It's the moment we most fear--the phone call, the knock on the door, the jarring news that something terrible has happened to a loved one. For Marie Roberts Monville, the nightmare began seven years ago on Oct. 2 with an ominous note and a cryptic phone call from Charlie Roberts, a man she had known as an exceptional father and supportive husband for nearly 10 years.
"His voice sounded so different," Monville said during a recent phone interview. "The things he said didn't make sense. I knew in that moment I wouldn't see him again."
Monville's nightmare continued when police arrived at her door.
"It's Charlie, isn't it?" she asked. Yes, they told her. It was Charlie.
"He's dead, isn't he?"
As police questioned Monville, the terrifying reality unfolded. Not only had her high school sweetheart committed suicide, his actions had brought unthinkable tragedy to the quiet Amish community in which she, Charlie, and their three young children lived. That morning, Charlie Roberts had walked into a one-room Amish schoolhouse less than a mile from their Lancaster, Penn. home carrying a Springfield XD 9mm handgun. He had ordered from the building all but 10 female students, ranging in age from six to 13, and shot them each at close range before taking his own life. Five of the girls, age six to 13, survived. The others, age seven to 13, died within 24 hours. It was beyond what anyone in the community of Nickel Mines could ever have imagined.
Monville felt helpless. How could she face her neighbors? What would she tell her children?
"In those first moments, when my life was shattered and everything I'd hoped for our future was gone, I had to make a choice: either to believe everything I had read in the Word, or that I was going down with a sinking ship."
Monville chose the former. She even dared to hope that God could, in time, make something beautiful out of extraordinary devastation.
Even before day's end, as Monville stood at her parents' kitchen sink, a few Amishmen approached the door. Terrified, she looked to her father.
"What should I do?" she asked.
"Stay inside," he said. "I'll go to them."
From the window, Monville saw everything--the men's gentle hands on her father's shoulders, their comforting arms wrapped around his grieving body. They had forgiven Charlie, they said, and were concerned for Marie and her children. People came with flowers, meals and silent hugs. A collection was taken not just for the victims' families, but for Marie and her children, too. At Charlie Roberts' funeral, nearly half of those in attendance were Amish. Mothers and fathers who had buried their own daughters just the day before held Monville in their arms. They comforted one another. They wept with those who wept, mourned with those who mourned.
"They extended such compassion and grace," Monville says. "To hear their words of forgiveness on the very afternoon of the shooting took the weight of responsibility off of me to give account for Charlie's choices and gave me the ability to walk in my own journey with God."
That forgiveness rippled beyond Lancaster County. It was witnessed around the world and elicited as much awe as the shooting itself. Families of victims who, under conventional standards, would be justified in seeking retribution were instead responding in a way that reflects the wisdom of Christ, putting into action the tail-end of the Lord's Prayer that's often forgotten: If you forgive people their trespasses, their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive you of yours.
Monville, who has since remarried, will be at the Gospel Book Store in Berlin on Saturday, Oct. 26 from 9 a.m. to noon to sign her book, One Light Still Shines, the story of God's incomprehensible love in the aftermath of massacre and destruction. Monville will also give her powerful testimony at 6 p.m. that evening at the Perry Reese Center at Hiland High School. Contact the Gospel Bookstore at 330-893-2523 for more information.
Within the past few years, Marie Roberts Monville has begun speaking publicly. Her testimony has been a significant source of comfort, inspiring others to let go of deep wounds and anger against God, people, and themselves, and, in the process, have discovered the wisdom of forgiveness.
"It isn't just about the other person," Monville says. "It doesn't excuse them. It doesn't mean the wound didn't occur or the hurt didn't happen. But forgiveness sets *us* free. It heals us. It's about the beautiful things that can happen inside of us when we forgive."