It was 1995. Tony was 14 yrs of age and he was about to get started in a gang. As part of the initiation ritual, the 18 yr old that was in charge gave him a loaded gun and told him he was going to kill someone that night. There was a lot of alcohol and drugs involved. So, they called for a pizza, and when the pizza boy arrived, Tony was given the order to kill him, and he did. That’s how he went to prison and has been there ever since.
The pizza boy that died was Tariq Khamisa, a college student that was trying to make a few bucks for his studies. His family was devastated. His dad, a faithful Sufi Muslim, meditated every day before God about what happened. He was full of anger, pain, hatred but felt that God was telling him to forgive. He decided to find Tony’s family. When he found them, he invited them to meet. Then he realized that Tony was actually being raised by his granddad, his mother had him when she was only 15. When this granddad without grandson and this father without his son met, they became friends. They looked into each other’s eyes, and they saw the same pain. They realized there had been victims on both ends of the gun. One family lost their son and the other lost their grandson to prison. What they didn’t know was that they had both been praying and meditating about this every day. One a baptist, the other a Muslim, both compelled by God’s Spirit of forgiveness.
They started the Tariq Khamisa’s foundation and they had been, for more than 20 years, going to schools in violent areas to tell their story and present programs that have decreased dropouts and expulsions by 17% compared to the average schools. Tony is getting out of prison next year, now he is a 36 yr old man. He would love to turn back the clock and change what he did, but he can’t. He is waiting to do one of the things he actually can do, which is to join the foundation and to talk to kids about his experience so they don’t make the same mistake.
Isn’t this a story of healing and hope? Where lots of energy could have been used for revenge, to be violent again and to hate, forgiveness has brought the surprise and the creativity of wholeness. For-giveness is a beautiful word in English, and it is made up of a prefix, for and the word give. In many English words “for”emphasizes what follows like in fore-front or fore-most. Here the emphasis is about giving. In forgiving there is not deserving, it is a gift that we freely give to others and to ourselves. That is maybe why Jesus when teaching us to pray taught to ask God to “forgive our offenses as we have forgiven the ones who offended us” (Matthew 6:12). We need to experience forgiveness to others and to ourselves to experience the forgiveness that God so freely and lovingly gives and vice versa.
Who do I need to forgive today? What do I need to forgive myself for?
If you want to hear the story told by its protagonists, here is the link to this inspiring TED talk.