Tuesday, February 22, 2011

horror and forgiveness

When I wrote about forgiveness a week ago, I didn't know I was going to so soon come across a story of deep grief and amazing forgiveness.

A pastor and his family are invited to minister to a small rural church in North Carolina. They are successful, and start to make some changes, but one influential man in the congregation resents the changes. He embarks on a campaign of harassment (intimidating phone calls, threatening letter, complaints etc) to drive the family out of the district, and, when that doesn't work, he steps up the campaign to include shots fired at the house and ten bombs exploding close enough to the house to break windows.

When his daughter is 8, in an apparently unrelated incident, an abusive husband whose wife had been helped by the family bursts into the house, shoots the mother dead and seriously injures the pastor, in full view of the daughter, who has to flee the house to get help. She has to confront the killer and give evidence in court, and he is sent to gaol.

Not long after, the instigator of the campaign of terror is finally arrested, tried and also sent to gaol. But the pastor's health deteriorates due to the stress, he is unable to work, and he eventually dies prematurely, leaving his two children to be cared for by their aunt.

As if she hasn't already had enough to deal with, when she is 16 the daughter receives a phone call from the man convicted of the harassment, released on parole after only a short term in prison. Amazingly, he apologises for his terrible actions and asks for forgiveness. Even more amazing, perhaps, is that the daughter readily forgives, because that was how her parents had raised her. Nothing could bring her parents back, but her forgiveness allowed her to avoid bitterness and extended grace to her tormentor.

It remains true that (a) forgiveness (God's offer of forgiveness to us, and his insistence that we be forgiving of others, even enemies) is one of the main things that distinguishes christianity from other religions, and (b) psychologists tell us that being forgiving is one of the main factors in happiness, wellbeing and being at peace.

Rebecca Nichols Alonzo now speaks around the US on forgiveness, has written her story in The Devil in Pew Number Seven and you can read more about the events in the Whiteville News Reporter.

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