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As We Forgive

by E. Louise Williams

It was a remorseful, but grateful man the two women encountered when they finally met in the visitation room at the prison. Several years before, he had brutally murdered one of our sister deaconesses. These two deaconesses had entered into a program sponsored by the prison where victims of crimes and the perpetrators can interact. They hadn’t done it for the offender but for themselves and for all of us. We had lost a beloved member of our deaconess community—a leader, teacher, mentor, friend, and valued prophetic voice in our midst. We wanted to know, from the only living person who was there, what had happened that night—and why. And we wanted him to know something of what he had taken from us.

When they reported to us at our annual deaconess conference, our two representatives described the change that had happened inside of them during this several-year process. At first, they said, when they communicated through their mediator, they would only refer to the offender by his prison identification number. Later, he was an inmate, with a last name.

Eventually, they were able to call him by his first name.

Their sense of loss and deep grief did not go away, but they gradually began to care for this man. When he finally agreed to meet them in person, they came with forgiving hearts and hope for healing. As their conversation progressed, their anger and resentment miraculously melted away. They never would have imagined that their meeting would end with an embrace after they laid hands on him and blessed him. The Holy Spirit had been at work, and everyone in the room felt the power of forgiveness.

Not every story ends this way. In fact, this story has not ended. Yes, the mediation process is over, but the process of forgiveness continues. Humanly speaking, there is no “forgive and forget.” The best we can do is to forgive and remember it is forgiven. And the question remains: Can the offender forgive himself?

E. Louise Williams, Valparaiso, Ind., a retired deaconess, teaches at Valparaiso University, leads retreats, speaks and writes about spirituality and the diaconate, and accompanies a few people who come to her for spiritual direction.

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