BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP) — A missionary’s murder that shocked the world 20 years ago is the focus of a movie opening in theaters this weekend — and its filmmakers hope the project helps spark a renewed interest in long-term missions.
“The Least of These” (PG-13) tells the story of Graham Staines, an Australian missionary who took medicine and the Gospel to India’s lepers and was killed in 1999 for allegedly violating the region’s laws against “forced” conversions. A subsequent investigation cleared his name and showed that everyone who became a Christian did so willingly.
The film stars Stephen Baldwin as Staines; Shari Rigby (“October Baby,” “Overcomer”) as his wife Gladys; and Sharman Joshi as Manav, a newspaper journalist investigating Staines.
The movie was shot in India and used mostly Indian actors. “This is a true story that happened in my part of the world where I literally grew up,” Victor Abraham, the film’s executive producer, told The Alabama Baptist.
“Because of the sensitivity of the subject, the legality of conversion is still a toxic issue in India,” he said. “Anti-conversion laws do exist. Part of it is the protection of their own culture. Part of it is threat.”
On Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List, which ranks the 50 countries where Christians experience the most persecution, India ranks No. 10. Eight of India’s 29 states have some form of anti-conversion law, according to the Library of Congress. They prohibit conversion from Hinduism to Christianity or another faith by “forcible” or “fraudulent” means or by “allurement” or “inducement,” according to the library. The penalty for violating them is up to three years in prison. All allegations must be investigated — an action that by itself can intimidate religious minorities.
In 2017, 10 Christians were arrested for taking Hindu children to a Christian camp, even though the parents had approved the trips.
“These cases bring a deep sense of insecurity among Christians who cannot freely practice their faith in the state where anti-conversions laws have been enacted,” Alliance Defense Freedom International said in a 2018 report.
Willingness to serve
Most of the movie spotlights Gaines’ ministry and his willingness to interact with lepers who were shunned by their families and friends. He gave medicine to anyone who asked, even if they weren’t Christian.
Gaines had become burdened as a teenager to take the Gospel to India. He died at age 58.
“We want to reawaken the desire of the missional movement of the past like Graham — people who went and stayed to serve, sought to love and actually fulfilled all parts of their biblical mandate,” Krish Dhanam, a creative consultant for the film, told The Alabama Baptist.
The film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements/disturbing images. It contains no sexuality or coarse language.
“One of the things that we were able to put forward with this project was to stay on the side of decency while telling a wholesome story that is true,” Dhanam said. “We show the conflict of good and evil without any of the other things — the scintillating components. This movie has all the charisma to compete, but at the same time does not use any of the traditional elements of Hollywood movies.”
For more information on the film, visit https://theleastofthese.movie/.