Very little is known about the Amish Community. The term “Amish” conjures visions of people who are anti-progress, who are against technology, and who live in the 21st century like our forefathers did in the 18th century. In 2006, the world caught a glimpse of another aspect of those called “Amis,” when a certain Amish community sparkled like a diamond in the face of a terrible tragedy.
On an October day in 2006, life began as usual in the community around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. That particular day, Oct. 6, did not end as usual, however. It was on that day, in a one room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish Community of Nikel Mines, that a 32-year-old milk truck driver shot 11 girls, killing five of them. He then killed himself. This mass shooting, in an Amish Community known for pacifism and nonviolence, shocked the world. What the Amish families of the victims did, in response to the shootings, also shocked the world, but in a different way.
The mother of the killer, who was not Amish herself, assumed she would have to leave the community out of shame for what her son had done. Some of the Amish approached her, however, and asked her to remain in their midst. And then, some of the families who had lost daughters attended her son’s funeral. The first to greet her there was a mother and father who had lost not one, but two daughters to her son’s violence.
They, and then the community, went one step further. They extended forgiveness to her and to her son for what he had done. (The details of the tragedy can be found in the following two news articles: https://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/03/us/03amish.html and https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mother-of-amish-school-shooter-shares-amazing-story-of-forgiveness/)
The forgiveness of this community is what sparkled like a diamond—but how could these parents forgive? In the Christian tradition, the concept of the Christ bringing peace and also forgiveness is well known. The birth of the Christ child came with an announcement of peace and good will. Years later, the adult Jesus, who Christians hold is the Christ, taught, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you; and pray for those who despitefully use you and persecute you.”
It seems that peace is possible, and forgiveness too, when people choose to try and live toward one another the way Jesus taught when he was here. For many, this ideal seems near impossible; and yet, in October of 2006, the Amish community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, showed the world that Jesus’s ideal can be realized.
As the year 2023 stretches out in front of us, I hope to follow Jesus more closely and put more of his teachings into practice. This is hard, for in each human heart, including mine, there are pockets of hatred, prejudice and fear. And yet, what Jesus calls people to is such a better alternative than the mass shootings, domestic violence, prejudice, hatred and war of our world.
Can you imagine what a difference following Jesus’s teachings can make? May it happen here, in South County, in 2023.
Michael Burchfield is the Senior Pastor of West Hills Community Church in Morgan Hill, where he has served since 1987. He also serves as a chaplain for the Morgan Hill Police Department, and occasionally visits the Interfaith Clergy Alliance of South County. He and his wife Raquel have two adult sons and a growing number of grandchildren. Pastor Mike can be reached at [email protected].