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September 13, 2007

Journey of forgiveness

On the heels of Catherine's and Zoe's excellent posts on their recent trip to Rwanda exploring the topic of forgiveness in the wake of horror and tragedy, Reuters is reporting today that the Pennsylvania Amish community that lost five young schoolgirls and saw five others harmed at the hands of Charles Carl Roberts have made a gift to his widow almost a year after that awful day. A spokesman for the community said, "Many from Nickel Mines have pointed out that forgiveness is a journey, that you need help from your community of faith and from God...to make and hold on to a decision not to become a hostage to hostility."

Forgiveness as a journey is a powerful concept. It flies in the face of the common notion of forgiveness as a solitary act and seems to hit a little nearer the truth. When a grave wrong has been committed, the anger and bitterness are not instantly dispelled with a simple utterance of three words: "I forgive you." I imagine the families of these Amish girls must have faced many difficult days in the year since their children were terrorized, shot, and in some cases murdered. The birthdays of precious little girls who no longer walk this earth have passed by. A new school year has started, with other children walking off to school, lunchbox in hand, while five little girls are gone forever. The five girls who were shot and survived have had to heal from their physical wounds while nursing psychological scars we can only imagine. More than likely, mothers and fathers have been at children's bedsides in the middle of the night, comforting children who were there, who witnessed their classmates' demise. And in a community the likes of which most of us will never know this side of heaven, friends and neighbors mourn together with those who lost so much.

Each milestone that has passed, each night a child has had a terrible nightmare, each setback in recovery that the survivors have experienced has doubtless been a new opportunity for bitterness and anger to take hold in the peace-loving Amish community. Forgiveness was not a one-time act for them; it could not be. Instead, they had to "make and hold on to a decision not to become a hostage to hostility" and they have quietly and wonderfully demonstrated how to hold on to forgiveness and stay on the journey.

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