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Lessons from the Amish

Their names are Naomi Rose Ebersol, Marian Fisher, Mary Liz Miller, Lena Miller, and Anna Mae Stolzfus. They were the Amish girls, ages ranging from 7 to 13, who were recently murdered by Charles Carl Roberts in Nickel Mines, Pa.

The Amish are an interesting, if not quirky, people. When we lived in Baltimore, it was a fairly frequent thing for us to drive to and through nearby beautiful Lancaster County.

A favorite stopping place was a Mennonite restaurant and hotel called the Willow Valley Inn. The food was plenteous, the atmosphere for the family, and you could be guaranteed that no alcohol was served.

It was not unusual for folks to drive there for breakfast, make their way on to Reading to the multitudinous outlet stores (where there is no tax on clothing–ever), then stop again at the Willow Valley Inn for dinner.

Our traipses through Lancaster County would give us an occasional glimpse of the Amish, which is as much of themselves as they generally want you to see. “I’d just as soon not give you any information about our culture to send out to the world,” said one young man to a reporter. “What good does that do?”

The green curtains on the farmhouse windows were a giveaway, however, for they would distinguish Amish homes from their religious and cultural cousins, the Mennonites, who are not quite as strict in their customs. Another clue that the farm belonged to an Amish family was the absence of electrical lines.

Each week, worship services, as were last week’s funerals, are conducted in Pennsylvania Dutch. And anyone not Amish is called “English.”

Charles Carl Roberts, a milk-truck driver, was “English.” And obviously, he was greatly troubled. Why else would he do such a heinous thing? Imagine how shamed his family must feel. In most other communities, they would be fearful and threatened by what might happen to them in response to what he did.

But not in Nickel Mines, Pa. The first funeral was for Naomi Rose Ebersol, age 7. After the service, the long funeral procession, composed of about 300 Amish buggies, clip-clopped their way to the cemetery. Along the way, they passed directly in front of Roberts’ home.

“You think about them,” one Amish woman said, speaking of the slain girls. “You cry about them, you pray for them, and then you have to let go of things you can’t explain.” When asked if the community residents were angry, she said: “Oh no, no, definitely not. People don’t feel that around here. We just don’t.”

You wonder why the Amish seek to be so isolated from the world around them. You wonder if it’s biblical. ¬†As Christians, aren’t we supposed to be in the world but not of it? After all, how can you encourage redemption for people you shun? Do the Amish forsake that counsel in order to remain pure in their own eyes, to be unstained, or certainly uninfluenced, by the sinful world around them?

I’ll leave the answers to those far wiser than I. But I know one thing. The world that surrounds the Amish–the world from which they seek seclusion–could learn a valuable, a deep and abiding lesson from them. There is tremendous power in forgiveness, and it accomplishes far more than what we often think of as justice.

Certainly, obviously, we wish this terrible event had never occurred. But if the world will take notice, maybe the redemption found in forgiveness will be the final word.

Randy Hyde is pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.