Four years ago, I watched a video on YouTube of a woman who was doing impressive work caring for underserved children in downtown Columbus, Ohio. She’d started a center for after-school activities, where young people could come and have a snack, do their homework, learn about Jesus Christ and spend time with one another in a safe environment.
What a great initiative, I thought. And then I kept watching. There was a reason she was doing this work. Isn’t there always a reason? But Rachel Muha’s was nothing short of astounding.
In 1999, Rachel had lost her younger son, Brian, when he was violently murdered after he and his roommate were abducted from their off-campus apartment at the Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Brian, a bright, caring 18-year-old from Westerville, Ohio, had his life ahead of him. He had wanted to be a doctor — to work with, you guessed it, underserved children.
But there is an even more incredible part of this story, and it’s that Rachel publicly forgave her son’s killers before his body had even been found. And it’s that act of forgiveness that has gone on to change life after life in the 20 years since.
How do I know this? Because I got to tell her story. After watching the YouTube video (on a tip from Kevin Lowry, a member of OSV’s Board of Directors), I spoke with book editors at OSV and volunteered to work with Rachel to make her story — and the work of The Brian Muha Foundation — better known.
For the next three years, I spoke and visited with Rachel, talking to her about Brian’s kidnapping and what it was like to search for him (even looking in dumpsters); about dealing with grief and her decision to forgive; about the two young men who had murdered her son; about her older son, Chris, and his own heartbreak; about the terrible criminal trials that occurred and then occurred a second time; on grief, racial tensions and the death penalty; and finally, on how she has been a inspiring one-woman agent of change in her community and beyond. The result was a new book, published in November, called “Legacy of Mercy: A True Story of Murder and a Mother’s Forgiveness” (OSV, $19.95).
Through those pages, I do my best to introduce the reader to the woman who had first captivated me in that YouTube video — the woman who had spent her life in the service of others and, in doing so, in service to God. And who has experienced this best but the young people who she has served over the years? One of my favorite examples of the success of Rachel’s work is how people who first came to the center as children are now returning to help the next generation. Daniel Houston, 22, is one of those “Racers” who is now working full-time with the Day School. He told me, when I recorded him for an interview, “If Miss Rachel is hearing this: I love you, man. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.” His comments bring me to tears to this day.
Thanks to Rachel’s tireless effort and hard work, “Legacy of Mercy” is already outdated. There are more students at the day school (complete with new uniforms!), and a gym expansion is underway. And watching over it all is a big photo of Brian, hanging on the wall outside the center’s office. Thanks to his mom — to her tremendous faith, her love for others and her decision to forgive against all odds — he will not be remembered as a boy who died. He will be remembered as a boy whose untimely and tragic death helped change the world.
Gretchen R. Crowe is the editor-in-chief of OSV News. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.