Amish Insights on: Forgiveness


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This Month’s Question:

How do you practice forgiveness in your community?



Jerry: In any close-knit community, forgiveness is the elixir that cures disease. It cleans the cancer from the joints and makes things pliable again. The spiritual WD-40 that lessens the creaking and groaning. Forgiveness is counter-cultural. It flies in the face of conventional thinking. Society teaches us that we claim what is ours no matter the cost—we claim our rights. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, and not only to turn the other cheek physically but inwardly as well. A heart change that expresses itself in a daily walk with my neighbor.

Maybe one of the most visible displays of forgiveness in recent history was the Nickel Mines incident when a troubled young man entered an Amish schoolhouse and took hostage 10 young innocent school girls, bound them, laid them in a row on the floor, and proceeded to shoot them execution style. Five died and all the others were left to deal with scars­—both emotionally and physically­—that we can only imagine. The young man then proceeded to kill himself.

The public display of forgiveness went viral—nationally and internationally, people could not understand. How can you extend the olive branch under such circumstances? This bitter young man was known locally in the community—his parents had provided taxi work to some of the victims’ families. The response was immediate, showing up at the perpetrator’s door, simply embracing the raw emotion by extending an open palm. No hard feelings. We forgive. We’ll get through this together. It stunned the watching world.

While we don’t believe such a heinous act is the will of God, we do believe God can use such acts to portray goodness through His people. Yes, I know the public display of spontaneous forgiveness was beautiful. I also know the private battle endured as they shed buckets of tears.

Five trees trees silently lift their branches skyward.

Five pine trees silently lift their branches skyward, a memorial to what happened. No great fanfare, no big applause. Just five trees commemorating where Nickel Mines Schoolhouse used to stand. A monument of what happened by God’s grace—His marvelous gift of forgiveness.


Ivan: Forgiveness is one of Jesus’ key messages that he taught his disciples when he walked on this earth. It is also one of the hardest things for our carnal nature to practice. Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount included… And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:12, 15)

Many of our ancestors suffered for their faith in Europe before coming to America. Dirk Willems gave us a good example of forgiveness and loving your enemy. In the winter of 1569, in the country of Holland, Dirk Willems was to be apprehended because of his faith. As he was running to escape, he was being chased by a “bounty hunter.” Racing out over the wintry countryside, he treacherously made his way over the ice. When Dirk reached the other shore, he heard the cries of his pursuer as he broke through the ice. He could have raced to freedom. He could have made it home to his mother and his sister, but he chose to inch his way out over the ice and pull his pursuer to safety. This act of kindness cost Dirk his life. When he arrived on the shore after his heroic efforts, he was promptly captured by the town burgomaster and was later convicted of heresy because of his faith in Jesus Christ. He was condemned to be burned at the stake. Dirk chose to turn the other cheek and put the teachings of Jesus into action.


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Ivan, Emma, and their four children live on a 12-acre homestead where they strive to raise as much of their own food as possible. Each year they have a large garden, harvest from their orchard, use raw milk from their own cow, and process chicken, turkey, beef, and pigs for their freezers. Ivan is a minister in the local Amish community. He builds tiny homes and animal shelters for a living. His models can be seen on or by calling 330-852-8800.

Jerry and Gloria Miller, along with their six children, operate Gloria’s home farm, a 173-acre organic dairy. They milk between 60 and 70 cows with a few small cottage industries supplementing the farm income. Jerry is a deacon in his local Amish church.


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