It was a crime that horrified the nation. On October 2, 2006, a milk truck driver entered the one-room schoolhouse in the West Nickel Mines Amish community of Pennsylvania and shot 10 girls, killing five. But while such tragedies always shock the nation, they are no longer so rare as to completely stun us. What made this incident different was the reaction of the victims' families.
Almost immediately upon learning the identity of the killer, who took his own life at the end of his violent rampage, the parents of the murdered girls reached out to the man's widow, offering forgiveness to her husband and help for her children. Only days after the shooting, in the midst of their own grieving, many of the Amish families even went so far as to attend the man's funeral with prayers and condolences. The media and the public were transfixed-how could these parents have enough grace in their hearts to forgive at all, let alone so quickly?
Amish Grace, a made-for-television movie airing on the Lifetime Movie Network Sunday at 8 p.m. EDT (7 p.m. CDT), uses both actual events and fictional character composites to answer this question. Perhaps out of respect for the people it depicts, the movie refrains from showing the actual crime or any kind of bloodshed and spends very little time on the character of the murderer. Instead it focuses on the aftermath in the Nickel Mines village and two women's journey with forgiveness-the mother of one of the victims (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), who struggles to follow the example of her Savior in offering forgiveness to the man who killed her daughter, and the wife of the killer (Kerry Blanchard), who is wracked with guilt and overcome by the outpouring of love from those her husband did so wrong.
Though based on the book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Redeemed a Tragedy by Donald Kraybill, Steven Nolt, and David Weaver-Zercher, the authors declined to participate in the movie project in part because of Amish prohibitions against being photographed and participating in media. They commented in a press statement: "Out of respect to our friends in the Amish community and especially those related to the Nickel Mines tragedy we declined the producer's requests to consult and assist in the development of a film." But even without the authors' involvement, the movie still does an admirable job exploring God's command that we forgive those who offend us, regardless of how great the offense.
Williams-Paisley character's struggle with defiance in the face of what her faith demands may or may not have been something the parents of Nickel Mines struggled with in real life (though it's almost impossible to imagine that they didn't), but showing her working through her anger and arriving at a place of obedience through prayer gives viewers a glimpse of the supernatural nature of the Amish reaction. And though the production values are fairly typical for a made-for-TV movie, Blanchard's performance as a shattered woman overcome by miraculous love is gripping.
There are some quibbles to be had with screenwriters who don't always have a firm grasp on the theology their dealing with, such as when a church deacon tells Blanchard's character that they can forgive her husband because "we all deserve forgiveness" (in fact what he more likely would have said is that none of us deserves forgiveness, yet God offers it through Christ). But these don't feel like purposeful misrepresentations, merely sloppiness. In the end, Amish Grace points quite clearly to the source the real-life Amish families credited for their ability forgive.