They called themselves the ‘plain people’ and are characterized by their distinctive lifestyle and dress. They are the Amish of Lancaster County, PA. Still living without electricity or motor vehicles, and within a closed community, the Amish attract a lot of attention from tourists who are curious about why they live without modern conveniences and dress in traditional garb. On October 2, 2006, in Nickel Mines, the Amish attracted an entirely different type of attention. Charles Carl Roberts, backed up his pickup truck to the the community’s one room schoolhouse where he proceeded to tie up and shoot 10 girls execution style, killing five, before taking his own life.
The innocence of the girls Charlie shot and his own admission that he was a sexual predator with intent to abuse again, held the world in the grip of horror. This was the third school shooting that first week of October 2006; however it stood apart from the others by its diabolical nature. The shooter had deliberately targeted the pacifist Amish community because their lack of technology meant that they were more vulnerable. He knew this because for years he had driven a milk truck, collecting milk from their farms. They trusted him and he betrayed their trust by shooting their girls in a premeditated assault because as he stated in his suicide note, Charlie was mad at God for taking his newborn daughter who died 10 years earlier.
Rather than recoiling further from ‘the English’, the Nickel Mines Amish community visited the home of Charlie Robert the afternoon after the murders, offering his widow Amy their condolences and telling her that they forgave her husband. It was an unprecedented act of mercy that left the local news team flummoxed. In the movie, a reporter for the local news station is sent to cover the story and becomes involved in the life of Ida Graber, an Amish woman who is struggling to forgive her 14-year-old daughter’s killer. At first she is curious about the true motives behind the extraordinary act of kindness on the part of the community elders which include Gideon, Ida’s husband. Because Ida has trouble accepting their actions, she suspects that they do not represent the wishes of the entire community, and that they are imposing the impossible upon their members. Ida has come to the end of her rope, and begs to be driven to her sister Emma’s home in Philadelphia, ending her marriage (since her husband will shun her, as her sister was shunned when she left the community to marry a non-Amish husband). She forms a friendship with Ida, offering her a way out of the Amish community. Kimberly Williams-Paisley is Ida Graber, the Amish mother whose crisis of faith is less than believable, a case of Hollywood trying to make sense out of a culture which mystifies them. Let the mystery stand, the Amish have their own reasons for remaining apart from the world, and the film does an admirable job revealing the true nature of the Amish.
Tammy Blanchard is passionate as Amy Roberts the widow of the murderer Charlie who was conducting a prayer meeting while her husband was shooting school children. She is s a good wife and mother, who is devastated by her husband’s crimes. She is profoundly moved by the compassionate visit of the Amish on the very day of the murder/suicide, and becomes a distant friend of the community as they rebuild the New Hope schoolhouse.
In the opening scene, the Amish community gathers for a Sunday service and the Deacon says than an English man asked him why they keep themselves separate. He explains, “We are separate, so that we do not stray. Someone who boasts that he is a Christian must walk in the path of Christ. Then he said to me, ‘Can you not walk In path of Christ and watch television too?’ (laughs) I said, well, that would be quite the trick. How can we keep our minds on God if we are distracted by worldly pursuits? We cannot. We keep our lives simple so that our path to Heaven will be wide open for us. Let us lift our voices now in expectation in arrival in our true home”.
The Heavenly-mindedness of the Amish is the inspiring theme of Amish Grace, and even the faith of a practicing Christian like Amy Roberts pales in comparison to the glowing example of faith in God and unquestioning obedience to His will seen in the Amish community. In the season of Lent when we examine ourselves to see where the world has crept into our hearts, comparison of our own willingness to forgive to that of the Amish community could be a moment of grace. Amish grace.
No direct violence, nudity or strong language. Highly recommended for the whole family, since the shootings are not portrayed in the film and sexual abuse is not mentioned, however the discussion of murder may be frightening for younger children.
Amish Grace airs on Palm Sunday, March 28, at 8pmET/5pmPT on LMN. Check local listings for reruns during April and May.