Sunday, October 08, 2006

Lessons in Forgiveness....

The story of the shootings of Amish schoolgirls has been seen on TV all over the world. Strasburg is less than 10 miles away from Nickel Mines and the one-room schoolhouse where the tragedy took place. We have not seen it, but we have seen other schoolhouses like it, and the Amish farms with their great white barns set amidst green hills and valleys, and the horses and buggies clip-clopping along the roadways. We have not had an opportunity to speak directly with an Amish person, but the locals we have met know the families and some of their children. The Lancaster papers are filled with details of the lives of the victims, their families, as well as the shooter and his family. Of all the places in the world, one would not expect violence of this magnitude to erupt in the midst of the peace-loving Amish. The thought came to me that this cataclysmic event will change the lives of these people just as surely as the events of 9/11/01 changed our world. But as they struggle with broken hearts, their message of faith and forgiveness is reaching out to the whole world. Three stories I heard touched me to the core. The first is the that one of the oldest girls, knowing that Charles Roberts was about to start shooting, asked him to shoot her first, in the hope that the younger girls would be spared. She died and her younger sister was wounded. The second was about the grandfather of the one of the victims, standing by as his granddaughter's body was being prepared for burial by her mother, telling the girl's siblings that were in the room, "We must forgive." Wow, could I ever say that, were I in his shoes? Finally, of the 75 or so mourners at the funeral of the killer, about 1/2 of them were Amish family members of the victims. Why were they there? To show support for Marie Roberts, his widow, and their three young children. In fact, the Amish elders have decreed that a portion of the funds donated to help the families (who have no medical insurance) be set aside to help the Roberts family. I can't think any testimony more powerful than this, that love and forgiveness, through the power of Christ, can triumph over hate and revenge.

We came to Strasburg because we wanted to visit the Living Waters & Millenium Theatres, where biblical stories are recreated in full-scale performances, complete with live animals, such as Noah's Ark. And yes, last night we went to see a play called "Ruth", a dramatization of the events in the Old Testament book of the same name. It was an awesome lesson in love and redemption. But never did we dream, before we came here, that the deepest spiritual lesson we could learn would come from the Amish community here in Pennsylvania.

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