Summary: Clearly Jesus told us we must forgive those who hurt us! Yet, far too often we see unforgiveness...even within the church. This sermon incorporates the true story of a school shooting in an Amish community.
We Must Forgive Those Who Hurt Us
14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
All of us have been hurt by someone.
Maybe it was a spouse that left us and divorced you.
Maybe it was a boyfriend or girlfriend who cut off the relationship.
Maybe it was a parent who failed you in some way.
Maybe it was a close friend who betrayed you.
Maybe it was someone who cheated you.
Maybe it was someone who told lies about you.
How have you responded to that hurt?
Are you still holding on to a grudge against that person?
Do you still have feelings of anger in your heart?
Or....have you forgiven that person?
Today, I have a true story to share with you.
This story was made into a movie entitled "Amish Grace".
Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania is a peaceful community. Among the residents are a number of Amish families. The Amish children attended the one-room West Nickel Mines School. On October 2, 2006, 32 year old Charles Roberts backed a pickup truck up to the front of the schoolhouse and entered the school shortly after the children had returned from recess. He ordered the male students to help him carry items into the classroom from the back of his pickup. Teacher Emma Mae Zook and her mother, who was visiting the schoolhouse, took this opportunity to escape the school and ran toward a nearby farm to get help.
Roberts and the young boys carried lumber, a shotgun, a stun-gun, wires, chains, nails, tools and a small bag containing a sexual lubricant and several other items into the schoolhouse. Using wooden boards, Roberts barricaded the front door. He ordered the female children to line up against the chalkboard and allowed a pregnant woman, three parents with infants, and all remaining male students to exit the building. Nine-year-old Emma Fisher had not understood Roberts' order, and followed her brother out of the building, leaving 10 hostages.
Roberts called his wife from the schoolhouse on his cell phone and told her that he had molested two young female relatives twenty years when he was 12 and had been daydreaming about molesting again. One note Roberts left behind indicated his despondency over a daughter who died 9 years earlier approximately 20 minutes after her birth.
The first trooper arrived at approximately 10:42 a.m. Additional troopers continued to arrive within minutes. Roberts bound the arms and legs of his hostages with plastic ties. A group of troopers approached the schoolhouse. Aware of this, Roberts warned the troopers to leave immediately, threatening to shoot the girls. The police officers backed away, but did not leave the premises.
At approximately 11:07 a.m., Roberts began shooting the victims. The troopers immediately approached. As the first trooper in line reached a window, the shooting abruptly stopped. Roberts had committed suicide. It took the troopers about two and a half minutes to break into the school to assist those children who were not killed instantly. Ambulances arrived just as the wounded girls were being carried out of the schoolhouse. Helicopters landed shortly thereafter and those still living were taken away for medical treatment.
The victims of the shooting were as follows: Naomi Rose Ebersol, aged 7, and Marian Stoltzfus Fisher, aged 13, who died at the scene. Anna Mae Stoltzfus, aged 12, was declared dead on arrival at the hospital. Lena Zook Miller, aged 7, and Mary Liz Miller, aged 8, died the next day in the hospital. The surviving Amish schoolgirls included Rosanna King, 6 years old, Rachel Ann Stoltzfus, 8 years old, Barbie Fisher, 10 years old, Sarah Ann Stoltzfus, 12 years old, and Esther King, 13 years old.
The West Nickel Mines School was demolished the following week. The site was left as a quiet pasture. A new schoolhouse, called the New Hope School, was built at a different location, near the original site. It opened on April 2, 2007, precisely six months after the shooting.
During interviews conducted later with the survivors it became apparent that all girls knew of their fate. Some conversed among themselves throughout the ordeal. Shortly before Roberts opened fire, two sisters, Marian and Barbie Fisher, 13 and 11, requested that they be shot first that the others might be spared. Barbie was wounded, while her older sister was killed.
Though the shooting was tragic, the most shocking element of this story is the way the Amish people responded. On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, "We must not think evil of this man." Another Amish father noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he's standing before a just God." Another Amish man explained: "I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts."