Amazing Grace

This is the "message" I never imagined writing. But the West Nickel Mines School tragedy in October was something unimaginable. Right after the shooting, calls came into us from CBC Toronto, FOX-TV, CNN London, ABC Nightline, BBC Radio Scotland, Inside Edition, Larry King Live, and various newspapers and radio stations. We declined any interviews, and referred them to our local visitors bureau. They handled the situation with sensitivity and found an appropriate spokesman within the Anabaptist community. We also immediately received emails from people wanting to get messages of condolence to the Amish. Several hundred have come in, and they will be delivered through an Amish minister.

During all this, we also learned some of the things people did NOT know about the Amish here. For example, the strong support system that a close-knit family and community provide. The power of their faith. Their belief in forgiveness. (One Amishman told me his first very human reaction was anger, but now he was struggling to forgive.) Many people were not aware of the close interaction between the Amish and non-Amish here, where many Amish serve in volunteer fire departments. The actions of officials, volunteers, medical teams, police and local government showed understanding and respect. Even the media folks, often desperate to find someone who would talk on camera and knew something about the Amish, were forced to play largely by Amish rules.

One Amishman said that the first shock was the act itself, something they could never have expected. The second shock was the support of so many people. All of us were moved to tears at the letters and donations of support from the "English," from people the Amish did not even know. I believe the Amish have, inadvertently, sent quite a message to our "outside world" by the way they have handled this, with great compassion and amazing grace.

Many of us seem preoccupied for an explanation of why this happened. There really is no way to make sense of this senseless act. As an Amish mother once said, "All the time the question 'Why?' comes to our minds. But we should not expect to be able to understand everything in this life, and should never put a question mark where God has put a period." Little children were promised the kingdom of heaven.

Now the school is torn down, with another one to be built in a new location. I was told the Amish would try to make it as "different" as possible, even down to the flooring. It will, of course, be a difficult road ahead for all, but it will be a new beginning.

I would like to conclude with part of an article from the book The Amish in Their Own Words. They are the thoughts of a member of the local Plain community after the unexpected drowning death of a boy here in Lancaster. Originally published in Family Life magazine in January, 1969, the narrative briefly describes the funeral and continues with the arrival at the cemetery...

There the coffin was opened for the final time. After we filed past again, the family gathered to look upon his face for the last time. Something like that is very touching and I can’t see how one can keep from shedding tears. I watched while they looked and wept. Then he was let down into the newly dug grave and covered with fresh earth. I had to wonder how the family felt, as it seemed to rend my heart. It wondered me, if he could come back and talk to me, what he would say. Would he tell me to lead a more concerned and Christian life? Would he tell me not to think so much of the worry and cares of the world? Would he tell me to think more of the hereafter, of things above and not of things below? But isn’t that what he did tell us by leaving us so suddenly? Wasn’t it to get me to think on things like that? But alas, how soon that is forgotten. Who’ll be next --- the next one to remind me?

Amish Country News Publisher's Message by Brad Igou (2006)



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