How forgiveness transcended tragedy

February 24, 2011

I am always deeply touched by powerful stories of forgiveness.  I am deeply touched by them because they cause me to evaluate my own heart and ask myself if I would do the same thing if I was in the same situation.

One such powerful story is the story of how the Amish people in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania forgave the man who killed and injured many of their children.

A book has been written on this powerful story called Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy Here is a description of the book from the back cover:

On Monday morning, October 2, 2006, a gunman entered a one-room Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. In front of twenty-five horrified pupils, thirty-two-year-old Charles Roberts ordered the boys and the teacher to leave. After tying the legs of the ten remaining girls, Roberts prepared to shoot them execution with an automatic rifle and four hundred rounds of ammunition that he brought for the task. The oldest hostage, a thirteen-year-old, begged Roberts to “shoot me first and let the little ones go.” Refusing her offer, he opened fire on all of them, killing five and leaving the others critically wounded. He then shot himself as police stormed the building. His motivation? “I’m angry at God for taking my little daughter,” he told the children before the massacre.

The story captured the attention of broadcast and print media in the United States and around the world. By Tuesday morning some fifty television crews had clogged the small village of Nickel Mines, staying for five days until the killer and the killed were buried. The blood was barely dry on the schoolhouse floor when Amish parents brought words of forgiveness to the family of the one who had slain their children.

The outside world was incredulous that such forgiveness could be offered so quickly for such a heinous crime. Of the hundreds of media queries that the authors received about the shooting, questions about forgiveness rose to the top. Forgiveness, in fact, eclipsed the tragic story, trumping the violence and arresting the world’s attention.

Within a week of the murders, Amish forgiveness was a central theme in more than 2,400 news stories around the world. The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek, NBC Nightly News, CBS Morning News, Larry King Live, Fox News, Oprah, and dozens of other media outlets heralded the forgiving Amish. From the Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates) to Australian television, international media were opining on Amish forgiveness. Three weeks after the shooting, “Amish forgiveness” had appeared in 2,900 news stories worldwide and on 534,000 web sites.

Fresh from the funerals where they had buried their own children, grieving Amish families accounted for half of the seventy-five people who attended the killer’s burial. Roberts’ widow was deeply moved by their presence as Amish families greeted her and her three children. The forgiveness went beyond talk and graveside presence: the Amish also supported a fund for the shooter’s family.

This story makes me realize how stingy I can be with my forgiveness at times.  I need to be continually reminded that I have been forgiven from the greatest of all offenses – sinning against God.

Even though I did not deserve it, God still chose to love me, forgive me and make me a part of His family!  It is because of this that I am spurred on and challenged to forgive others!

Do you find it hard to forgive people?

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Kevin Martineau

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I am the Pastor at Port Hardy Baptist Church on Northern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. I am married to my best friend and I have three beautiful daughters.

17 responses to How forgiveness transcended tragedy

  1. Incredible to think about our feeling so justified in our unforgiveness when we’ve wronged s o many others. God in His perfection never hurt anyone, yet He forgives. Thanks Kevin–wonderful reminder.

  2. I am just speechless at such forgiveness. Amazing. Thank you taking the time to share this in the jam, Kevin!

  3. This story always did fascinate me. It was really a challenge to the heart to see how a community could offer such unconditional love and forgivemess to a man who had caused so much pain. Thanks for reminding us of what God’s love really looks like.

  4. I’m the type who can easily let go of my negative emotions. I just don’t feel good holding on to them. I move on fast. I just don’t know if I’m that easy when it comes to my kids. The story is really incredible and I’m totally hands down to all those parents who are in much pain but still choose to forgive unconditionally. Thank you for sharing!

    Cherrie Bautista

  5. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us…”

    It was one thing for us to forgive the man who killed our son, because it was an accident. Clearly unavoidable. Neither driver saw the other in the heavy fog until it was too late.

    But to forgive someone who deliberately kills your child? That would be a very tough one. And so necessary if we want to move on with the Lord….

    Willena Flewelling

  6. Thanks for the reminder of that story. It’s such a strong statement of God’s love and power.

  7. Hi Kevin. I think this is a wonderful story. We are told that God will forgive who He will forgive, but we are to forgive everyone. I had an experience with forgiveness when I had to find it in my heart to forgive my ex-son-in-law who shook our 3-month-old granddaughter nearly to death. The lesson I learned is that God wants us to forgive others so that anger and bitterness won’t canker our souls. We need to let it go and let God take care of it. It is the miracle of forgiveness. Thank you for sharing.

    Wishing you a song in your heart,
    Miss Leslie @ Music with Miss Leslie.com

  8. I remember this story well, and I can’t fathom the depths of the love this Amish man had in his heart and can’t say I’d have been able to do the same. What a mature soul! He truly lives his convictions.

    I can only hope I would do the same.

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