Remember hearing about the Nickel Mines shooting back in October of 2006? That incident touched the hearts of many people, but who knew it would reach a long arm across the ocean to touch the lives of the Kurds?
On October 2, 2006, a milk truck driver named Charles Roberts walked into an Amish classroom in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. He ordered out the boys and adults who were present; barricaded the school doors; forced the ten girls, ages six go thirteen, to line up at the chalkboard; and shot them, execution style, in the back of the head. He then turned the gun and shot himself. Five of the girls died, while five retained serious injuries which still affect their lives to varying degrees.
And the world watched in amazement as this close-knit Amish community reacted in love and forgiveness to the murderer and the family of the murderer. Charles Roberts’ wife, now Marie Monville, remembers a group of Amish visiting on the day of the shooting. Her dad went out to talk to them, “And I couldn’t hear the words they were saying, but I could see the exchange that was happening. I could see their arms extending.”
Across the world, some Kurds watched the event on television and were amazed and touched by such heartfelt forgiveness. A minority people in the Middle East, the Kurds know what it is to experience massacre. In 1986-1989, Saddam Hussein subjected the Kurds to a mass purge, killing thousands. They have experienced harsh and unfair treatment at the hands of the governments in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey; even the U.S. has broken its promises to the Kurdish people time and again. They certainly have reason to seek revenge.
But in 2006, in the quaint prayer kapps and long Amish beards on a television screen, some Kurds saw the potential hope and healing of a different way. Through government connections, they contacted members of the Amish community and begged them to send representatives to teach the Kurds that kind of forgiveness.
Two of those representatives were Steve and Jake Lapp, who traveled to northern Iraq and taught there about the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
More recently, when ISIS attacked Kurdish villages in Syria and Iraq, the Lapp brothers were asked to return. In September of 2014, during an intense period of ISIS persecution and attack, Steve and Jake Lapp reached northern Iraq and were welcomed by Kurdish friends and the Kurdish military.
“God told us to go to Ninevah, which is Mosul, and to pray against that Nimrod spirit,” Steve Lapp said. “God told us to put boots on the ground.”
Put boots on the ground they did. Escorted by the military in four SUVs to a high mountain overlooking Mosul, they stood on that mountain, undaunted by danger of snipers, and prayed.
You can read a bit more about the Lapp brothers’ story, and a lot more about the efforts of the underground Chinese church to reach ISIS militants with the gospel of Jesus Christ, in this book: ISIS, The Heart of Terror by Eugene Bach.
I want to thank Vernon Martin for passing along the Lapp brothers’ story. It is one I will remember.
Forgiveness holds the power to change the world.