When the Oct. 9 edition of weekly Amish newspaper Die Botschaft arrives in subscribers' mailboxes next week, they will find the kind of news they have come to expect...
MILLERSBURG, Pa. — All week, in Amish communities around Nickel Mines, it was possible to see journalists in a hurry. Television producers strode down country roads, yakking on cellphones; reporters clustered around mourners; photographers with zoom lenses clambered onto cars, hoping to capture an embrace.
So it was notable that Elam Lapp, editor of the weekly Amish newspaper Die Botschaft, had such an air of calm. When the Oct. 9 edition of Die Botschaft arrives in subscribers’ mailboxes next week, they will find the kind of news they have come to expect: news of pitchfork accidents and appendectomies, tame foxes and the corn harvest, newborns and painful fishing experiences.
Although the next edition on Oct. 16 will reflect the loss of life in Nickel Mines, where a man burst into a one-room schoolhouse Monday and shot 10 Amish girls, killing five, Lapp hopes not to devote too many column inches to it. Newspaper policy prohibits publication of stories about slayings, war, love or religion.
“We might mention that it happened,” said Lapp, 53, an Old Order Amishman who edits the paper from his family farm.
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Die Botschaft, which has a circulation of 11,000 nationwide, is written not by reporters but by 600 unpaid Old Order Amish and Mennonite “scribes” who write down happenings in their communities. Items about crime, dissent, politics, warfare and disaster are absent.
Lapp is a daily reader of the Harrisburg Patriot-News, so he knows the details of Charles Carl Roberts IV’s attack on the schoolhouse, for instance, that he shot each girl at close range, execution-style, with a 9-mm handgun. But Lapp sees no reason to pass this information on to readers, who need, above all, to forgive and move on.
“Soon it’s going to drop out of the scene,” he said. “It’s really not important to point out all the knickknack items.” When letters come in referring to a gunman, for instance, “we just talk about the tragedy in the schoolhouse,” he said. “We don’t want to get into too much talk about gunmen.”
A typical edition of Die Botschaft — a Pennsylvania Dutch term meaning “The Message” — consists of 50 to 80 pages of chatty letters sent in from rural outposts.
There are no pictures.
But that does not diminish the enthusiasm of Die Botschaft’s subscribers, who pay $32 a year and pore through it for news of their scattered families.
Letters in the Oct. 2 issue described Eli Gingerich’s cataract operation and the difficulty of drying clothes outside when it is raining. A scribe from Monticello, Mo., wrote this:
“Levi Stutzman had a bout with a big, mad male hog. That knocked him down, ripping his arm open with his tusk. They, with the help of a neighbor, took him down and gave him an attitude adjustment, also cutting his tusks off.”
From Clearbrook, Minn., came the news of Aunt Rhoda Sturgis’ cancer and the adorable behavior of Ida Stutzman, 2, who “emptied a box of apples at Dannie J.’s where the women had work day, crawled into the box and fell asleep. Grandma thinks that was cute and thinks Grandma Stutzman would think it cute too.”
Death is recorded but not dwelt upon, as in the case of Emanuel King, 12, hit by a car Sept. 24 while riding his scooter:
“His birthday was in November, so he didn’t get to be a teenager,” wrote a scribe from Paradise, Pa. “Oh, how soon one’s plans can change … He was our son Allen’s age, and only two months younger. Guess that’s why it hit us so much! Keep looking up!
“On Sunday, we had a very relaxing forenoon at home, then in the afternoon went to Merv and Ada Marie Lapp to see the precious bundle, Anna Marie.”
Elam Lapp runs the business in Millersburg, about 75 miles northwest of Nickel Mines, and oversees a staff of seven. Like all mature Old Order Amish men, he is bearded; he wears his gray hair long and in a bowl cut. At an outbuilding down the hill from his farmhouse, he has laid out templates for the Oct. 16 edition, pasting up advertisements for quilt batting, homeopathic remedies and buggy-repair services, among other products.
Die Botschaft is printed and mailed Mondays; because of the ban on electronic equipment, the editorial process is a bit tortured.
Every week, Lapp receives about 400 letters in the mail and sends them out to non-Amish (or “English,” as the Amish call them) employees to be typed. Lapp edits the galleys and returns the texts to his English colleagues, who take them to the printer. By the time the news reaches subscribers, it is one to two weeks old.
Lapp said he rarely has to edit out objectionable material, although typographical errors, he said, “can create words not fit to express.”
Lapp has 11 children. As he talked, Miriam, 5, was sitting beside him, drawing with a black marker. Every time she turned to her father, interrupting him, he stopped what he was saying, smiled at her and answered.
When Lapp returned to killings, it was as if a weight descended on him.
He knew a lot about them. His brother, who lives near Nickel Mines, had attended viewings of the bodies and left a message on Lapp’s voicemail (he has a phone for his business, although, in accordance with Old Amish law, there is none in his home).
The voicemail described the scene inside the schoolhouse in such awful terms that Lapp erased the message “because I really didn’t want anyone to hear it.”
“I felt sick after listening to the message,” Lapp said. “There are facts that we really don’t want to repeat.”
Next week’s edition will bring readers news that the goldenrod is blooming, the corn is tasseled and turning brown and the trees in the apple orchard are heavy with fruit.
Lapp has just begun to receive the letters for the Oct. 16 edition. So far, they are shorter than usual. People do not feel like writing, he said.
He shared one letter. It details a move to the former home of Daniel and Mabel Newswanger, and then, with no other comment, finishes with this quote from Mennonite author Peter Dyck:
“Forgiving is a serious business because it is basically for our own spiritual, emotional and physical benefit. We may or may not establish a new relationship with the person who injured us; that is not the heart of forgiveness. When we forgive, we finally stop hurting ourselves, hand the whole matter over to God, and believe what he says: Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.”