Working for Reconciliation

“Reconciliation can work.”


This was the key message conveyed by Linda Biehl at Trinity Church on Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday, observed this year with Ms. Biehl’s guest sermon and an afternoon forum sponsored by the Task Force Against Racism.

With the help of her late husband Peter, Linda launched the Amy Biehl Foundation in honor of their daughter, who was stoned and knifed to death by a mob while working for human rights in South Africa in 1993. The foundation funds various social service programs for South Africans, and works to uplift the native communities of her daughter’s killers to help avoid similar violent conflicts in the future.


Today Linda, who is from Southern California, spends six months a year in South Africa overseeing the foundation in memory of both her daughter and her husband, who died of colon cancer in 2002.


Linda shared the story of her emotional and spiritual journey at both the 9 am and 11:15 am services, and answered questions from congregation members at the forum.

“Upon my daughter’s death…our family’s life obviously changed,” she recalled. “So what do you do [when something like this happens]? You take action.”


For the Biehls, taking action meant working through their grief by learning about social and racial inequity in South Africa, and understanding how the politically volatile climate of the early 1990s had contributed to Amy’s death.


In 1997, Linda and Peter attended amnesty hearings for the four young men who were convicted of Amy’s murder. The process, facilitated by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, allowed a forum for the prisoners to confess their crimes and prove they had been politically motivated. As a result, they received amnesty.


In a rare act, Linda and Peter forgave their daughter’s killers - and eventually befriended two of the four young men convicted of her murder. According to Linda, these two men - who had once been violent “political soldiers” - learned that values such as “respect of their leadership, commitment to their cause and loyalty to their people” could be adopted peacefully. Doing just that, they started a youth group in their community, and today continue to support the work of the Amy Biehl Foundation.


“[Amy’s killers] were taught to, and truly did, hate white people,” she explained. “Why did [two of them later] embrace my husband and myself and turn their lives around? I don’t know the answer to that…but can’t that be a miracle? I think it can.”


Linda praised the congregation of Trinity Church for its desire to “talk about racism - to be open and honest about it. That’s what South Africa has done with their Truth and Reconciliation process. They aren ’t sweeping it under the table - they’re dealing with it every day; they’re dialoging, they’re talking, they’re trying to understand…”


“Reconciliation takes work and then we must act upon those relationships,” she concluded. “I’ve been very fortunate to have a few role models, like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and, yes, my daughter, [who inspire me] to speak out and not be afraid to say, ‘We really do have to get together and work [for] reconciliation, to bring about the kind of peace and justice we all want in this world.’”


For more information about the Amy Biehl Foundation, go to


Posted on Congregational Life January 20, 2004