Perhaps the greatest demonstration of love that has occurred in my lifetime happened in Pennsylvania Amish country on October 2, 2006. The story of an Amish school-shooting in a community in Lancaster County received national attention not just for the incident, but also for the way the Amish community reacted to it. I have no personal ties to it except that it touched my heart and made me wonder if I could have pulled myself together in the same manner.
On that particular fall morning a non-Amish man backed his pickup truck up to the door of the building and entered the one-room schoolhouse shortly after the students had returned from recess. He asked the teacher and students if anyone had seen his clevis pin, a small device used most commonly in hitches. When no one in the classroom reported to have seen the pin, he went back to his truck and got a 9mm handgun and ordered the boys to help him carry in materials, much of which were used to barricade the door. He then ordered the boys out of the building. During this time, the teacher had gotten away and went for help.
Eventually, he let all but 10 of the people in the classroom go and kept the remaining ones as hostages. He lined up all the girls left in the classroom against a wall and ordered them to not to move or they would be shot. At some point during the standoff between the gunman and law enforcement, two of the girls understood their eventual fate and asked the gunman to shoot them first and spare everyone else. They were sisters.
So, as I think about this in my mind, I’m picturing the first great act of love demonstrated by the Amish and I just can’t imagine this kind of real-life-threatening bravery from school kids. These girls were age 13 and 11, not 33 and 31. They were not adults making parental decisions. They were kids of exactly the same age as two of my daughters as I wrote this. At these early ages, they already knew about sacrificial love, most likely learned from their religious upbringing that also expressively teaches to let go of grudges. I recall the most famous Biblical story of sacrificial love and wonder if that was running through these girls’ minds. I don’t know if it would have been in my mind but I thank God that he doesn’t hold grudges.
The gunman bound all 10 girls remaining inside. After the two sisters began negotiating with him he obliged their requests and shot them but he obviously didn’t allow the others to go free. The older of the two sisters died right there in the schoolhouse and another 7-year-old died there too. Two victims, one 12-year-old and one 8-year-old died shortly after arriving at the hospital. A 7-year-old died a day later in the hospital. All told, the gunman fired his gun at least 17 or 18 times and killed the five girls execution-style in the back of the head and then him about 45 minutes after he began the ordeal.
The gunman himself had a wife and three children. Ironically, the gunman’s wife was at a Bible study when the ordeal transpired. The couple had also lost a daughter 20 minutes after childbirth nine years earlier.
I would venture to guess that any father or mother would want some sort of earthly justice for this. I’m a parent and I would. I guess the justice was served in the form of the suicide but that isn’t a lot of times enough for our world. In a society where someone has to be blamed for every travesty that happens, one might think a bevy of lawsuits would have been forthcoming. The gun makers could be responsible. The law enforcement may be responsible. Heck, even the clevis pin makers might be to blame for one not being readily available. In our world we often feel more comfortable hating a situation rather than reaching out in unconditional love to all the victims involved.
The Amish obviously don’t live in our society and maybe the above reasons are partly the reason. They don’t carry guns. They are passive and humble by nature. Those are traits taught by their society and, incidentally, taught in scripture when it comes to non-spiritual matters. They obviously know those scriptures like 2 Corinthians 13 (the “love” chapter). They probably also know well Leviticus 19:18 which reads, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” Proof of the Amish’s unconditional love came out in the aftermath of the shooting.
A grandfather of one of the victims warned his relatives that they must not think evil of the gunman. A father of another victim reminded everyone that the gunman had a mother and wife and is now standing before a just God. All they wanted to do was FORGIVE! In fact, it was reported that an Amish community member confronted a member of the gunman’s family and offered only forgiveness, HOURS after the incident. The Amish community even extended the forgiveness to visiting the family of the gunman to console them in THEIR loss. It was reported that one of the Amish hugged the father of the gunman for an HOUR in consolation! They even set up a charitable fund for the gunman’s family. They attended the gunman’s funeral (wow!).
Rarely do outsiders attend an Amish funeral but they allowed the gunman’s widow to attend the funeral of the victims. Not only did they offer love, compassion and forgiveness but also provided physical gifts.
I can’t use enough exclamation points, capital letters and “wows” in that paragraph to describe just how completely that epitomizes true Godly love. In fact, I was actually speechless. Sure, there may be some of us that would say we would forgive, but would we take the effort to reach out like the Amish? Remember, they don’t use the telephone, text messages or e-mail. They would have had to actually hitch up a horse to their buggy and make an uncomfortable trip to the homes of the gunman. Would we do that? Would I enter the home of the one that killed my daughters, where I would most likely be reminded of him? I am pretty sure I could not, at least that soon after such a personal tragedy. Jesus did, though. He was forgave people from the cross!
The world doesn’t understand this kind of Godly action. I’m not sure if I even understand it. The world proved its ignorance when some commentators denounced the forgiveness when no remorse had been made. My Bible doesn’t account for how many people were remorseful for crucifying Jesus on Golgotha that day. It only states that he asked God to forgive them. He didn’t name names. One of the suicide notes the gunman left indicated he was angry with God. The world can join with anger. The world doesn’t understand Amish grace. The world just doesn’t understand unconditional love, like that shown from a cross.