It happened in a one-room school house in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Ten Amish girls, ages six to 13, were tied-up and shot execution style. Five girls died. The five survivors are in critical condition at local hospitals. Only one is expected to make a full recovery. Their killer was Charles Carl Roberts IV, a milk truck driver who, in a letter to his wife, said he was "filled with so much hate" and "unimaginable emptiness." According to the authorities, Roberts was prepared for a long siege, but as police moved in he shot the girls before turning the gun on himself.
The school shooting in Nickel Mines made headlines not only because it was a horrible tragedy, but because it affected a community known for it's slow, quiet lifestyle and pacifist beliefs. Of all people, the Amish seemed the least likely to be effected by this type of sad event.
The Amish are often a source of bemusement to those of us who live in the modern world. We smile when they ramble past in their buggies. We stare at their white shirts, black suspenders, and pants without zippers and wonder how one could live without electricity and the conveniences that come with it.
There is, however, something to be learned from the Amish's reaction to the shooting in Nickel Mines. They are a people that believe strongly in forgiveness. The conviction of their belief in this principle became apparent as the media descended on their rural Pennsylvania community. The Amish who spoke to the press expressed the desire that they did not want a message of revenge to get out and said they forgave Roberts for what he did. Elmer Fisher, whose 7-year-old cousin was one of the murdered girls, said that Robert's wife would be welcome in the community. Andrew Troyer, a rope maker, said "Forgiveness is a choice, but not an option if we want to be saved."
Forgiving others is sometimes a difficult decision. When we've been wronged, it's easy to justify taking the road of resentment and revenge. Getting even has become, sadly, the accepted way to deal with our problems.
Usually the need to forgive our enemies isn't over an unexpected, horrific event like what occurred in Nickel Mines but smaller, more trivial things. One is more likely to forgive a neighbor for their gossip or deception and lies by a friend or loved one. But whether the offense is big or small, the need to forgive and move on is still vital for us to find joy in one's life.
When forgiveness has not place in one's heart, the feelings of resentment and bitterness build until it cankers our souls. Grudges can last years and divide families, businesses, and communities. And like Roberts, those who refuse to forgive their enemies often find themselves filed with hate and emptiness.
The Amish's willingness to forgive the shooter and embrace his family shouldn't be misinterpreted to think the Amish aren't grieving for their slain sisters and daughters. No doubt the pain in their community is great. But their pain and suffering won't be as hard to bear as they embrace Roberts' family and refuse to allow anger a place in their hearts.
Myron Stoltzfus, a butcher in the local village of Intercourse, said his Amish neighbors are quick to forgive because "[t]hey don't want to be trapped by bitterness."
It's a trap we would all do well to avoid.
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