“On October 2, 2006, a shooting occurred at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish community of Nickel Mines, a village in Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Gunman Charles Carl Roberts IV took hostages and shot eight out of ten girls, killing five, before committing suicide in the schoolhouse. The emphasis on forgiveness and reconciliation in the response of the Amish community was widely discussed in the national media. The West Nickel Mines School was torn down, and a new one-room schoolhouse, the New Hope School, was built at another location.”
Nearly twelve years ago while taking a break from driving, sitting at a Midwest truck-stop, watching TV on my satellite connection, this breaking news story darkened my soul like nothing else in recent memory. As a young boy I had attended public school with Amish boys and girls, I lived in communities where the clop-clop of Amish buggies passing by was a normal everyday occurrence, my family shopped at the grocery store with Amish families. Their way of life was fascinating to me. How could they follow such a simple lifestyle eschewing modern conveniences and still be the happiest people I knew? I greatly envied their humility and dedication to the community of believers which they chose to follow.
And the Amish community fathers immediately issued a statement of forgiveness. Did they mourn? Of course. Were the parents angry? Probably. But they followed the directive set forth by the Scriptures which they revered and followed. Those simple folks knew something which most of the world has never learned to practice – forgiveness.
Even today as I write this, my eyes well up with tears. Innocent schoolgirls gunned down execution style by a madman. On October 2, 2006 I cried like a baby for several hours. My driving partner could not console me, my prayers would not stop the tears, the God of my understanding had deserted me. Five killed. Others injured. The young boys who had been herded outside stood by helplessly as their schoolmates inside screamed while shot after shot was fired.
Could I have forgiven? If my little girl was one of those standing in front of the blackboard with her back to the gunman waiting for her turn to be murdered, could I forgive? Even today, twelve years later, I don’t know that I could answer that question honestly. I know what Jesus said, I know what the teachings are, I know what the Amish fathers did, but I am still a man who sometimes feeds on justified anger.
As He neared physical death, from the crucifixion cross, Jesus spoke these words, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
Oh Lord, if those who have suffered unimaginable horrors can forgive, if Elie Wiesel could forgive the Nazis who decimated his people, if John McCain could forgive his captors who tortured him, then Lord, who am I to withhold forgiveness for an unkind word, an insult, a selfish action? My grievances are so extremely petty compared to those who were mentally and physically abused by the powers of evil.
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Matthew 6:12
It’s a tall order. It’s up to me, isn’t it? I cannot live the life destined for me by a Savior if my head is filled with grudges and grievances, no matter how great or small. I cannot be the mended broken vessel useful to Jesus if my eyes do not see beyond the hurts and humiliations which insulted my pride and sense of self-righteousness.
“Show me how to love the unlovable.
Show me how to reach the unreachable.
Show me how to see what your mercy sees.”