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It’s been a tough day, emotionally. A dear friend suffered a devasting loss, and I was reminded of the fourth anniversary of the Nickel Mines tragedy. Tragedy seems the right word today – that despite our eternal optimism, and our noble aims, life end in death, unexpectedly and ignobly.
Four years ago an Amish school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania was inexplicably invaded by an armed gunman. Visitors and a teacher to the school escaped and alerted authorities; the man sent the boys in the class away with the remaining adult. He was greatly troubled in mind, obviously distraught and deranged. He shot the remaining children, all girls. Five survived; five died. He then killed himself. It was one of the worst elementary school tragedies in United States history.
I cannot speak of this horror aloud without breaking down and crying. The little girls, by the accounts of the survivors, were brave and acted with Christian charity. They tried to comfort the man in his distress. Raised with stories of the Anabaptist martyrs, they faced their own martyrdom with courage. God help me, I don’t know if I would do the same.
I don’t know why he did this; maybe he didn’t really know. We will never know now. Evil is overwhelming for those who fall victim to its control. Human experience tells us that evil exists for its own sake. It feeds on fear.
But the response of the Amish community was one of faith and strength. They comforted the family of the perpetrator. They have reached out and included them in their own grief. They worked and prayed to transcend the evil that befell them, and to fulfill the will of God and follow Christ, who forgave his killers from the cross on which he died in pain. (“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”)
If you have not read Amish Grace by Prof. Donald Kraybill, please do. Prof. Kraybill spends a lot of time in Amish communitiesand has written several books on their way of life. For today, have a look at Amish America at http://amishamerica.com. Erik has written briefly and succintly on the tragedy. Christians have much to learn about grief and tragedy from the Amish in these circumstances.