The Amish community which suffered the tragic schoolhouse shooting earlier in the month is taking it day by day to forgive the killer in the face of overwhelming grief.
by Maria Mackay
It is a daily struggle to live Jesus’ message of forgiveness for the Amish community in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, which lost five girls at the start of the month in a schoolhouse shooting. This week the President of US ministry Faith and Action, the Rev. Rob Schenck, hand-delivered hundreds of prayers in binders for the victims of the massacre and their families, as well as for the family of the shooter, married father-of-three Charles Carl Roberts.
Reverend Schenck was one of very few outsiders to be given the privilege of personally visiting the families of the children in the days immediately following the tragedy. The families of the slain girls generously allowed Rev. Schenck to participate in and witness firsthand some of their most intimate and private moments of grief, which included the preparations of the girls for their funerals by their grieving mothers and relatives. Rev. Schenck spent time with the family of Charlie Roberts shortly after Amish representatives assured them that the community forgave Roberts and laid no charge against the Roberts family.
Rev. Schenck’s experience with both the families of the victims and of the perpetrator was one that profoundly touched him and the extent of their forgiveness challenged immensely his own witness to the gospel’s message to "love our enemies". He noted that at the time of his early pastoral visits, Amish church leaders explained that it would become progressively more difficult to sustain forgiveness as time passes. Mr. Schenck saw that in his most recent visits. In a statement released after this week’s visit to the Amish families, he said,
“The Amish will tell you they are far from perfect. They struggle just as all of us do. Some of the family members told me this week they are having a very difficult time with their feelings as the reality of their loss settles in. The grandfather of one girl told me in tears he must depend on God each and every day for the strength to continue forgiving the man who killed his granddaughter and wounded the other children so terribly. Once again, these people are living out the gospel in front of us. Our experience with God's forgiveness is a daily one. Forgiving others is a process. No one is perfect. The Amish, like any of us, are struggling with their humanity. That's why God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to us. And it's why we need His Spirit to help us. There are many dimensions to this terrible event. We are only now beginning to learn from it. The Amish say that's why God allowed it, to teach us something."As someone who knows the loss of a brother, I can empathize and certainly understand the feelings these Amish families are facing. It is also with much sadness that I confess understanding for their struggle with forgiveness on a daily basis. Pray for the families, the community and our country. We ALL need to be more aware of and compassionate towards the people around us.