A demonstration of grace
The recent school shootings have caused Americans to reflect on other such horrible crimes. Unfortunately, there are many to choose from. Infoplease.com lists 34 that have occurred in the United States since 1996 and several others outside our country. While most recall the events most widely reported by the media, they made me think of another, less publicized scene of violence.
In September 2000, I landed in a small plane in Bethel, Alaska. Named by Moravian missionaries in 1885, Bethel is an isolated town of 5,400, accessible only by air or sea. But the town was not isolated from violence. Three years earlier, a 16-year-old student had opened fire with a shotgun in a commons area at Bethel Regional High School, killing two — the principal and a student. I was about to learn a part of the story few others had heard.
At the home of the pastor of Bethel Community Assembly of God I met two of his members — Rodney Thomas, an African-American resident, and his Yupik (Eskimo) wife, Pepsi. Rodney’s son was the student who lost his life. He had not died immediately, as the principal had, but had lingered before passing away in a hospital in Anchorage.
None of us can know what we would do in such a situation when confronted with the murderer of our child. Few would even consider doing what Rodney Thomas did. In an extraordinary display of grace that touched the community, Thomas stood and publicly forgave the killer, then walked across the courtroom and handed him a Bible.
Jesus said, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him” (Mark 11:25, NKJV). People commonly withhold forgiveness for far smaller offenses. Forgiving does not mean condoning, and it does not mean you will stop hurting. But it can help bring you a peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7).
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