'Happier Days' By Elsie Beiler
West Nickel Mines Amish School
There is a painting I bought during one of my many 'spiritual retreats' to Amish, Memmonite and Moravian 'country' in Lancaster, PA and environs over the years. I scanned it for you to see, above. Since the Amish people generally don't care to solicit sympathy/charity/notoriety from outsiders, I haven't shared my comments publicly anywhere until now. The last thing I've wanted to do is promote 'charity' for folks who do not often accept it, although I do believe some Amish families have accepted assistance for the overwhelming medical bills for their wounded children. The painting above contributed to that effort.Here is what I have to say about the Nickel Mines Schoolhouse shooting tragedy: the Amish response to hatred and destruction is forgiveness, plain and simple. The Amish deal with their loss and pain by reaching out to others, in turn. Read here about the 'comfort quilt' given to the Virginia Tech shooting families http://www.bart51.com/amishschool.htm , for instance, and you'll see what I mean.
My 'summer' retreat in 2006 actually ran late that year, clear through to the very end of September, in fact. Not two days after I arrived back in CT, on Oct 2, 2006, I received a phone call my (then) Pastor Gary Brown informing me that "You need to know about something that had just happened down in Lancaster, in case you haven't heard about it yet". He said "I know you have friends down.....", and continued on.
Well, I hadn't heard how bad it was and I appreciated the pastoral consolation. Truthfully, I was shaken to the core, which is something that just doesn't happen to me that often. But just two days before I had spent a delightful few hours discoursing with an Amish friend of mine, who happened to be the brother-in-law of 'the' Nickel Mines School buggy school-wagon driver. As luck would have it, his sister-in-law and her school buggy-wagon (as we referred to it in our impromptu discussion) appeared up ahead and I learned a few things.
I learned from this brother-in-law that the school buggy-wagon driver was an Amish 'Mom' who 'took matters into her own hands' to the relief of Amish families who 'just did not want their kids riding motorized yellow school buses'. We shared a chuckle, my Amish friend and I, over our individual solutions to the perpetual parent problem of getting their children to and from school. The truth is that Amish women rely on their men for all decisions, but I liked that this Amish mom stepped up to the plate, so to say, reins in hand.
Not unlike 'us', Amish communities found they had to 'bus' their children to somewhat 'distant' schoolhouses, Nickel Mines being one of them. My friend explained that 'a woman had to take up the driving job, since all the men work all day.' That made sense to me and I mentally 'high-fived' the idea that an Amish woman was being granted a little latitude in a culture that needed a logical solution. Cause and effect were honored and maybe even some insight gained, I mused inwardly.
Little did my Amish friend and I know during our contented afternoon together sharing stories of our respective cultures, that our shared world would soon be rocked. Little did we know that of the children in the Amish school buggy wagon ahead of us, a number of them would be heartlessly killed and injured shortly. We simply had no idea and no precognition that something like what was about to happen at the Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines was even remotely possible.
For myself, amidst my shock, grief, anger and sense of a loss of innocence for all of us, I also witnessed something remarkable. That 'something' was the 'reach out' of the the Amish community to shooter Charles Carl Roberts widow, children, parents, and parents-in-law in ways I just never thought humanly possible.
Yes, people can say 'they forgive' and even follow through and feel it in their hearts. They may even demonstate it, but I saw even more demonstrated in the traditional religious communities of Lancaster, PA. Here, they taught something to the entire world, as we witnessed the very Word of God in action
I remember the Old Testament, as Joseph says to his brothers who sold him into slavery, "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don't be afraid. I will provide for you and your children. And he assured them and spoke to them kindly." Genesis 50: 19-21 (NIV) This very same thing is what I witnessed from the Amish and Mennonite Communities of Lancaster.
Some in the world 'condemn' such utter and complete 'forgiveness-to-the-point-of-even-forgetting' as being wrong and foolish. The truth is that that is something only God can do perfectly. But the Amish community did it oh-so-well as it razed the desecrated schoolhouse back to the simplicity of God's green pasture. The Bart Township Fire Dept did it well as they 'watered' the former school house sight's newly seeded earth to new growth ....in honor of those lost. The community built the 'New Hope School' away from the old one memorial and nurtured on.
The families of the dead Amish girls did it well by consoling the shooter's family. I am absolutely humbled when I learned: "The Amish and the non-Amish have given the widow of the gunman, Charles C. Roberts IV, and the couple’s three children comfort and unconditional support. Neighbors put up a Christmas tree at the local volunteer fire hall and decorated it with toys and gift cards for the family. Soccer players at Solanco High School in nearby Quarryville made it a point to show their encouragement by attending soccer matches played by the Robertses’ young son Brice." http://www.bart51.com/amishschool.htm
I was humbled, but not really surprised, with these, my Amish friends and company and remain so today.
So no matter what opinions you read or hear about regarding the Nickel Mines School tragedy and the culture of forgiveness of the Amish and Mennonite people, I am witness to it.
I witnessed the Word of God in action and I've witnessed miraculous healing.
Cause and effect and much insight gained, you see... All Thanks be to The Lord!
Reverend Barbara Sexton
"The Biblical Biochemist-Where Science Meets the Cross"