I doubt many of you recognize the name Terri Roberts, or her son, Charles.
Terri became “known” because of what Charles did, but it’s important that you know Terri because of what Terri did.
Charles, a quiet young father of three stopped at an Amish school near Lancaster, Pa., while on his milk collection route one morning. Many of the children knew him because he collected milk from their farms.
Charles ordered the boys to leave the one-room schoolhouse and then tied up 10 girls, all between the ages of 6 and 13, before he killed five and severely injured the rest.
As one would imagine, the Roberts family was crushed, and shocked that their quiet, hardworking, church-going son, would do something so terrible.
I listened as Terri told her story to a reporter a couple of years ago, around the time she released her powerful book, "Forgiven."
Among her chief concerns was shielding her daughter-in-law and grandkids from the national media that quickly found their home.
While the police agencies and emergency responders were still investigating the scene one Amish man named Henry came to the Roberts home and said the Amish community wanted them to know that they were not seen as the enemy, but as friends who were also grieving the loss of a child.
Charles Roberts had killed himself in the schoolroom.
Terri said she and her husband felt tremendous shame for their son's actions and while she appreciated the Amish farmer's words of sympathy, she didn’t immediately believe it.
The Roberts family stayed home and out of the spotlight until a few days later when they had to bury their son. She said she dreaded having to face the media. She felt she had to give an explanation, but there was no explanation, no warning signs, no suicide note, nothing.
It was at the cemetery that the words of the Amish spokesperson began to sink in. As the family arrived for the burial, she said nearly 30 Amish men and women surrounded them, creating a wall so they could grieve out of sight of cameras. Many of the men and women were parents of the girls who had been killed or wounded.
Terri said that’s when she began to understand forgiveness. As a Christian, she thought she had understood God’s forgiveness, but now she knew she had to forgive her son.
Not long after that dreadful day in 2006 Terri began making weekly visits to the homes of the injured girls and participated in their care and built close bonds with their families.
Each time she left the home of Roxanna, the most severely injured girl, she said she would cry and be overcome with grief realizing that her son was responsible.
Terri died in August after a long bout with cancer. But her powerful story of learning to receive and to give forgiveness lives on.
Memphis minister Jimmy Young said the imperative of Matthew 18 is that “Christians must forgive, and often, it is before it is felt”.
That, to me, is the story of Christmas. Christ came to forgive us, and our “job” as Christians is to spread that light, and nothing does that better than being forgiving people.
I have purchased 10 copies of Terri’s great book, "Forgiven," and placed them in our reception area. You are invited to come and take one. I only ask that after you read it, you pass it on to someone else.