Marian Fisher was only thirteen. She had a lot to live for, and probably many years yet to live. Yesterday she was buried in a cold steady rain in a little farm graveyard near Georgetown Pennsylvania. When Marian went to her little Amish school last Monday morning she had no idea what she would face, certainly not that her faith in her Christian principles would be tested to the max earlier this past week. After all, she was thirteen, and like most Amish girls her age was wrapped up in farm life, and perhaps beginning to think about the period of time when she would be allowed to 'experiment'. During the teen years the Amish allow their children to go out and experience the world for a few years, date, go to movies, and the like, so they can make up their mind whether they want to continue to faithfully live the Amish life or be like the 'Englishmen' as they are sometimes called--- the outsiders. I should know. I lived in the middle of the Amish for eleven years and watched their witness. It puts most other Christians in the region to shame.
Picture a small one room Amish school house. Picture Emma Mae Zook, only twenty, and yet already for three years the school teacher of these children. She ran from the school house to alert the police, while her fifteen or so boy students were escaping or being allowed to go. Ten girls remained, between 6 and thirteen, and Marian Fisher last Monday stood up first to a crazed and tormented man named Carl Roberts a 32 year old milk man who shot the girls and then turned the gun on himself.
Marian sister, Barbie who was wounded, reported what happened next. The girls asked 'Why are you doing this?' Carl Roberts replied 'I am angry with God'. Angry that God had not stopped him from molesting some children in his past. But as it turns out, he was delusional. He had not molested those children. Was he driven mad by pornographic images of young girls? Did he imagine himself at the scene having sex with such girls but never managed to do it? One thing for sure. He was sane enough to realize that a school full of Amish young children was a vulnerable place, and he was a predator. His plan apparently was to have sex with some of those school girls and then kill. But Marian Fisher intervened.
She said to Carl Roberts in somewhat broken English "Shoot me, and leave the other one's loose." She knew the Amish way. She knew Jesus' way. She was prepared to die for the others. And some of them are still clinging to life and it appears some will survive. Roberts of course escaped human accountability by killing himself as police stormed the building hearing shots, but there is a God in heaven who is not deaf to the cries of the saints and martyrs.
But that is not all of the story coming out of Nickel Mines Pennsylvania. Carl Roberts had a wife and three kids who live right there on the edge of the community. Marie Roberts, the wife has been embraced by many of the Amish. They have invited her to please stay, in fact to come and mourn together, because the Bible says we should mourn with those who mourn. She has been told that everyone is forgiven by the Amish, even Carl Roberts who did this hideous thing.
This friends is real Christianity. Christians do not retaliate. They do not seek revenge, for the Bible says that vengeance should be left in the hands of the Lord. In fact they do quite the opposite. They offer forgiveness even to their tormentors. They seek peace at the least and reconciliation at the most with those who revile them, harm them, kill them. And there is another side to this as well. Richard Gelles is an expert on violence and children. He says that psychologically the practice of forgiveness will help the Amish themselves heal far faster than others would. Forgiveness also heals the forgiver.
Somewhere out there, there is someone who is muttering about meekness being weakness. There is someone out there suggesting that violence is the way to answer and silence senseless violence. There is someone simply ignoring the words of Jesus that those who live by the sword die by the sword.
But it isn't Marian Fisher. She passed the test of her Christ-like faith. She was braver than a hundred men with guns in their hands. She gave the last full measure of her devotion to God by giving up her life for others, and some of them appear likely to survive this tragedy. In fact, if we really knew the heart of Jesus, we would know that he himself died a little once again last Monday when those girls were killed. It was Jesus who said "inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me". It was Jesus who confronted Saul on Damascus Road, Jesus who was dwelling securely in heaven, and asked Saul "Why are you persecuting me?" There is a deep, spiritual connection between Jesus and his people, like a head attached to a body, such that what happens to us, in some mysterious way, happens to him, though he be in heaven. I do not understand it, but I know this is true for he said so.
So I stand with the Amish and I stand with Jesus. Not all the armies who ever marched have had the power or effect on history of that one single and solitary life, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, on all of humankind going on now for over 2,000 years.
Long ago Jesus said to me and to us all "take up your cross, and follow me". The Amish understand that that is an invitation to lay down your weapons and be prepared to die rather than fight for what you believe. They understand that love and forgiveness are stronger forces than death and destruction. They understand that forgiveness breaks the hideous cycle of violence. That's what a real Christian life can and will do. And yes friends, it takes a lot of courage to stick by these principles in the age and culture and world we live in. Make no mistake. Revenge and retaliation come natural to fallen human beings. Forgiveness however comes from God. It is surpernatural and it transforms both the forgiver and the forgiven.
Some years ago, Mother Teresa was crossing the Allenby Bridge into the Holy Land from Jordan. She was stopped of course by Israeli border guards, who troubled to search this diminuitive little nun. They asked her "have you any weapons?" --a ridiculous thing to ask a nun.
"Oh yes" she said boldly. "I have my prayerbooks." And she held them up. The Amish have said this week that they have felt uplifted by the prayers of millions who have been told about this story. Prayer--- now there's a dangerous weapon that can change the landscape of the world.
This story about Marian Fisher will stay with me for a long time. I hope that if it comes to that, I someday will have the courage she did to confront the violence and absorb it by giving a life. I hope I will continue to 'stick to my guns' which are my prayers and continue to forgive those who would do me and mine harm in any form.
This I know for sure. This world is run by a God who answers prayer, not by a God who calls us to other sorts of arms. This world is run by a God who died for me on the cross and shouted out with his dying breath about those who were tormenting and killing him "Father forgive them, they know not what they do." If we could only see with Jesus' eyes, we would know that suffering love and forgiveness is what saves and heals the world. The Amish know that. And they have borne witness to us all this week. May the memory of Marian Fisher be seared into our hearts for a long time to come. It is a portrait of our Lord.