November

Forgive Me — Forgive Me Not

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Oct. 2, 2006, was one of those stunning Lancaster County fall days. Terri Roberts was enjoying lunch outdoors with her best friend. But even as she ate her salad and chatted, sirens — and an ominous helicopter that circled overhead — broke the tranquility of the crisp afternoon.

When Roberts returned to her office at Sight & Sound Theatres, the phone was ringing. It was Chuck, her husband. “I need you to come to Charlie’s house right away,” he said. Charles “Charlie” Carl Roberts IV, 32, was the eldest of the couple’s four sons. She knew from the heaviness in her husband’s voice that something horrible had happened.

Over the next several hours, Terri Roberts would come to know the depths of tragedy that forever changed her life and the inkling of joy — though she certainly didn’t call it that at the time — that would bring her and her family, as well as the wider community, immeasurable peace.

Oct. 2, 2006, is forever marred by the senseless shooting of 10 Amish girls inside their West Nickel Mines School—just 40 miles from Reading. Charlie Roberts, the local milkman and a father of three, lined up the children in front of the blackboard and shot them execution style as they prayed. The youngest was just 6, the oldest 13. Five of the girls died, and five more suffered injuries. As police charged the schoolhouse, Charlie Roberts took his life. The rampage made headlines around the world.

The date however remains remarkable for another just as shocking and life-altering reason. When the worst happened to the town’s most vulnerable, its Amish community had only one swift response — forgiveness.

“Forgiveness became a bigger story than what Charlie did,” says Terri Roberts, 62, who still lives in Strasburg, Pa. Since what she calls “the tragedy,” she has traveled the country and world to tell her story of Christian faith, trust in Jesus Christ and the healing power of forgiveness. She calls her talk, which also covers her battle with Stage 3 breast cancer, “Joy Through Adversity.”

“That’s what the Amish do. They live the Lord’s Prayer,” she says to a group of students at a lecture near Malvern, Pa., where this wide-eyed grandmother with a gray bob is speaking on a March morning. “They live that, forgive and be forgiven.

“We need to allow forgiveness in our hearts so we can be whole,” she says, still overcome with emotion more than seven years later.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Charlie Roberts’ wife Marie "… laying there at night thinking about it and in the time since, by them coming so quickly and letting us know their forgiveness of Charlie and the way they were extending grace and compassion to our family, it was an amazing gift because it released me from giving a response for Charlie's choices and, instead, opened the door to find the healing of the Lord that we all needed."

>> Read full story in Alvernia Magazine

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