For almost ten years I have been inspired by the Amish people and their remarkable ability to love their enemies and forgive. The everyday ordinariness of the Amish people’s extraordinary forgiveness came to my attention at the time of the Nickel Mines Schoolhouse shootings in Lancaster County, Pennsylvannia back in 2006. Charles Roberts, a non Amish gunman, shot ten young Amish girls, killing five of them dead.
The response of this Amish community was startling. Within hours of the shootings, the Amish had visited the killer’s wife and parents. They not only told them that they forgave them but they actually set up a charitable fund for the killer’s children.
Love for the family of the killer of your children. What kind of love is this? Jesus told us to love our neighbours and God… BUT he went further and asked us to love our enemies. For the Amish community Jesus call to love and forgiveness were not to be discussed or debated. They were ideas to be lived. The Amish community teach their children about forgiveness from the moment they can teach them anything.
Yet, forgiveness for the Amish is not about wiping some objective slate clean. Forgiving is a loving act that seeks to build friendship with those that they should be at enmity with. This kind of forgiveness and love is at the heart of the Christian faith. God doesn’t only forgive us… he reaches out to build relationship with us. Every Thursday night Charles Roberts’ mother now reads and prays with a severely brain damaged little girl her son shot.
Taking Jesus command to love and forgive seriously is not going to be easy but when it breaks in, it changes people and communities. How would our wee country be if we didn’t only forgive but made friends with those we are in enmity with?