I’ve Preached the Gospel Countless Times. The Love of the Amish Preached it to Me.

An excerpt on grief, forgiveness, and the gospel from Beechdale Road: Where Mercy Is More Powerful Than Murder.

On Sunday, June 21, 2020, 18-year-old Linda Stoltzfoos of Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, was kidnapped and later murdered by Justo Smoker—my brother-in-law.

As you might expect, my family journeyed through tremendous grief, anger, and pain. But as you might not expect, we also journeyed through the challenge of receiving unexplainable grace, kindness, and mercy at the hands of the Amish community, of which Linda Stoltzfoos was a part.

The story to be told is not just another story of grief and healing but a story about the gospel. It’s a gospel story embedded in the very tangible way the Amish community poured out grace and mercy on my family—and our struggle to receive it. As a pastor for over 20 years, I have preached the gospel countless times, but through my encounters with the Amish community, it was preached to me in a way that was deeper and more personal than anything I’ve ever encountered before.

Many years ago, I memorized Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:8–9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” But in the last four years, for the first time in my life, I’ve had to wrestle with what it really means to receive unmerited grace when there is absolutely nothing you can do to make things better on your own. My family experienced what it’s like when undeserved mercy confronts undeniable evil, when kindness upends condemnation, when heaven engages hell.

This experience began with a knock on the door that I had no interest in answering. I was in no mood to talk to anyone just a few hours after it became public that Justo …

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