FORGIVENESS: A Legacy of the West Nickel Mines Amish School
John L. Ruth
It is unspeakably hard for any community to lose its children. The mere mention of names like Columbine or Virginia Tech produces visceral, almost universal responses of outrage and fear --- even for those whose only connection to the tragedies was through the evening news. In October 2006, the world watched, horrified, as the effects of human rage played out in the most unthinkable of settings --- a one-room schoolhouse in the Amish hamlet of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. The sickening details of the attack provoked a nationwide sensation, but the remarkable reaction of the Amish community was, perhaps, the most surprising element of the story. In his new book, FORGIVENESS: A Legacy of the West Nickel Mines Amish School (Herald Press, 2007), author and Mennonite minister John Ruth offers an inside perspective on the response that stunned the world.
The symmetry of equally radical anger and forgiveness at Nickel Mines is so exquisite that it compels attention. On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV, a 32-year-old milk-tank truck driver and father of three, barricaded himself and ten young girls into the Nickel Mines School. Giving deadly expression to a secret rage he had harbored for years after the death of his first child, he gunned down all ten of his hostages before turning his weapon on himself. Five of the girls would not survive.
FORGIVENESS offers an inspiring explanation of the events that followed. In the wake of overwhelming loss, the stricken community at Nickel Mines, even the devastated parents of the victims, captivated the media with their immediate expressions of forgiveness for Roberts and concern for the well-being of his family. “The Amish approach to life centers on forgiveness,” Ruth emphasizes. “Is anger a necessary response to outrageous loss? The Amish, born with the same capacities as any other humans, would not think so. Startled by the depth of the world’s sympathy after the Nickel Mines tragedy, they wondered why so many found their attitude intriguing. Aren’t Christians to live in, not merely idealize, forgiveness?”
Revenge is one of the oldest and most recognizable human stories, which is why the rest of the world was so awed by the Amish reaction when the lives of their innocent daughters were senselessly snuffed out. For their part, the residents of Nickel Mines have never paid much attention to the rest of the world. In the words of one Amish father, “What happened on the other side of the world yesterday is in the newspaper today. If you read it, then you’re bound to be thinking like the others.”
FORGIVENESS recounts the history and spiritual tenets of the Plain people, who have demonstrated time and again their belief that obedience to Christ’s command, “When you stand praying, forgive,” is neither optional nor theoretical. As a Mennonite minister whose insightful documentaries on the Amish have appeared on PBS and then featured on “60 Minutes,” John Ruth paints an beautiful but balanced picture of a culture that is romanticized by some, viewed as “backwards” by others and misunderstood by almost everyone. “It isn’t mainly for their faults or strangeness that the world finds the Amish interesting,” Ruth contends. “They lay down in the American landscape a marker of old-fashioned faithfulness and love, which was thrown into relief globally by their response to unspeakable tragedy.”
FORGIVENESS: A Legacy of the West Nickel Mines Amish School © Copyright 2017 by John L. Ruth. Reprinted with permission by Herald Press. All rights reserved.
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