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Amish Grace: The Only Option for Jesus’ Followers

You doubtlessly remember the terrible tragedy that occurred 10 years ago on Oct. 2, 2006, in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

You may not have remembered the name of that small town, but that is where 10 Amish girls were brutally shot in their one-room schoolhouse.

Such a horrendous event is unforgettable.

Charles Roberts, a local 32-year-old man who was not Amish, entered the school just before 10 that Monday morning.

He released all the boys but kept the 10 girls hostage. The teacher escaped and ran for help – but to no avail.

Even though the police soon arrived, they were unable to do anything to stop Roberts from shooting all 10 of the girls.

Three died at the scene and two more died the next morning. One survived with severe brain injury. The other four recovered and were able to go back to school.

Donald Kraybill and two colleagues wrote a powerful book about that school shooting and its aftermath. They titled their 2007 book, “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy.”

Kraybill arrived at Nickle Mines on the morning following the shooting. The first part of the book is based largely on his observations and interviews with many Amish and “English” people who lived in the community.

Kraybill, the world’s leading expert on the Amish, is also the co-author of a 500-page book published in 2013 and titled simply “The Amish.”

I first became acquainted with Kraybill’s name when I read his 1978 book, “The Upside-Down Kingdom,” not long after it was published.

I have been an admirer of him ever since, and reading “Amish Grace” for the first time this month increased my admiration.

Perhaps many of you have seen the 2010 made-for-television movie, “Amish Grace,” that was in part based on the book – although the movie’s central character and her family were fictional.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I watched the movie for the second time and were deeply moved by it again.

Thankfully, the shootings were not shown, but the grief of the parents was made very evident.

What was of particular interest, and amazement for many, was the forgiving attitude of the Amish community.

To make it a more interesting movie, though, the fictional mother, Ida, whose oldest daughter was one of the five who were killed, at first resented the forgiving attitude of Gideon, her husband and the larger Amish community.

In reality, as well as in the movie, beginning on the very day of the shooting some of the local Amish people began reaching out to the killer’s wife as well as to his father, expressing loving concern and forgiveness.

The fictional part of the movie portrayed well the positive change in Ida’s life when her attitude changed from anger to forgiveness.

More or less on a whim, the next day after watching the movie I drove 70-plus miles to just south of Jamesport, Missouri.

By chance, or providence, I met and had about an hour of delightful conversation with Melvin Yutzy, an Amish farmer with eight children, including a daughter who looked much like the schoolgirls in the movie.

He said an “English” friend drove to his place on the afternoon of Oct. 2, 2006, and told him about the shootings.

When I asked him what he thought about the forgiving attitude of the Amish in Nickel Mines, he was in complete agreement.

Just like the Amish people Kraybill interviewed soon after the shootings, my new friend Melvin emphasized that forgiveness is the only option for followers of Jesus.

Leroy Seat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. His writings can also be found on his blog, The View from this Seat. You can follow him on Twitter @LKSeat.