My Food Bank Family:

On Sunday I stood in shock reading my news feed about the shooting in Sutherland Springs at one of our beloved food pantries. We are never isolated from tragedy. When it is in other communities, it tends to feel less real; although it is very real to the many individuals and families affected by this senseless act of violence.

I extend my deepest sympathy to all those who have suffered from this tragedy. To all of those impacted, you are not alone. We are here for you! Our team will be working to meet those basic needs of families. We will pray for you, hold you, and share as many meals as it takes as you try to heal from this awful event.

I know we are all experiencing many feelings. I encourage us to share those feelings as we work through the pain, fear, and anger we all feel. I encourage us “not to move from hurt to hate.” We have the opportunity in our own time to move to forgiveness. We must lean on our faith, or spend time in prayer, or meditation if we are to move toward recovery.

One example of recovery happened over 11 years ago in an Amish Community in Lancaster County, PA.

A 32-year-old milk truck driver lived with his family in their Nickel Mines community. He was not Amish, but his pickup route took him to many Amish dairy farms, where he became known as the quiet milkman. In October 2006, he suddenly lost all reason and control. In his tormented mind he blamed God for the death of his first child. He stormed into the Amish school without any provocation, released the boys and adults, and then tied up 10 young girls. He shot the girls, killing five and wounding five. Then he took his own life.

This shocking violence caused great anguish among the Amish but no anger. There was hurt but no hate. Their forgiveness was immediate. Collectively they began to reach out to the milkman’s suffering family. As the milkman’s family gathered in his home the day after the shootings, an Amish neighbor came over, wrapped his arms around the father of the dead gunman, and said, “We will forgive you.” Amish leaders visited the milkman’s wife and children to extend their sympathy, their forgiveness, their help, and their love. About half of the mourners at the milkman’s funeral were Amish. In turn, the Amish invited the milkman’s family to attend the funeral services of the girls who had been killed. A remarkable peace settled on the Amish as their faith sustained them during this crisis.

One local resident very eloquently summed up the aftermath of this tragedy when he said, “We were all speaking the same language, and not just English, but a language of caring, a language of community, a language of service.

And, yes, a language of forgiveness.” It was an amazing outpouring of their complete faith in the Lord’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: “Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.”

Hearing of this tragedy, many people sent money to the Amish to pay for the health care of the five  surviving girls and for the burial expenses of the five who were killed. As a further demonstration of  their discipleship, the Amish decided to share some of the money with the widow of the milkman and her three children because they too were victims of this terrible tragedy.

I am encouraged when those who could respond in ways we could all understand, choose to respond in ways that demonstrate a deeper understanding. Consider this definition of forgiveness:

“Forgiveness is freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges,harboring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds. It is rediscovering the strengths we always had and relocating our limitless capacity to understand and accept other people and ourselves.”

I am truly heartbroken for our beloved Food Pantry at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Please join us in extending our love and concern to those affected by this tragedy…

Eric S. Cooper

President & CEO

p.s. If you would like to give monetary support to the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, you can contribute on their website.