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Amish Continue to Show Forgiveness

On October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts walked into an Amish schoolhouse, dismissed all but ten young girls, and proceeded to shoot them before fatally shooting himself. Five of the girls died, five survived.

Six months after this tragic event, U.S. News and World Report returned to the scene of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, to find out how the Amish were coping, reporting their findings in the article, "Moving On." The reporters discovered that the tragedy brought together Amish and non-Amish neighbors, resulting in a deeper sense of community. They stood together, comforting and supporting one another. The Amish immediately reached out to the widow of the shooter, extending forgiveness, and forgiveness has been what has moved these Anabaptist descendants forward through dark days.

Donald Kraybill is an expert on the Amish tradition. He teaches at Elizabethtown College, near Nickel Mines. In an interview, he explained how forgiveness, in the biblical sense, is love letting go when wrong has been suffered. "To a person, the Amish would argue that forgiveness is the central teaching of Jesus. They will take you to the Lord's prayer—if you don't forgive, you won't be forgiven."

Amish culture relies upon lessons learned from a 17th century book, Martyr's Mirror. This volume tells the stories of Christian martyrs, including the Dutch Anabaptists. One of the more popular stories tells of how a Christian prisoner was escaping, but stopped to save a guard from drowning. The guard was saved, but the prisoner was burnt at the stake. That account gives insight into the fabric of the Amish character.

When asked if all Amish forgive, Reverend Kristine Hileman, a Presbyterian minister serving in the area, said, "The Amish are like anyone else—some take the forgiveness of Christ and pass it on to others and some don't … they set an example that caused me—a Presbyterian minister—to examine my own life and ask, 'Who haven't I forgiven?'"

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