When I first met my husband's family, he had invited me to go along to the (local) Yoder family reunion. I distinctly remember being nervous about what I wore. I wasn't sure what would be deemed appropriate among a group of Amish and Mennonites, so I spent several minutes trying on clothes until I was satisfied that I would be comfortable and modest. I ended up wearing slacks because my husband assured me it would be OK; after all, his sister and sisters-in-law would be wearing slacks. They were not Amish, but they were accepted in their English garb, so I felt it would be OK for me to be, too.
When we pulled into the lane leading to the park where the family was meeting, I saw row upon row of Amish buggies with their horse partners patiently waiting at their posts, munching from their feedbags. The horses turned their brown eyes to watch when we slowly maneuvered our car among them.
As we walked to the pavilion, a bucolic and distinctly old world scene spread out in front of me. Ladies in white aprons and pastel colored dresses reclined on blankets or sat calmly in folding chairs while their barefoot children ran around between them. Men with beards and white or blue shirts talked and laughed amongst themselves, and I noticed right away that the men and women were separated into groups. Uh oh...now where would I go? I certainly was not going to leave Arlen's side, so I stuck close as he meandered in and out of his family groups, greeting and smiling and introducing me to people who all looked alike!
We made our way to the kitchen so we could drop off my contribution for dinner: Kasekuchen (German Cheesecake). I had a moment of shear panic when I saw all that wonderful Amish food on the tables. What was I thinking?! I was among some of the best cooks in the world! I prayed that my cake would pass muster.
It turned out to be the first of many lovely reunion days. Over the last 12 years, I've learned a lot about my Amish in-laws, but some things still remain fuzzy. Even though my husband has told me numerous times which kapp's strings represent which Amish or conservative Mennonite group, I still get confused. And when I saw my Amish cousins dressed for church for the first time, it shocked me how black and white their outfits were. I was used to seeing them in their everyday pastel dresses. Somehow, in their black capes, they looked more "Amish" to me.
Now that I have been involved in the Old Order or Swartzentruber groups of ex-Amish, I've come to see how unusual my husband's friendly family are. Since most of the Yoders are New Order or Beachy Amish, they are not prone to shunning those who have left their church. I just took for granted that all Amish groups would be as accepting. Not so.
Many, if not all, of my new ex-Amish friends from the Old Order group of Amish are shunned. Many receive letters of reprimand regularly from their families. The letters are often full of dire predictions that they are on the path straight to hell, and until they return to their Amish fold, they will be lost to Satan. Many of these ex-Amish are sad and lonely that their families can't be happy for them that they have received Christ...are living in grace...are being baptised and getting married and having children ...all without their Amish families around to give them support. No grandparents to snuggle the children close. No dads to walk them down the aisle on their wedding day. No moms to offer advice when days get tough. This is the price they pay to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
This aspect of some Amish communities slipped beneath my radar. I just assumed, like many Englishers, that all Amish were the same. And though I have one foot in both Amish worlds, the Old Order and the New Order, I still have difficulty keeping the differences between these groups in order.
Now, when I attend a Yoder reunion, I appreciate more the New Order emphasis on preaching the gospel and allowing family choices. Though many of the Yoder Amish families I know would probably prefer that their loved ones never leave the Amish fold, they at least accept those who do. Knowing that they want their loved ones FIRST to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ, makes all the difference in how they view family members who choose to leave.
I still get the kapp strings confused (solid strings or broken strings), but I know the Yoders accept me just the way I am. What a blessing!