On October 6, 2008, an armed man, Charles Roberts IV, entered a one room schoolhouse and after dismissing the adults and male students, took aim at the ten Amish girls he still held hostage. Five of the girls died of their wounds; five more injured. He then turned the gun on himself. It was a story that shocked not only the small village in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania…but the world.
In the aftermath of this tragedy, the world caught a glimpse of the depth of the Amish faith in their ability to extend forgiveness…immediate forgiveness…to the gunman. And then, they reached through the depths of their grief to show grace and mercy to the gunman’s widow and family.
A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish community members visited and comforted Roberts’ widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts’ sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish have also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts’ funeral
Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She 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.”
Why was the Amish community able to offer immediate forgiveness? How were they able to look beyond their own grief and comfort the family of the very person who caused their pain? To put the needs of others above their own?
No one will ever understand why the events of that day transpired. Many theories into the gunman’s motives were offered, but for the families involved, questions remained unanswered. Why?
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. ~~Isaiah 55:8
The Amish community drew strength from each other and their faith. It wasn’t a faith that started in the midst of the tragedy. It was the very air they breathed. It was who they were. It was how they lived their lives…each and every single day. They didn’t waste energy on hate…or trying to understand why. They leaned on God and his understanding, that is greater than their own and accepted it. This is not to say that their grief was not great. That’s not to say that their pain was not unspeakable. But they refused to let hatred enter into the picture.
I think as Christians we have become complacent in our faith. When things are going well, we lose our need for God. We tend to put him on a shelf and pull him down when we need him…like a first aid kit. We ignore him and then wonder why we feel lost or alone. Why we are discontent or lack direction.
Have you ever seen a hawk or other large bird, soaring in the air? They dip and glide so seemingly effortlessly, as the winds catch their wings and carry them along. They move so gracefully.
But…have you ever seen one standing on the ground. When they begin to flap their wings for flight, they look clumsy and awkward. They exert a great deal of energy to raise themselves into the air. Most large birds avoid being on the ground if at all possible. They live high in trees or on cliffs, so that when it’s time to move, they can lean out of their perch, spread their wings and fly.
As Christians, we struggle with our faith much like a hawk struggles to take to flight. Instead of maintaining a life focused on Christ, we wander off course, time and time again. We tend to “start over” with each new event instead of building our faith each and every day.
One of Jim’s favorite scriptures is found in the book of Isaiah. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.”
My prayer today is that no matter your circumstance..whether you are in the midst of unrest or at peace…you will build upon your faith. Spend time with God, through his written word and prayer. Spend time with others that will encourage and uplift you. Build a strong foundation, so when the waves of life come crashing down, you will not crumble, but stand firm, knowing your God if with you.
You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord,
Who abide in His shadow for life,
Say to the Lord, “My Refuge,
My Rock in Whom I trust.” ~~ On Eagles Wings