Thursday, December 14, 2006


Most Inspiring Person of the Year, 2006
Most Inspiring of 2006: Why the Amish Won
With an act of radical forgiveness, a grieving community showed the world an alternative response to violence.

I vote for the Amish and also for CANDY CHRISTMAS, the beautiful Nashville singer who feeds the homeless every week out of her own pocket. Here's a letter I got from my friend Larry:

"I wish you have been in Nashville today. Candy took a semi load of food 20,000 lbs and a bus full of volunteers and a bus load of singers to Jamestown Tenn. which is the poorest area in Tenn. They put on a concert, gave away a refrigerator, Stove, 4 recliners and 20,000 lbs of food to the poor.

I don't know how many people I gave food boxes to, that told me this was a lifesaver. You would have loved it. A radio station in Columbus Georgia wants her to bring the troops there and do the same thing. They filmed it so I will get you a copy as soon as I get one. Monday night she is giving a Christmas party for the volunteers to Thank them for their hard work all year. These volunteers love doing this.

As I stood there watching Candy sing and looking over the gymnasium full of really poor people I thought about you and that you would like this."

This year’s 12 most inspiring people once again proved the power of individuals to act with love, courage, and forgiveness in the most challenging situations.

The Amish of Nickel Mines, Pa.—a pacifist religious community in rural Lancaster County who practice a simple farming life without modern conveniences much the same as their 17th century Swiss-German forbears—suffered a shocking intrusion into their world when a local milkman, Charles Roberts, invaded a one-room schoolhouse, shooting 10 young girls, leaving five of them dead. During the ordeal, one of the girls, 13-year-old Marian Fisher, offered to be killed first in hopes that the others would be spared. (View video: A Young Girl's Sacrifice.) A Beliefnet member wrote of this event: “I cannot ignore this unbelievable act of love by a girl this young. In my mind, this little girl did no more or no less than Jesus did for us on the cross.” Within hours of the shooting, the families of the children not only expressed their forgiveness of the killer but reached out to his family, giving food and raising money for his wife and children.

In a Beliefnet video interview, Herman Bontrager, a spokesman for the Amish of Nickel Mines, explained, “The Amish believe that we must forgive because we ourselves need to be forgiven. [They're] trying to live the way Jesus lived. He turned the other cheek, he told us to love everybody, to love our enemies." A Beliefnet member noted, “The message of forgiveness, rather than vengeance, goes to the heart of how we should behave toward each other. This is an extreme example of how true faith and true forgiveness can be awe-inspiring. If the Amish can forgive the man who killed their children, how much more should the rest of us be able to forgive the petty hurts and perceived insults we receive each day?”

For the incredible example of living faith on the part of an entire community that lost its children, the majority of Beliefnet users cast their votes for the Amish. And the editors of Beliefnet follow their lead by naming the Amish of Nickel Mines, Pa. the Most Inspiring People of 2006.

We asked you to choose between some tremendously inspiring folks, and we were in for some surprises. Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who spoke against racism and anti-Semitism, and "green" evangelical Rev. Richard Cizik, who works to save the environment, were knocked off in the first round.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that a homeless Detroit man, Charles Moore, who returned $21,000 in savings bonds he found in the trash to their rightful owner, defeated billionaire philanthropist Warren Buffett, who this year gave the biggest charitable donation in history. Some of you wrote that Moore’s story reminded you of the New Testament lesson of “the widow’s mite.” Moore gave everything he had, because of his deeply grounded sense of honesty and integrity, shattering stereotypes about homeless people in the process.

Some other truly remarkable people lost by a slim margin. Elissa Montanti, the “saint of Staten Island,” who with single-minded devotion cuts red tape to get prosthetic limbs and medical help for war-maimed children, lost narrowly to Todd Corbin, a marine who courageously saved the lives of his unit in Iraq. One remarkable teenager—Adam Zuckerman, who is already one of the country’s most outspoken activists for Darfur—was edged out by another teen, Jason McElwain, an autistic boy whose amazing final-quarter shots for his high school basketball team proved that disability is no impediment to achieving your dreams. Another inspiring child, Bindi Irwin, daughter of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin who has taken up her father’s mantle of wildlife preservation, was chosen over wheelchair-bound actress, Kathleen Traylor, who started a theater where the disabled showcase their formidable acting talents.

In the second round of voting, Lance Corporal Todd Corbin of Ohio was named one of the final three. He is an outstanding example of heroism under pressure. On patrol in Iraq, Corbin saved the lives of many of the men in his unit, carrying people off the field of battle under heavy fire. At one point, he carried his wounded patrol leader over his shoulder while returning enemy fire with his free hand. When he drove away—in a 7-ton truck with three flat tires—he had the entire remaining platoon safely inside. His courage is only equaled by his modesty and faith. In an interview with Beliefnet, he explained, “The way I was raised, you always put yourself out for other people because there is going to come a time when you are down and are going to need someone to help you up. It is the core of my family values.” He added, “I always say people should not credit me with what happened on May 7, but credit God.”

The other two final candidates showed the kind of radical forgiveness that some have called miraculous. Both finalists suffered the horror of having of having family members brutally murdered. Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, hid in a tiny bathroom for three months and emerged to find her parents, siblings, and thousands of countrymen dead. At first unable to pray because of her anger, Immaculee surrendered “everything to God” and in a vision understood what Jesus meant when he said “Forgive them, Father, for they don't know what they do.” She prayed for her enemies and the anger was lifted. She reached out to her father’s killer, and has been lecturing all over the country on the power and importance of forgiveness. Her inspiring example is a beacon for many Beliefnet users.