Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Amish Grace- A story of Forgiveness"

A typical Amish one-room schoolhouse,

I photographed traveling through Amish country in Ohio.

“Amish Grace”

Forgiveness in the Face of Utter Evil

Our family was greatly challenged by the video version of the Lifetime movie “Amish Grace.” It depicts the unexpected reaction of the Amish people to an incident that seems to me to be the very personification of evil itself.

On October 2, 2006, a gunman carried out a well-planned shooting at the one-room West Nickel Mines Schoolhouse, in an Amish community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Charles Carl Roberts IV set the boys free and barricaded the door. He kept young girls hostage, bound them and lined them up. One set of sisters volunteered to be shot first, to help save the others and buy time. He shot ten girls execution style, in the back of the head. He then took his own life. Five of the youngsters died.

The disturbed shooter had left suicide notes for each child and for his wife. The one to his spouse laments the loss of a premature daughter years earlier:

"I don't know how you put up with me all those years. I am not worthy of you; you are the perfect wife you deserve so much better. We had so many good memories together as well as the tragedy with Elise. It changed my life forever I haven't been the same since it affected me in a way I never felt possible. I am filled with so much hate, hate toward myself hate towards God and unimaginable emptiness it seems like every time we do something fun I think about how Elise wasn't here to share it with us and I go right back to anger."

The response of the Amish community differed greatly from the reaction of most communities scarred by school shootings. The movie, through some fictional composite characters, tells the story.

On the very day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard saying, "We must not think evil of this man." It is said one Amish father explained that, “[the gunman] had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God." Amish neighbors reportedly comforted the Roberts family and extended forgiveness to them just hours after the mass murder.

In time, the Amish visited Roberts' widow, parents and even his extended family. It is reported that the gunman’s own father cried on the shoulder of an Amish man for an hour. The Amish even raised money in charitable fund for the family of the Roberts. Astonishingly, dozens of Amish community attended the gunman’s funeral. The widow of the shooter, Marie Roberts, attended a funeral of one of the victims as well.

Following the tragedy, Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to the Amish stating:

“Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you've given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you."

The week following the shooting, the one-room schoolhouse was torn down, leaving only a pasture. Six months later, The New Hope School, intentionally built as "different" as possible from the original, was opened nearby.

The extreme forgiveness the Amish so promptly and completely gave has been, at best, difficult to comprehend. For others, it has actually been offensive. They have argued that forgiveness should only occur when remorse has been expressed. Some critics allege they are denying the evilness of the act with their forgiveness.

However, a story told to the children in the movie, prior to the shootings, may provide more Amish context for their forgiving actions. The story was about Dirk Willems. In 1569, he was able to make his escape from those who sought to take his life for teaching Anabaptist doctrines in violation of Roman Catholic orders. When a pursuer fell through the ice, however, he was recaptured upon turning back to save the life of his pursuer. They burned him at the stake. Today, he is one of the most celebrated martyrs among the Mennonites, the Brethren, and the Amish, all offshoots of the original Anabaptists.

What about us? Are there limits to our forgiveness? If you are like me, there truly are limits—clearly exceeded by these actions.

However, Scripture teaches us that Jesus’ forgiveness has no limitations. “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7:47(NIV).

The Lord’s forgiveness shocked the people of Jesus’ day, much like the forgiveness of he Amish might surprise us today. Indeed, I fear our natural lack of forgiveness stems from a lack of love. That shows just how far we have fallen from being made in the image of the One True God, Who is—after all--Love.

*Mr. Peel, a Christian Injury Lawyer, may be available to speak to your church or community group. He may be reached through Other articles maybe found on his blog at