To Stay or Leave?

I was doing some perusing of websites tonight that are administrated or written by former Amish people. Once I started reading “Letters to and from Former Amish” by the Mission to Amish People website, I could not stop reading. I was pulled into the intensity of the letters. 

First there is a letter from someone who had left the Amish and is back in his community to someone who has left the Amish. He is asking for guidance about whether he should stay or leave. He wrote that he came back to talk to his parents and then saw how people “were taking it” that he was gone, and he stayed. He wrote, “If I would have gone with my heart, I’d still be gone.”

Next is a letter “We are putting you in the ban” written by a bishop to a young woman who has just left his congregation.

That is followed by a son’s letter to his parents after he left. The ending of the letter is especially poignant, when he tells them he loves them very much and will miss them very much. His letter ends with, “My family means so much to me and always will.” — Your loving son, Samuel.

Next comes a letter “To our dearest lost brother.” A family writing to a brother who left.

Then comes a classic letter to someone who has left and it includes these lines: “Oh, if younce could only break loose of Satan and come home. Deep in your hearts you are not truly happy, and you never can be as long as you stay out in the world.”

There is another letter from a bishop to one of his parishioners who left. It starts out with, “I heard you were in a bad car wreck, one of the guys got killed. As the tree falls so will he lay. Until Judgment Day. I hear he was only 18? I don’t know him. But unless his parents didn’t try to teach him right from wrong, the whole load will lie on him?”

There is a letter from a daughter to her parents who left. Apparently the mother had asked to come back and see her children and grandchildren. The answer was, “No! You are not welcome to come in as you are now. […] Please don’t come in such a way.”

These letters are such a poignant reminder of how difficult it was to receive a letter from the community after leaving the Amish. I have them stashed in my closet. Though I haven’t read them in a while, I remember phrases. “I felt so sorry for your mother. I noticed her ‘halstuch’ (cape) was all wet with her tears at church on Sunday.” And in another one, “Are you really prepared to follow your flesh now and burn in Hell forever and ever?” And yet another, “Oh, if only you knew how hard this is on your mother, you would come back. And what about the promises you made to the church?”

Thankfully, after all these years of being away, my memory has faded about how intense it was to make the break. I grappled with the guilt for years. Therapy was my life raft. And slowly, with time, the Amish lost their hold on me and I came around to having dreams about where I wanted to go with my life and then following the direction of those dreams.

Yet it only takes a trip down memory lane with glimpses of others’ struggles to remind me from whence I have come and how grateful I am for what my life is today. Now I only wish I could lighten the load for those who are still in the struggle. Guilt can weigh so heavily on people’s shoulders when it’s used as a weapon.

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6 thoughts on “To Stay or Leave?”

  1. Saloma,
    I just got off the MAP site before signing on to you. What an excellent ministry. I wish I could do more to support them. The letters are truly heartbreaking. I read the one from Samuel a while ago and my heart wept. That poor, sweet boy. One of the most painful things in this life is conditional “love”. To only be loved if you do what another person wants. I’ll love you if… I think love is a feeling word that expresses itself through action. If you love someone, yet your actions show otherwise, well…how confusing. The scary part is, so many in the Amish faith truly believe they are doing what God wants them to do. Like Saul believed in what he was doing when he murdered Christians. He was blinded from the Truth. It took an act of God to show him otherwise.

    My husband and I were talking about the situations many young Amish people find themselves in when they choose to follow their call from God. I mean, how can you say “NO” to God? You either live a life of misery trying to be someone you’re not or you give up everything you know and hold dear to step into a life you have not been prepared for and know very little about, except how sinister it is. Oh, the courage! And wouldn’t you know you don’t always feel God’s presence during this stepping out time.

    There was a season in my life when I stepped away from my family. I had no contact with them for over a year. Once in a while I’d get a message from my mom and it would always tear me up. I felt so ashamed for hurting her. She didn’t understand why I was not contacting her, but even if I had told her she still wouldn’t understand. Actually, I did tell her. And she didn’t understand. I was being disloyal to the family and that was something you never did. My grandma never forgave me. When I finally did reunite with them it was clear things had changed and I was treated differently. Those were such lonely, terrible years. I didn’t know if I’d ever come out of it.

    I think it’s pleasing for God to see so many ex-Amish putting forth such great effort to help those that are following their call. It takes courage to do this since so many bitter, painful emotions can arise. I suppose when one hurting person is able to help another hurting person the pain can then be seen as a gift.
    “Your ministry will be where your misery has been.”
    -T.D. Jakes

    On a side note- I hope it’s not offensive to you that I write such things about the Amish culture since I’ve never been Amish. Kind of like when you complain about your mother and it’s ok, but if somebody else does “them’s fightin’ words.” I mean no harm.

    Hugs from Chicagoland.

  2. I just can’t imagine the feeling of guilt… even for those who know the truth of salvation by grace that is written in the Bible, that feeling of leaving one’s family behind; the fear that seeps in when you try to sleep at night. Just from your snippets of their letters, I can really see the struggle of these young and some not so young people trying to live as people free from the bondage of tradition and guilt.

  3. Surely these letters demonstrate the terrific hold that some parents have over their own children. To me, as a liberal minded person, this is quite frightening.

  4. This is the first time that the thought occurred to me to wonder whether my father received such a letter. Back in 1952 he was ousted from the Amish church for “being contentious” when he led a group of men trying to institute Bible study. He never went back but joined the Mennonite church instead.

    I do wish that families were more forthcoming with their stories. The closed-mouth trait is not an Amish thing, necessarily; it happens in many families.

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