I just retuned from my husband’s family reunion. Not an extraordinary event in itself, except it is an extraordinary family. My in-laws happen to be Amish/Mennonite. It is exciting to be among them and exciting to know them and fun to be on the inside of a group of people who are known for their quiet, private ways. Not all people share the idea that this unique group is fun to be around however. In my area of Ohio, many English folks grow up with the Amish as their neighbors. Though most Amish are kind, hard working people, some, as is true in the English world, are stinkers! Some Amish are religious only with no inkling of a relationship with the living Christ, and this is equally true among modern Christians. And just as bad modern Christians give a bad name to all Christians, bad Amish can give the impression that all Amish are bad. As the old saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt”. I would amend that to say “Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt”.
I was thinking of the English people I know who are contemptuous of the Amish while I sat among my husband’s family during the reunion. I know people who say the Amish Ordung is not consistent and therefore does not make sense. For example, some Amish think it’s fine to ride in a car, but not drive or own it. Or, it’s OK to have a phone in a booth in the driveway, but not in the house, and a few Amish use solar power to run gadgets and appliances they are forbidden to have if they must use electricity. I confess that many of these rules appear arbitrary and unnecessarily burdensome, but as I sat and watched the family auction, the dinner, and the talent “show”, I became aware of a feeling that was seeping into my spirit. It’s a feeling I seldom recognize in my English world; innocence.
All around me, people dressed plainly and pain-stakingly alike, were going about the business of being together. The agenda was simple; it was time to be with family to fellowship, dine, laugh and reminisce. During the talent show, little old Amish and Mennonite men and ladies would wend their way, frail and tiny, to the makeshift stage, take the microphone in hand and tell jokes or family stories or share spiritual truths. A joke about how Eskimos produce their babies by rubbing noses until the “little booger comes out” might seem lame when told by an Englisher, but it’s incredibly funny when told by an Amish grandmother! Likewise, an elderly grandfather may solicit scorn from his teen grandchildren if he admonishes them to work hard and never forget the Lord, but it has impact when the grandfather has the simple, and innocent demeanor of an Amish man whose entire life is an example of that premise.
The skits were obvious, but humorous because of the Amish and Mennonite actors and audience involved in them. Sometimes the topics of the plays surprised me! A touch of the outside world was evident in the skit about a woman who brings her dead dog to a vet and expects him to revive the pet. The distraught owner demands that everything possible be done to help her injured doggie. In the course of the play, a Lab dog (played by a person on all fours) and a cat (also played by a person on all fours) respectively circle the dead animal. When the vet pronounces the pet is indeed expired and hands the lady his bill, she exclaims: “What?! $600 for doing nothing?!” to which the vet replies, “It would have been cheaper if you hadn’t wanted the Lab test and CAT scan”. The Amish, Mennonites and Englishers alike laughed at the medical system’s outrageous expenses.
Innocence. It’s what we give up so easily in our modern, hectic world, and what we miss so much when we lie down at night. I think that is the appeal of the Amish. Their ways are perceived as innocent and free of all the evil that plague us today. The reality is that evil can stalk the Amish as readily as the rest of humanity and inflict its terrible wounds on them also. But the humble, gentle response they give to injustice and pain, the total acceptance that God’s will is always right and He knows what’s best, brings innocence to their lives. Innocence and meekness is a powerful magnet to world-weary souls tired of slogging through the mire of cynicism.
I felt a sense of time travel while I was among my Amish in-laws. I was transported back to the days when people respected one another simply because we are made in God’s image and for that reason deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. No one pushed ahead in the line. No one cursed or told an off-color joke. Gentle smiles and friendly faces were expected, and Englishers are accepted as family just because it’s what happens when a Yoder gets married.
As we traveled away from our Yoder gathering, it almost seemed that what we were rushing toward was a hard, sometimes grinding world. I sensed the innocence I’d experienced fading a bit. Then I remembered that the source of their innocence is the same source as mine. Jesus Christ washes away the stains and wounds of a cynical world and pours a sweet, water of innocence back into my soul. His supply is infinite and not reserved for my Amish and Mennonite family alone. I dipped a toe into that stream while I was among my husband’s family, but I can jump in and come up washed, clean, and renewed in the innocence of God’s love and acceptance every day of my own life. My prayer is that I will share that innocence found with whoever is missing it among those I meet in my Englisher world.
Thanks, Dee, for some welcome insight through your article. I am from West-Central Wisconsin (about 100 miles East od Minneapolis, Mn) lots of Amish here. Much talk is heard about their habits and life-styles and one has to question what is actual and what is fiction. Years ago my wife and I homeschooled our children in North Dakota (against state statutes). We wound up fighting our case (all the way to the state - then US supreme court). Thankfully with help of 200 families - and a man named Yoder (a classic test case from years previous) things were changed in ND! I have limited contact with the Amish here but can appreciate their desire for peace and simplicity. Again, thanks for your insight. God bless!
What a powerful story! And told with such clarity, it gave me a better understanding of the Amish I met at St. Jacob's near Guelph, Ontario many years ago. I have always been impressed with the gentle ways of their young children. It must be so difficult when they test their big toes in the waters of the outside world. God bless you for sharing this unique story. Richard LP.
I loved you article about your husband's family background. Amazingly at the ICEJ in Jeruzalem we have two staffmembers with the same background. One of our directors T.King and N.Yoder, she is coordinating the Social Assistance department.
It is a small world after all! So now I continue reading your other articles.
Hope one day you become a member of the 500 club.