Staines is viewed skeptically.
One such skeptic is Manav Banerjee, a journalist who is trying to impress his editor and who believes Staines is violating the region’s forced conversion laws, which prohibit changing religion against one’s will. That may sound appealing on first blush, but—practically—such laws have a chilling effect on religious freedom. Every allegation must be investigated. And every conversion must be reported to the government.
Yet Banerjee discovers only positive things about Staines, who is careful to follow the law. Everyone around Staines likes him.
This does little to appease Banerjee’s editor, a skeptic of Christianity who urges him to dig even deeper, no matter the cost.
The faith-based film The Least of These (PG-13) opens this weekend, telling the true story of Graham Staines, a career missionary whose life ended in a tragedy that gained worldwide headlines. It stars Stephen Baldwin as Staines; Shari Rigby as his wife, Gladys; and Indian actor Sharman Joshi as Banerjee.
The movie puts a spotlight on India’s many laws restricting religious freedom. Such laws remain in effect, two decades after Staines’ death.
Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!
(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)
Minimal/moderate. The film begins by showing the bombing of a building, and we learn via news clips that churches throughout the region have been bombed, too. A man who appears to have leprosy is kicked off a bus. A group of Indian men plot to attack Staines. Staines was martyred alongside his two sons, and the event is presented tactfully; it takes place at night when they are sleeping in a van. The vehicle is set ablaze, and we see Staines beg the murderers to let his boys go (They don’t). The scene cuts away before he is ablaze.
None. A few women in traditional, belly-revealing Indian dress are seen.
Other Positive Elements
The contrast between Staines and everyday citizens is dramatic. The film shows a man with leprosy being kicked off a bus. Minutes later, Staines picks him up and lets him ride in his vehicle.
The film has two major themes: missions and forgiveness. The filmmakers want moviegoers to consider the missions focus of Staines, who became convicted as a teenager of the need to take the Gospel to India. The movie also focuses on Gladys’ choice to forgive. She was left a widow to raise a young daughter. The film promotes an organization, iForgive.com.
In many ways, Staines’ ministry reflected that of Christ, who also loved lepers (Luke 5:12–16, Luke 17:11-19). Jesus, too, treated lepers as the image-bearers of God that they were. Jesus, too, wanted them to know the Gospel.
But would we have had the conviction of Staines? Would we have taken the Gospel to a diseased people, knowing we might die a miserable death?
Staines died in 1999, but his legacy lived on. One political editor at the time wrote, “He converted leprosy patients into human beings, for the treatment meted out to them even by their near and dear ones was worse than that given to animals. The Hindu fundamentalists responsible for the killing of Staines and his two sons should know that the loss of these three lives is not to Christianity, but to humanity at large.”
The use of Indian actors and the choice to film it in India. It gives the movie a realistic look.
Staines’ story is filled with powerful messages, but too often the film lacks the emotion to match the real-life subject.
1. Why did Staines want to take the Gospel to India’s lepers?
2. What lessons can we learn from his life?
3. What can we learn from the life of his wife?
Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements/disturbing images.