When tragedy happens by the hands of another human being, is difficult not to become bitter at the culprit or even at humanity itself. However, a deep wisdom tells us that forgiveness is the correct answer to such horrid situations. Nevertheless, that does not make forgiveness any easier and it is for this reason that these 25 unbelievable acts of forgiveness are so astounding (especially in the light of the atrocious horrors some of these people faced).
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Nobuo Fujita and the town of Brookings
A Japanese soldier named Nobuo Fujita set off bombs on the coastal range of Oregon during World War II. Later in life, he felt the need to revisit Brookings, the small logging town whose surrounding forests he had bombed, and ask them for forgiveness. As a humble act of regret and a plea for forgiveness, Fujita presented to the town a 400-year-old samurai sword that had been handed down in his family from generation to generation. The town forgave Fujita, hung the sword in the local library and even named Fujita an “ambassador of good will”.
After witnessing the death of his father at the hands of his mother and a hired hit man, Stephen Owens resented his mother to the point that for 13 years owens refused to visit her in jail. That all changed on Aug. 23, 2009 when Owens decided to visit her in jail. A three hour emotional conversation ensued ending with Owens finally expressing forgiveness.
Gregory Glenn Biggs, 37, lost his life in a bizarre and cruel way by the hands of an intoxicated driver named Chante Jawan Mallard. The accident, found Biggs lodged in the windshield of Mallards car, who then proceeded to drive to her house, park the car in the garage, and leave the man in the garage to slowly die. Medical examiners found that if Biggs would have received medical attention, he would have survived. As outrageous as this true story is, it’s even more outrageous that someone would forgive such actions. But that is exactly what Brandon Biggs; Gregory Biggs’ son did for Mallard.
Amy Biehl’s Family
Amy Elizabeth Biehl was a white American graduate of Stanford University and an Anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa who was murdered by black Cape Town residents while a black mob shouted anti-white slurs. One of many incidents of general lawlessness on the NY1 road, Amy was pulled out of her car, stabbed and stoned to death. Nevertheless, Amy’s parents; Linda and Peter, after struggling through their daughter’s death, and understanding the political situation that they claimed, took their daughter, forgave the killers and proceeded to establish a nonprofit agency; the Amy Biehl Foundation in order to help South African youth.
During the Rwandan genocide in the mid nineties, the entire family of a woman named Immaculle Ilibagiza was murdered in a massacre. Her life was spared because she and seven other women hid in a small bathroom during the ordeal. Immaculee chose to forgive the people behind the death of her family because she felt that bitterness and hatred would only destroy her. She went on to write a best selling book entitled “Left to Tell” and founded the Left to Tell Charitable Fund in order to help children who have been orphaned due to genocide.
Losing someone you love is a devastating blow, especially when they are brutally murdered. Anthony Colón knows this all too well. On June 13, 1992, Antony’s brother; Wilfredo Colón, was gunned down by three men; an event that left Anthony bitter and angry. “I hated everybody. I hated everything. It made me to be a person, like a monster,” said Colón in an interview with CNN. Nevertheless, as the years went on, Anthony married, found religion, and forgave the killers. One in particular; Michael Rowe, ended up becoming good friends with Anthony.
Pope John Paul II
In 1981, the Pope was seriously injured after a man attempted to take away his life. He was shot four times during the assassination attempt and had to undergo emergency surgery. After his recovery, the pope visited the prison cell of the man who shot him, reached for his hands and told him that he was his brother and that he was already forgiven.
Church organist Madge Rodda was enjoying her normal Sunday morning routine of breakfast and bible reading at the local Denny’s restaurant. However, while using the restroom, Rodda was brutally beaten and raped by James Briddle. Thankfully, Rodda survived and what followed is short of miraculous. Not only did Rodda forgive her attacker, but she befriended him; constantly visiting him at the jail, sending letters, and even gifts. “It’s my nature to hold a grudge,” Rodda said. “I can remember things from years and years ago that everyone else has probably forgotten…This wasn’t natural, it was supernatural,”
Renee Napier and Eric Smallridge
Eric Smallridge felt “10 feet tall and bulletproof” as he entered his vehicle while intoxicated. However, on this night, not only would his luck run out, but in the process, he would take the life of Meagan Napier and Lisa Dickson. Remarkably, Renee Napier has overcome this tragedy by forgiving a very repented Eric Smallridge, who now travels with Renee to different schools sharing their message and encouraging students to not drink and drive. “Make it a point in your life to not be this guy,’ said Smallridge in one of his talks as he pointed to himself. ‘Don’t reduce your life to shackles and chains.” Renee and Eric have now created The Meagan Napier Foundation to raise awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving.
Kim Phuc almost lost her life after U.S. military planes dropped bombs in Vietnam. The attack took the lives of some of her family members and had her endure 17 major operations. Two decades later during the Veterans Day ceremonies in Washington, she met the pilot who coordinated the attack. She approached him and expressed her forgiveness.
A member of the British parliament, the father of Jo Berry was killed by an IRA bomb in 1994. After his death, Jo felt that blaming and becoming bitter would not do her any good so she asked for an appointment with Patrick Magee, the perpetrator of the crime. After an intense three hour conversation, Jo and Patrick agreed to continue meeting and eventually became friends. Jo came to realize that if she had lived Patrick’s life, she might have done what he did. Patrick came to realize how many innocent victims were created by his violence. Both of them were profoundly changed.
The oldest son of Winifred Potenza and his fiancé were killed in 1989 when a car driven by a drunk driver struck their car. The death left Winifred in complete disarray and in great turmoil as she grieved for her son. She instigated the charge of murder for the drunken driver which was the first drunk driving fatality to be prosecuted as murder in Sonoma County. However, after a court meeting in which Potenza saw the lad and his family; she was moved and forgave the driver eventually even becoming his advocate and friend. She fought to reduce the charges from murder to manslaughter and in seven years, the driver was set free on parole.
In January 1990, Sue got a horrible phone call from her brother telling her that her father and mother were murdered inside their home in Oklahoma. During the trial, she was confused about how she should feel so she prayed that God may grant her peace. She felt the urge to express her forgiveness to the man who killed her parents and told him that her grandmother had taught her to love one another, no matter what. She eventually befriended Robert Knighton, an action that led to Knighton becoming a Christian.
Charles C. Roberts
On October 2, 2006, Charles C. Roberts held 15 girls captive inside an Amish Schoolhouse. Armed with three guns and a twisted sense of vengeance towards God for allowing his newborn daughter to die nine years prior, Charles opened fire, killing five of the girls (two of which died later due to their injuries) and himself. In spite of this tragedy, the Amish community (includign family members of the deceased) demonstrated an incredible act of forgiveness by attending Robert’s funeral and comforting his widow. Furthermore, the Amish community offered financial support to Robert’s widow.
Ronnie Smith, the husband of Annie Smith was shot and killed while jogging in the morning of December 3, 2013 in Benghazi, Libya. Serving as a chemistry teacher, Ronnie moved to Libya with his wife and son on an act of faith. After his death, Annie wrote an open letter to Libyans and the attackers, telling them that she understood where they were coming from, that she loved them and already forgave them despite what happened.
On August 10, 2011, Nettie Gibson was driving to work when a 63 year old, drunk driver changed her life. Swerving into incoming traffic, the drunk driver hit Nettie head on, leaving her with a broken right arm; spleen, appendix, and two-thirds of her colon and upper intestine that had to be removed; and a shattered right heel. To make matters worse, the driver had minimal auto insurance leaving Nettie to pay for most of her medical expenses. This sent Nettie into a state of depression that lasted for months. However, in august of 2012, as Nettie sat in a courtroom facing the culprit (who was only sentenced to 8 to 16 months in jail but only served 3 months due to a heart condition), Nettie approached the public defender and said, “Please let [your client] know that I forgive her.”
Pascale Kavanagh grew up in an abusive environment thanks to her mother. “She would hit me and my younger brother, fling plates in our direction, and call us names. My father tried to get between her and us, and she wouldn’t spare him, either.” she said in an interview. This abuse lasted even after Pascale grew up and started her own life. Then, in 2010, at the age of 73, Pascale’s mother suffered several massive strokes leaving her brain irreparably damaged. “At first I was angry. I felt she had left a mess that I had to take care of,” says Pascale. However, as the months went on Pascale’s anger turned to forgiveness. “It was just…gone,” she says. “For the first time, I stopped condemning her. And that gave me peace.”
“There are no villains in this dreadful episode. There are only victims.” These are the words of the grieving grandfather; Ron Tocknell, who lost his three beautiful grandchildren at the hands of his son-in-law, Ceri. A seemingly perfect father, full of love and devotion towards his children, Ceri shocked everyone who knew him by brutally murdering his children and then taking his own life. However, Ron; in spite of struggling with this grief, forgives Ceri. “You know him only as the man who did this, I know him as the man who fell in love with my daughter” he says. “I know him as the man who, together with my daughter, raised my beautiful grandchildren in an environment of love and joy and laughter.”
Gary Leon Ridgway, more commonly known as the Green River Killer, confessed in 2003 that he had killed 38 women. The families of all his victims gathered together to express their grief and anger toward him, but when the turn of Robert Rule came, he told Ridgway: “Mr. Ridgway, there are people here that hate you. I am not one of them. You have made it difficult to what I believe, and that is what God says to do, and that is to forgive. You are forgiven, Sir.”
In 2011, the husband of Patricia Machin was killed after being struck down by a driver named Brian Williamson. Despite the death of her husband, Patricia never felt anger toward the driver because she believed that it was an accident and none of it was his fault. She even wrote a letter to Williamson expressing her forgiveness and consoling him.
Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel
February 1993 is a date that Mary Johnson will probably never forget. A dispute between her 20-year-old son, Laramiun Byrd and 16-year-old Oshea Israel would take a turn for the worse, ending in the shooting of Laramiun by Oshea. “My son was gone. I was angry and hated this boy, hated his mother.” said Johnson as she recounted the immediate aftermath and to be honest, who could blame her. But as Oshea served his 17 year prison sentence, Johnson struggled with her faith as overtime she felt a greater urge to meet Israel face-to-face in order to see whether she could indeed forgive him. Remarkably, she did and now Israel and Johnson are not only good friends, but take their message of forgiveness to churches, prisons, and to whoever would listen. “Unforgiveness is like cancer” she says, “It will eat you from the inside out.”
While patrolling Central Park, young police officer Steven McDonald and his supervisor questioned three teenagers whom they suspected of stealing bicycles. One of the teenagers, 15-year-old Shavod Jones, pulled a gun and shot McDonald three times. The incident left him paralyzed and in need of a respirator to breathe. The newly wed and child expecting officer decided to forgive the culprit rather than hold a grudge. McDonald proceeded to correspond with Jones while he was in jail and eventually formed a friendship with Jones with plans to share their message of forgiveness and non-violence to whomever would listen. Sadly, only three days after Jones’ release from prison, he was killed in a motorcycle accident.
Marion Salmon Hedges
Marion Salmon Hedges suffered a severe brain injury due to the distasteful prank of two teenage boys who dropped a shopping cart on her head from the 4th floor of a new York parking garage. The incident left Hedges in a coma and blind in her left eye. Despite the severe injuries, Marion harbored no ill feelings toward the two boys. In an interview, she said: “I wish them well. I do, because I feel very sorry for them.”
Pierce O’ Farrill
Pierce was one of the victims in the Colorado shooting on July 20, 2013 where 12 people died. He and 58 others were fortunate enough to survive the tragedy, though Pierce suffered three gunshot wounds. When he was interviewed about his feelings towards the shooter, he said he had already forgiven him with all his heart. Instead of hatred, it was sorrow that he felt for him.
Corrie Ten Boom
Probably one bravest and most remarkable woman in history, Corrie Ten Boom risked her life to save the lives of others during the Holocaust by harboring Jews. However, due to an informant, Ten Boom and her family were arrested, ending in the death of her father and her sister (who died at the Ravensbrueck concentration camp on December 1944). Corrie eventually was able to leave the concentration camp due to a clerical error. While speaking in a church concerning God’s forgiveness, she came face to face with one of the former Ravensbrueck prison guards who (not recognizing her) proceeded to ask Corrie for forgiveness from the atrocities he had committed. After a prayer, Corrie found the strength to forgive.