Some may see a hopeless end, but as believers we rejoice in an endless hope.
Intrigued. That’s the word to describe how Dr. Bryan Cloyd, Professor of Accounting at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, felt when he learned that a busload of Amish from Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, was coming to honor the victims of the April 2007 school shootings. Dr. Cloyd’s only daughter, Austin, age eighteen, was one of thirty-two victims who lost their lives in the rampage. “When I heard that the Amish were coming,” he said, “I started to learn all I could about them, about how they were able to forgive. I was looking forward to meeting them. I wanted to explore how they were able to come to forgiveness so quickly that day.”
The purpose of the Amish visit was to bring the Comfort Quilt to Virginia Tech. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City, a school in Ohio created a simple patchwork quilt for children whose parents had been killed in the attacks. A school in New Jersey hung the quilt, and there it stayed—until four years later, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The Comfort Quilt was sent to a school in Mississippi that had taken in many displaced New Orleans students. When the Nickel Mines School shooting occurred, the Comfort Quilt moved again . . . this time to bring comfort to the Amish families of Nickel Mines. After the Virginia Tech tragedy, the Amish made a decision that the quilt should be moved again.
“I spent a couple of hours before that lunch meeting really thinking about what I wanted to say, to ask,” Dr. Cloyd said. “I was trying to write a short letter or note thanking the community for coming to visit with us, for bringing the quilt. Sometime in the course of thinking that through and writing that letter, I came to some peace myself. I realized that Austin was in heaven. And if she was in heaven, she could not be angry. If she wasn’t angry, then I shouldn’t be angry either.”
During the visit, Dr. Cloyd had conversations with some of the Amish fathers. “I remember one of the fathers telling me that forgiveness is a process, not a single point in time. And while it was wildly publicized in the media how quickly the Amish came to forgiveness—certainly what was written was true—but even for them, he said, it was a continual process. When Jesus told Peter to forgive seventy times seven, this Amish father said he now understood that as a process. Not only for repeated actions but perhaps even for the same thing.”
After the lunch, the Amish were taken to the memorial for the victims that had been erected on campus for the victims. “They were very interested in seeing each of the stones. They had some familiarity with each of the names. It didn’t surprise me that they knew the names. I strongly suspect they prayed for each of us, by name. I’m sure they did.”
Dr. Cloyd’s relationship with these Amish families didn’t end there. “I met with them in October 2007 in Pennsylvania, at the home of one of the families who had lost a daughter. They were having a one-year community gathering and were gracious enough to invite us.” Dr. Cloyd has kept in touch with some of those Amish fathers. “I keep hoping to have a men’s retreat between our church and the Amish. I think it would be useful for the men of our church. The influence of the Amish, the example of their obedience, their faith, would really challenge us and bring us closer to God. I would love to have that men’s retreat with them.”
It’s been said that when parents lose a child, their life is shaped into two halves: before and after. Dr. Cloyd struggled to find meaning in life after Austin’s death. “On that morning in April, I was at my desk doing what I thought was important. Two buildings over, my daughter was killed.”
It was in his process of finding some meaning in life that Dr. Cloyd came upon the opportunity to go to Haiti. While there, he learned that a remote village was in dire need of a school. That, he knew, was something he could do to help. Through his church in Virginia, he was able to provide the financial support to build and maintain a small school for that village. “It’s been a real joy to see it come together so quickly. The school began classes on October 12, 2009, so it was up and running by the time of the earthquake on January 12, 2010. We were able to take in twenty of the refugee children from Port au Prince.” Today, there are 190 students in the school.
Dr. Cloyd has no doubt that God led him to Haiti. A bonus is the many similarities he’s observed between the Haitians and the Amish. “A simpler life, a focus on family and community.” For him, he has found meaning in life through this experience of service. “It’s been the ultimate ability to rediscover joy. It’s very hard to feel joyful if you don’t feel there’s meaning to your life. But joy comes—when you’re doing something with your life and feeling that you’re responsive to God’s call.”
About Suzanne Woods Fisher: She is an author of bestselling fiction and
non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish. Learn more about Suzanne, her books, and Amish Wisdom, her weekly radio show, by stopping by www.suzannewoodsfisher.com.