(Associated Press - Oct. 10, 2006) - Church bells have tolled across Amish country in Pennsylvania in remembrance of the five young girls who were shot to death last week. Rev. Kristine Hileman at Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church, where the widow of gunman Charles Roberts leads a prayer group, says as her church bell rang, several Amish girls rode by in a buggy. Hileman says her group waved to the girls in the buggy and they waved back, the moment reminding her that "God is good" and that forgiveness was being shown on a "very material level."

Hileman says she hopes the nation will be praying for her community and for schoolchildren everywhere. Charles Roberts took ten girls hostage at an Amish school in nearby Nickel Mines last week and shot all of them, killing five. He then took his own life.

Meanwhile, Roberts' widow says she is planning to return as leader of a group called "Moms in Touch" at the church. Hileman says when she spoke to Marie Roberts on Monday, Roberts told her that she plans to return next week or the week after -- whenever it is "right for her."

A horrific thing happened last week at an Amish schoolhouse; an act almost unspeakable that riveted the nation and brought tears to many an eye. The fact that the Amish were involved meant it drew national and even international attention right away. The Amish are a tourist attraction, a curiosity; how would they handle being the focus of such a violent act?

As we've seen over the past week, they have borne the tragedy with grace and forgiveness that goes beyond the understanding of most people, I'm willing to bet. That they invited the killer's wife to their children's funerals demonstrates a kind of human spirit not widely known in this world.

In case anyone missed it, that spirit is the Spirit of God -- and this tragedy has shown a spotlight on that like no sermon ever could.

I'm fortunate to count among my best friends an Amish woman who lives not far from the Nickel Mines school. Her parents, her ten brothers and sisters and I have known each other for 20 years, ever since I came to her farm as a teenager to live and learn about the Amish one summer.

When I heard news of the shootings, my heart was in my throat until I was able to reach her on her roadside phone and find out whether any of her family was affected personally. No, she told me, but she knows the families involved. We spent a long time on the telephone discussing her fears, her feelings of vulnerability, the unnerved feeling among the Amish community. Then she said something that shows the heart of her faith. The girls who died were the fortunate ones; they are with God, she said. Those who lived, even the boys who were forced to help the killer board up the school before he released them to run scared into the nearby cornfield, have such terrible memories to live with, she said. How will they do it? she wondered. And then she talked with gentle and sure compassion for the wife and children of the killer.

I have heard several Amish people quoted in the news, saying there is deep grief, but assurance because the families know their children are with the Lord. And the moving story of an Amish man who went to the Roberts' home, extending forgiveness on the part of the family.

People will say that it's only because they're Amish that these people can act this way; it's because they're so deeply religious. The idea that comes through again and again in the news is that this towering faith is possible only because these people are Amish.

But that's simply not true. My experience tells me the Amish are just like you and me. Some of them are deeply religious, some are less so. Some have a real personal knowledge of Jesus Christ; some are just going through the motions. Those who are forgiving are choosing to do so because of their faith in Christ, the same kind of faith that anyone can choose to have.