In October 2006, 32-year-old Charlie Roberts burst into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. He shot 10 young girls, killing five of them before killing himself.
Ten young lives were forever changed; five ended, five scarred for a lifetime. Countless others—families preparing for Christmas, minding their own business, and enjoying community life—were suddenly thrust into chaos and grief.
The night of the shooting, something else unthinkable happened. Within hours, Amish families—including some of those who had lost children that very afternoon—went to the home of Charlie Roberts’ mother. They did not appear on her doorstep with anger and hostility. Instead, they extended forgiveness to her and urged her not to leave. Despite the horrific carnage her son had caused just hours earlier, she would be welcome—even wanted—in the community.
Terri Roberts—grief-stricken that day, herself—has stayed these past seven years.
She still cannot find words to describe the grace she experienced that night. At the funeral of her son, a mother and father who had lost two daughters at the hand of Charlie were among the first to greet Terri. Despite their own raw pain and the depth of their own personal grief, they reached out; Christ at work in them and through them.
These days, remarkably, Terri Roberts shares a message of forgiveness and hope to others suffering through trauma. And every Thursday she cares for the most seriously wounded survivor of the shooting, a young girl who is now 13—not because of guilt but because of grace.
The apostle John spoke of the “Light that shines in the darkness” (John 1:5) as he described Jesus.
It’s appropriate that Christmas comes just four days after the darkest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere). The coming of Christ turns the corner not just of the calendar but of our lives. His coming—His advent—brings hope and healing to our deepest grief and bleakest days. His grace transforms our despair. His Presence ministers to our pain.
Immanuel: God is with us.