“People are afraid of the curse.” -- Banerjee
The life and ministry of Graham Staines, an Australian missionary in India, shows a powerful example of how Jesus called his disciples to love unconditionally in The Least of These. Starring Stephen Baldwin, the dramatization of the events leading up to the firebombing of Staines and his two young sons powerfully conveys the cultural differences between the expectation of the Christian missionaries and the customs of the rural villages of India. Told through the eyes of a fictional journalist, the story will stir audiences to consider how their biases lead to extreme consequences and how love and forgiveness will one day win the day.
While Baldwin is the headliner, the majority of the story flows through Bollywood star Sharman Joshi as the journalist Manav Banerjee. Banerjee is struggling to find enough status and income to care for his young family, and agrees to the assignment which will lead to his investigation of Staines. Is Staines really causing unrest in the villages of India, promoting an anti-government, anti-Indian customs way of thinking? Or is the Staines family ministry to lepers and other “untouchables” simply a humanitarian outpouring of deep, sacrificial love?
As Banerjee explores the intersection of the Baines’ Christianity and the issues facing the Indian villagers, he’s stuck between his old ways of thinking about outsiders and Christianity, and the way that the Indian people have handled leprosy. While he’s assuming that Staines is in it for ulterior motives, Banerjee discovers that Staines has overcome his fear of leprosy because he recognized that there was a need and he responded to the call of God as Staines knows Him.
“Fear, unfounded fear, prevents the people from doing good.” -- Staines
Baldwin’s performance is understated - a powerful portrayal of Staines that shows the audience of the way Staines’ ministry impacted people without overdoing it. We are clear on the love the Staines family has for the Indian people through Baldwin, Shari Rigby, and the two boys who play their sons, but rather than relying on Staines via Baldwin preaching to the audience, the impact of their ministry is shown. At the same time, a villager angry that his wife has converted (and moved out of their home) becomes a viewpoint into the anti-Christian sentiment that will one day overwhelm the lives of the Staines family, but not their ministry.
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells a parable about the sheep and the goats, and describes for his disciples how what they did (or didn’t do) for other people was what they did (or didn’t do) for Him. He says, “‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” For Staines, in fact for the whole Indian culture, the lepers are the least, and Baines recognizes his attitudes toward them must reflect that of Christ, even if it puts his family in danger.
Deeper than the direct correlation between the film’s title and the lepers, there’s also the cultural struggle between the Indian understanding of being under a curse (leprosy) and the Christian understanding of the curse of sin (Galatians 3:10-14). Of course, Staines’ belief that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection frees us from that curse by being a curse for us is what drives him to ministry - and what propels him to the martyr’s death that he experiences. But it’s also that faith that makes for a powerful witness to Banerjee, and to the church as it considers how to cross cultural lines today.
A powerful exploration of faith and truth, The Least of These premieres February 1. Find your theater and get tickets at https://www.theleastofthese.movie/theaters