12 October 2006

When Tragedy Strikes

The terrible attack by an armed man on an Amish schoolhouse last week is about as close to the definition of senseless as I can imagine. However, the reactions of the Amish and Mennonite community seem to be the very opposite: in the face of this tragedy, they have been sensible and sensitive despite, or perhaps because of, their grief.

Below is the statement that the Nickel Mines Accountability Committee released, which is stunning for its openness and inherent warmth, and seems to me to offer an opportunity for the rest of us, Christian and non-Christian, to reflect on our own values, our community's values, and on how we as a nation choose to respond when attacked. The statement reads as follows:

On Oct. 2, seven Amish families in our community experienced the unimaginable - 10 of their young daughters were shot, five fatally, by a gunman who invaded the Amish school where their children attended. The whole community, Amish and others, were horrified and shocked that such evil could be done to the most innocent members of our peaceful community.

Messages of condolence and care, financial contributions, and offers of all kinds of assistance began to pour into the community almost immediately from the local community and from around the world.

We, the people of the Nickel Mines community, are humbled and deeply thankful for this outpouring of love. Each act of kindness, the prayers and every gift, small or large, comfort us and assure us that our spirits will heal even though the painful loss will always be with us.

Thank you for your generous kindness and for walking with us in this "valley of death." We wish we could thank each of you personally.

In those first hours and days we experienced, personally, the love and care of our neighbors and the public and private service providers as they responded tirelessly and selflessly.

Specifically, we acknowledge and thank the following: volunteer fire companies, especially the Bart Township fire company; fire police; Lancaster County Sheriff's Department; Pennsylvania State Police and local law enforcement people; ambulance and emergency response teams; hospitals and all the related medical providers; coroners; churches; community volunteer groups; transportation providers; and the Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, the Anabaptist Foundation and the numerous banks and businesses that are collecting funds.

To all those we failed to mention, thank you and apologies for not naming you.

We thank people from the news media who sensitively reported our tragedy to the world, and in many cases wrote thoughtful commentary that helped the world grapple with values that are dear to us - forgiveness, non-violence, mutual caring, simplicity and life in a community of faith.

Above all, thank you for the acts of kindness you showed us even while you were doing your reporting work.

The Roberts family is also suffering. Please join us in showering care on them, praying for them and in assisting them with financial needs that they face.

We have organized the Nickel Mines Accountability Committee to receive contributions and apply them to the needs that resulted from the shootings: medical and counseling services, transportation for victims, transportation and extra living expenses for family members attending to the victims, rehabilitation, long-term disability care, modifications to homes or schools if needed to make facilities handicap accessible, and any other expenses resulting from the event.

If adequate funds are received, contributions may be made to charity funds of health-service providers and to volunteer public service entities that responded to this event without charging for their services.

Funds received in excess of what is needed to respond to the Nickel Mines Amish School tragedy will be contributed, as the committee deems appropriate, to needs arising from other tragic events within or outside the Amish community.

Thank you and God bless you.

Copies of this statement can be found online here and here (among other places). Readers may also be interested in the op-ed by by Donald B. Kraybill about the Amish response, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.


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