Monday, March 30, 2009

What I'm Learning About the Amish

When I married my Mennonite/Amish husband twelve years ago, I wasn't totally ignorant of the Amish. I was born and raised in an area of Ohio where Amish families were my neighbors. As a child, I lived on a farm that sat between two Amish families and waved to them daily as they passed my house in their buggies. Later, I lived in an apartment building that overlooked a downtown grocery where Amish families hitched their horses and shopped. But I never knew the inside workings of the Amish or that many different belief systems exist within Amish communities.

My husband's family are from Holmes County, Ohio and most of them are New Order Amish. My husband's father left his Amish church as a young man and his family was raised in the Mennonite church. But the rest of Red John Yoder's Amish and Conservative Mennonite family didn't reject his children. We've attended many Yoder family reunions and been welcomed with open arms. I've since learned that this is not always the way it is with Amish groups, especially among the more strict Swartzentruber or Old Order communities.

Here are a few things that surprised me about some Amish communities:

* Many Amish communities do not preach the gospel! I know several ex-Old Order Amish who say they never heard the gospel message until someone else told them about it. Furthermore, Old Order communities often shun those who claim to have had a "born again" experience. Yes. I said "shun" and believe me, it is NOT a pleasant experience!

*The Bible is written in German for Amish people--many of them can't understand enough German to know what the scriptures say in their own Bibles! They speak Pennsylvania-Dutch, a German dialect, and learn English as children, but their Bibles are written in a language that most of them do not understand!

*Group Bible studies are mostly forbidden! I had a hard time understanding the why of this one. It shocked me that the most "religiously" viewed group in the world won't allow its members to study the very book that supposedly sets them apart! The reason: it is the leader's place to interpret scriptures for the Amish.

*Most of the members of the Old Order church are encouraged to obey the Ordnung over the Bible. If they question, they are told they need to do things the way their forefathers did. Period. End of discussion.

*Many Old Order Amish live their lives in fear of failure, or fear of not pleasing parents, bishop, or other community leaders. (And I always naively thought of them as being perfectly happy.)

*Superstitions abound in the Old Order Amish communities. Wayward children and members are many times brought back into line by use of ancient superstitions.

*Letters will be written and interventions will be performed to members who think or talk about leaving their communities. Some of these letters and interventions would be called coercive and abusive in any other religious group.

*Abuse of women and children is often tolerated or not turned in to local authorities. And sometimes, in areas of saturated Amish communities, local authorities turn a blind eye to the abuse going on in an Amish home. A man can abuse his daughter and get no more than 4-6 weeks of not being allowed to go to church as "punishment".

*The Ordnung, or list of rules that each Amish community lives by, is at the whim of the current bishop. The bishop can make or break a community and Amish families often move to escape a bishop who is too strict with his group.

*Old Order Amish do not believe a person can know they are going to heaven when they die. This kind of belief is considered "vain" and prideful, so these people are always striving to attain salvation through works alone.

*Many ex-Amish will not get involved with religion ever again. Their experiences make them gun-shy of any kind of organized religion.

*Old Order Amish groups believe that if you are born Amish, you cannot go to heaven as anything BUT Amish. If you leave, you are going to Hell. This fuels their often overboard attempts to keep their children Amish, and leads to sometimes cruel behavior such as shunning.

I could tell you many more interesting and sometimes alarming things I've learned over the years, but one of the most interesting things I've learned is not about the Amish, but about the Englishers. (To the Amish, that is anyone who is not born Amish. That would be me. And you.)

What I've learned about my own kind is this: it seems that even good Christians grow defensive and protective of the Amish culture when less than favorable topics are brought up about this popular group of people. Don't get me wrong, I love my Amish in-laws, and they have shown me great love and have also been open in their belief of the need for Christ to bring about salvation. However, I don't for minute accept that ALL of my Amish in-laws are born-again Christians just because they are Amish!

As Christians, we should care MORE about their souls than about their quaint and fun-to-view life-styles. What good does it do our Amish neighbors when we English fawn over their culture and buy their beautiful goods, if, when the time comes, they go to eternity without knowing the Lord? As Christians, our hearts should be burdened to share our faith with our Amish friends and neighbors, just as we would with any other group who does not know the saving grace of Christ Jesus.

Don't just be a tourist: be a missionary! Share the gospel as much as you can and be a light to those who need Jesus even if they do wear kapps and drive cute buggies. If you have been enamored of the Amish, I challenge you to look beyond the outside and pray for the heart that beats inside each Amish person you meet. The Lord loves them and desires a closer walk with them, too.

I challenge churches who have Amish communities around them to find resources to help you reach out to your Amish neighbors. Don't assume they "know" the Lord just because they have set themselves apart in dress and culture. Pray for God to open doors for you to share the gospel, and more than anything: look beyond the quaint and curious and seek the Lord to show ways you can be a missionary to these groups of people!

For more great information about understanding the Amish, go to Mission to Amish People (MAP). This is a website written by ex-Old Order Amish who have a heart for the Amish people and desire to see more Amish led to Christ.

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished–he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. Romans 3:21-27, The Holy Bible, NIV


Joanne Sher said...

Thank you so much for this, Dee. I've been praying more and more for the Amish since we met, and this information will help me redouble my efforts and focus them.

LauraLee Shaw said...

Such great info, Dee. I've learned so much by what you've shared with us about the Amish. I will continue to pray.

Yvonne Blake said...

wow... Dee, I pray that your book will open people's eyes to the truth about the Amish, and that many will get saved.

Thanks for sharing,


Calina said...

Thanks for all that information. That was very eye opening. We live close to the Amish community and frequently buy firewood and produce from them.