Forgiveness is easier said than done. I was thinking about that again this morning as I watched the news reports on yesterday’s sentencing of the parents of Michigan school shooter Ethan Crumbley. Both parents read statements to the court and to the parents of victims. The parents of victims were given the opportunity to make statements themselves, addressing James and Jennifer Crumbley, a task that I can’t imagine having to undertake. While I can’t accurately put myself in the shoes of anyone who was in that courtroom yesterday, I can only wonder how I would be able to navigate being on either side in that moment. What would I say? What would my emotions be telling me to do? What would my emotions even be? It’s unimaginable to me. And for anyone who thinks they know what it would be like, you’re only fooling yourself unless you’ve been there.

In recent years, I’ve had a kind of front-row-seat to some of the unimaginable things human beings can do to one another. As Jeremiah tells us, “The human heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. My front-row seat here in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania has afforded me not only a look at the unspeakable, but also at the power of a kind of mercy and forgiveness which marks the culture and commitments of our local Amish community. . . a mercy and forgiveness that is decided upon and bestowed in moments of the most extreme kinds of victimization. It is not a mercy and forgiveness that somehow skirts the need for justice, but it is more powerful and striking than what you and I might see anywhere else.

Several years ago I had a conversation with my friend Joel Kime about the forgiveness he experienced from an Amish family after an accident which left a newly-married Amish wife dead. I’ve listened to other friends, including Jonas Beiler, talk about the level of forgiveness given to the family of the shooter who walked into the West Nickel Mines one-room Amish schoolhouse back in 2006. The man took hostages and then shot 10 of the girls, ages 6-13, killing five before turning the gun on himself. In fact, back on Episode 90 of our Youth Culture Matters podcast Joel and Jonas both spoke openly about the way that our Amish neighbors consciously decide to forgive. . . seemingly immediately. . . as a matter of decisive commitment. That’s why Episode 90 was appropriately titled “Radical Forgiveness.”

More recently, we saw the Amish commitment to showing mercy and granting forgiveness in the midst of pain, grief, and unimaginable heartache, when 18-year-old Amish teen Linda Stoltzfoos went missing as she walked home along on a country road after attending church back in June of 2020. The story gripped our country and even the nation as details unfolded, an arrest was made, and her body was then found 10 months later. The family of convicted kidnapper/killer, Justo Smoker, while reeling from disbelief, pain, anger, and grief following his arrest, experienced unexplainable grace, kindness, and mercy at the hands of the Amish community.

Yesterday, we released a compelling conversation I had with Justo Smoker’s brother-in-law, Pastor Tim Rogers, and Smoker’s niece, Megan Shertzer. Several months ago, this father and daughter had given me the privilege of reading the manuscript of a short and riveting book they had written: Beechdale Road: Where Mercy Is More Powerful Than Murder: A True Story. The book is out now, and you need to read it. In our conversation (embedded below), Tim and Megan describe the beauty of our Amish friends’ commitment to do what we can only imagine is so, so hard, but so, so right.

As I’ve listened to the stories recounted by Joel Kime, Jonas Beiler, and now Tim and his daughter Megan, I am prompted to look inward at myself under the microscope of God’s Word, the mercy I’ve been shown by my Heavenly Father, and my calling to do the same. Jesus calls his followers to a bottomless well of forgiveness. . . “Seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). He reminds us that “If you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). How is this even possible? In our Amish friends we see that it is. And difficult as it is, if Jesus commands forgiveness, it can and must be obediently pursued.

I want to encourage you to read Tim and Megan’s book, Beechdale Road. I want to encourage you to listen to the episode of Youth Culture Matters that is embedded below. Listen to the stories of how Amish parents, elders, and teenagers chose and continue to show mercy. If there is one term that would describe the Amish community it is this: counter-cultural. Visitors flock to Lancaster County to satisfy their curiosity about this group of people who live by a counter-cultural set of standards. When it comes to showing grace, mercy, and forgiveness, they are counter-cultural as well.

Parents and youth workers, reading this book with your kids and talking about the story is a powerful way to educate them counter-culturally on grace, mercy, and forgiveness. I encourage you to do so.

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