“Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.”
“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.”
Eleven 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.
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.
“For the sake of Christ, my God, they were children! Why?” That’s all my mind could process until later in the day when the news reported a statement from the Amish elders of that community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, “We forgive the gunman.”
Oh my God! These simple, peace-loving men and women, having suffered the most horrific of crimes perpetrated against them, immediately turn a most hateful act of violence against innocent children into an opportunity to show the world what Jesus expected of them. “Forgive him, Father, for he did not know what he was doing.”
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, eleven years later, I don’t know that I could answer that question honestly. I know what Jesus said, I know what the teachings are, but I am still a man who sometimes feeds on justified anger. Perhaps I am the one who needs forgiveness.
That day and the days following were a time of continual mourning. More tears, more questions, less confidence that American society would ever turn from violent rhetoric and behavior. In time the tears did indeed wash away the sorrow. A brighter day appeared.
Those who mourn, including me, realize that mourning is another day in the seasons of life just as pain, depression, illness, disappointment, and inadequacy. Life is an inescapable mingling of sorrow and joy. Without the times of sorrow we would not recognize joy. Without the sorrow we would not seek the blessing of a Comforter.
“Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
“Jesus describes those who grieve as feeling the pain of the world.”
“Saint Ephrem said, ‘Until you have cried, you do not know God.'”
Jeremy Camp released a video and recording encouraging us to endure the pain and sorrow for there will be a day…….
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Revelation 21:4