An act of human forgiveness that has left an undeniable imprint on my faith is linked to the Amish community in Pennsylvania. I remember watching the news of their traumatic event at my then home in Charleston, WV. On October 2, 2006, ten Amish girls were shot in their West Nickel Mines schoolhouse by a non-Amish gunman. Of the ten shot, five died. After completing his executions, the perpetrator committed suicide by turning the gun on himself. What came next was unexpected.
There was no outrage. No “labels of evil” were proclaimed by parents and relatives of the victims. There were no calls for civil lawsuits. Instead, the exact opposite occurred. The Amish community reached out to the wife, parents, and parents-in-laws of the gunman. Thirty members attended his funeral. They went to extreme measures to make his family feel loved. The group even donated money to his widow and her three children. The response was one that left the world dumbfounded. In an open letter to the Amish, the gunman’s wife wrote, "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."
Most are familiar with the Amish and their horse drawn-carriages, but who are these peculiar people? What drives them to such a level of forgiveness? These are questions I posed to myself, and I decided to research further.
I found that Amish history is rooted in the Protestant Reformation in Europe. As part of William Penn’s “holy experiment,” they were invited to settle in the Pennsylvania area. Today, approximately 300,000 Amish engage in farming, making furniture, and operating small home-based businesses within the U.S. The largest percentage still reside in Pennsylvania. They do not have internet access, they do not drive cars, and they produce electricity by using their own generators. Neighbors describe them as very friendly people. Their conservative lifestyle is linked to worship of God. They point to their lives as being separate from the world, but also being in the world. The group identifies intensely with Scripture and followership of Christ. I personally find their devotion to Christ striking and inspiring. The Amish admit that they are far from perfect, but they desire to please God.
Some detractors claim that the Amish are reclusive and legalistic, but no one can deny that their faith in Christ brought them to the world stage in 2006. Their expression of forgiveness had the global community stand and take notice. It defied human logic. However, this unfathomable action is the kind of forgiveness commanded and exemplified by Christ. Our Savior was mocked and ridiculed as He carried His cross to Calvary. Christ died for believers’ sins…iniquities that include the most heinous acts imaginable. He delivered Himself in obedience to His Father. Christ’s actions are the ultimate expression of forgiveness. But it does not end there, He also left us with a commandment to forgive. In Matthew 6:15, Jesus stated, “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” The Amish take this command seriously.
As I review the 2006 tragedy today, I admire the submission to Christ the Amish strive for in their lives. They do not incorporate growth strategies, programs, event experiences or
entertainment. Their way is profoundly simple...they embrace Scripture and strive towards obedience. They live for God day in and day out, seeking His face.
To be clear, I am not proposing that believers go out and purchase horses and carriages, but we should certainly take note and learn from the Amish testimony. May we also seek to forgive every imaginable offense brought to us. Such action exemplifies the love of Christ.
Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.
But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
Pray, then, in this way:
Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.