Many people have asked me this question since the PBS documentary "The Amish: Shunned" premiered on February 4. The answer is, "I wish I knew."
The footage of Anna returning to her community was taken on January 29, 2013 for the documentary. The film has been taken off the American Experience website, but you can still see the first chapter for free, and you can buy the DVD of the film. There is also a short video of Anna, though it does not include the ending when she returns that I will share here. And for those who would like a recipe for the sticky buns Anna and I are making in the video, you can find it on the American Experience website also.
Anna had lived with David and me for six months. We became her surrogate parents, and helped her establish a bakery and basket-weaving business and selling her wares out of our house.
Several months after Anna moved in with us, it was hard for me when Anna said she wanted to return, but I also knew it was a decision only she could make. I grappled with whether we should make it easy for her by driving her back as opposed to letting her find her own way back. I asked her one day, whether she would still return if we did not take her back. She said she would probably ask her parents to come and get her. There was my answer. So the only kind thing to do was to drive her back.
One day, about a week before Anna's return, I realized that she would have to shun me when she returned. When I told her that, she was stunned. She said, "I never thought about that." I wondered out loud whether Anna would be allowed to write to me.
Within weeks after Anna returned, it became clear that Anna was no longer allowed to write to me. I told that story here.
From various sources, I understand that Anna was shunned by her community for five and a half months before she was accepted back into the church. And in her community, they practice strict shunning. That means that she had to eat separately from her family, even though she was living with them. They could not take anything out of her hand, so she had to place things on a table or chair, and then they would pick it up.
After her shunning period was over, she was accepted back into the church. Then in September, she took on a teaching job in an Amish school, which took her out of her parents' home, so she could live near the school where she is teaching.
Anna's journey is so parallel to my own. I was offered a teaching job when I returned, and it also allowed me to live outside my parents' home. When I was back for a year, it was probably the time I was most intensely torn between my two worlds. I was trying so hard to "make myself Amish" and yet I had experienced my first taste of freedom and I could not tamp down the desire to expereince that freedom again.
I have a strong hunch that Anna is experiencing this same conflict. I've had people ask me what I think are the odds of her leaving again. I usually guess 50/50 chance that she will stay in the community versus leaving again. And if you asked Anna today, she would likely say she wants to stay. Just as I would have a year after my return.
I know that even though there are many similarities between Anna's journey and my own, there are also key differences. I was much more outgoing and adventurous for one thing. And I loved making my own choices, rather than relying on someone else to make those choices for me. Anna was never comfortable making her own choices and she was not that outgoing. But something happened when Anna was living here that she cannot reverse, and that may be her downfall in staying in the community.
Amish people are never taught to self-reflect. In fact, the lifestyle almost requires that you live your life unself-consciously, with many things living in your subconscious as opposed to bringing it into consciousness.
I have always believed that the Adam and Eve story is metaphor for the process of humans becoming self-aware. Eating of the apple of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is like us becoming self-aware and acquiring a conscience to help us know right from wrong.
I will never forget the day Anna ate the apple. One day she was not self-aware and the next day she was. Here is how it happened:
Callie Wiser was interviewing Anna in our living room. She asked Anna what she thinks about when she is up early, kneading bread by herself. There was silence. Then Anna asked, "What do you mean?" Callie rephrased the question, but Anna could still not answer it.
After Callie and her crew had left, Anna asked me, "What do you think Callie meant by that question of what I think about when I'm making bread?"
I explained to Anna that when we are doing things that we don't have to think about, like kneading bread, we sometimes let our minds wander and we think about other things.
Anna had a blank stare that David and I dubbed "dead eyes." That's what I got in return when I tried to explain what Callie meant. I didn't think she understood.
The next morning, Anna was up at the crack of dawn, kneading bread. When I got up, she asked me, "You know what I was thinking about when I was kneading bread this morning? I was thinking about that question Callie asked me yesterday."
I said, "Ah-ha! You caught yourself thinking! That is called self-awareness." A pleased grin spread across her face.
The difference between Anna before that and after that expereince was a marked one. She became increasingly more aware of her "self" after that.
And that is where Anna will have a problem fitting herself back into her community for life. Her community — even more than the community I came from — live on an unself-conscious level. I don't think Anna can turn her self-awareness off at will, any more than Adam and Eve could put the apple back on the tree.
That is why I give Anna a 50/50 chance of leaving again, as opposed to 30/70. I think this is huge.
Then again, it will also depend on whether Anna is asked for dates or not. She very much would like to find a marriage partner. When I returned, most young men did not ask me for dates. The word going around was, "She left once, she could leave again." It took me a while to say, "Hey, they're right!"
If Anna finds a marriage partner, she is more apt to stay. When I was 23 years old, I would not have considered marrying a widower in the community. If Anna has that chance, I think she will likely take it.
So, now you know about as much as I do about Anna's situation. I have no doubt that she is in a hard place between her two worlds. Please hold her in your thoughts and prayers.
Knowing what you know, what is your guess? What are the chances of her leaving again?
37 thoughts on “How is Anna Doing?”
Ahh–reading this breaks my heart, but I know you’re right. She has to answer the question for herself. Your example of becoming self-aware is spot on. Among many of the young people we know who have left the Amish and then returned, about 90% leave again, especially if they’ve made contacts, friends, and held jobs while out of the Amish. But a few encountered trouble while in the English world that facilitated them going back, or being taken back, to their Amish communities. From your description of Anna, I would make the same guess as you: 50/50, depending on her current circumstances as Amish. My prayers are for Anna, too.
Thank you, Dee, for your prayers for Anna, and for your confirmation of what is “typical” for those who leave. But the statistic I’m intrigued by is that 90% who have left will leave again. Wow. That’s fascinating.
I wish Anna all the best, whether she stays or leaves.
I believe Anna will return because A: you loved her and treated her with kindness and B: you’ve asked for prayer on her behalf. I pray she comes back. The self-awareness observation is creepy but fascinating.
Stephanie, that is certainly one way of looking at it. But the pull from the community is equally as strong, if not stronger than the kindness from those who helped Anna. Only time will tell. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
I enjoy reading this followup and your thoughts on Anna’s journey. I was heartbroken when she decided to return then I cried when I saw the show and watched her go back. My hardest thoughts on Anna’s choice was she choose to go back but to what end? Coming from a small community and not much available to her for marriage choices and the thought of never having that in her life seems like a life sentence to me. If she decided to leave again, would you be willing to help her once again?
I currently have 1 of your distant cousins living in my home. Henry is enjoying his experiences tremendously and is fairly outgoing, I know he has thought about going back at times but I really don’t see him going back for good and living Amish. He has too many dreams and desires for adventure. However I also do see those moments of homesickness and missing his family terribly. I haven’t had him watch this years episode because I told him some of what was on it and we both agreed it is too fresh and would be hard for him to see right now. I did point you out to him as being 1 of his cousins which he was excited over as we watched last years show. He then went to get on the computer and didn’t watch this years episode yet though. I hope someday he will have chance to meet you. I am enjoying having him here and its certainly been an interesting experience for us both in ways neither of us imagined.
Hello Sharon. Thank you for your thoughts. Yes, we would help Anna again, but likely not in the same way as we did before. I think it is important for her to meet other young people who have also left the Amish. David and I were more like parents to her than peers. So we would help her get situated in a place where she has more contact with her peers.
Sarah has told me about Henry, and I hope I get to meet him someday. She ordered one of my books for him, which is on its way to your house. My heart goes out to him… I remember that feeling of the draw from the community, but also liking the freedom I had when I was newly out of the Amish. He may need to go back and experience community again before he can let go for good.
The film is no longer on the American Experience website for free. I actually think it would be good for him to see it… possibly it would clarify something for him, one way or another. Obviously he needs to decide that for himself, though.
I hope Henry enjoys my book… his grandfather is in it.
Thank you again for your thoughts.
I wonder if Anna met an ex-Amish man, who felt it his duty to make decisions for his woman, if it would make an easier go of her leaving? Because women often see a husband as the provider she wouldn’t have to worry about supporting herself financially. Anything needing doing within the home, Anna has been groomed for. She could bake and make baskets if the need was there.
I have no idea what Anna’s chances of leaving her community are, but God does. If He wants her doing something else it will be next to impossible for her to not heed the call. Persistence was invented by God, after all.
I must make mention of your tenderness towards Anna. Your explanation to her about Callie’s question was plain sweet.
Your explanation about self awareness amongst the Amish was very interesting. How exactly is this practice done? Doesn’t self reflection allow one to see their sins and make amends? Very interesting indeed.
Fran, the answer is: absolutely. If Anna had met a man who was interested in her, she would likely not have gone back. She would gladly have given over her right to make decisions in exchange. But she rarely went out, and so she didn’t meet many young people. You’re right about God knowing Anna’s path. As far as how the Amish keep their people unself-conscious… why do you need a conscience telling you right from wrong if you have the elders of the church to do it for you? And just about everything else in your life… down to what women may wear under their dresses? That is how strict her community is, and it leaves little time to reflect or develop the “self.” Imagination and creativity have no place in an environment like that.
Your observation concerning Anna’s lack of ‘thought’ surprises me. Surely she has the usual chatter in her mind- do you think she is simply not aware of it?
As to whether she will leave again- the fact that she left once is HUGE. I would guess that pushes the answer toward YES. Plus the likelihood that if she does not marry (within the Amish) she knows that her life’s work most likely will be as a caregiver or housekeeper for family or within the church. At least, that is how it used to be. On the other hand, if her family has or sets up a baked goods or produce stand alongside the road for her, she might find her calling there.
I feel for her. It won’t be easy, either way.
Elva, see my explanation above on lack of self-reflection. No, I don’t think Anna was aware of her own thoughts until that day. You have it just about right as to what Anna’s prospects are within the community if she stays. Likely she would have to care for her parents. As far as setting up a baked goods or produce stand alongside the road… that option has been revoked for all the women in her community because she met someone while she was selling by the roadside who had a hand in her leaving. This means the women in that community have little to no contact with the outside world. You’re right… it won’t be easy for Anna either way. Being caught between the two worlds is a difficult thing. This I know full well.
If I am reading this right, because of Anna’s transgression, now all the women in her community are “punished” as well? If that is an appropriate word to use for revoking the women’s ability to sell at stands. It makes me wonder, then, how the women are treating Anna. I wonder if Anna is being treated harshly by the women, or if she has been forgiven by them?
Diane, from the Amish point of view, they saw what can happen with allowing their women to sell at the roadside stands. I don’t believe she was supposed to be out there by herself to start with… I think her father was supposed to be there with her, but he often left her there by herself. Now they see that as what caused the “trouble.” I have no idea how other women are treating Anna. I’m hoping she got a new start in her new setting as a schoolteacher. It’s hard to know without hearing this from her. And since that is not a possibility, I am left to wonder.
I am reading both books…I want to read the first one ..first ,,but I am loving the second one..both are so interesting…I just found your blog I will have catching up to do..thanks for sharing
Thank you, Karen, for your compliments of my story. I think most people are enjoying my second book more than they did my first. I would actually say reading the second book first is a good idea. But of course that is a personal decision.
One thing that makes Anna think twice about leaving again is that she will be severed from her family for life. In her package deal with shunning it includes everything. She will not be invited to her nieces and nephews’ weddings, no family gatherings, not even a family funeral. The cost of her leaving the Amish is much higher than the mainstream Amish in Holmes County or Indiana. It is not an easy decision.
Katie, you are so right. I keep forgetting how different strict shunning is from the “brand” of shunning in my home community. The cost is so high, that she may not be able to severe those ties. In Anna’s case, it would almost have been better if she had never left. But that is now water under the bridge. Now she has that inner conflict. There is no doubt that this is a difficult decision for Anna. Katie, you are a wise woman. Thank you for this reminder.
One thing that I tried to not to deal with at the time of my leaving was the question of eternal destiny. I had been taught that the local church controlled my destiny where hell was concerned, but heaven was an open question and we could not know if we had been saved. Eventually when I pondered that, I realized that could not possibly be true. There is absolutely no biblical evidence for that. As you probably know, thinking for yourself is not promoted among the Amish. That is a key part to keeping the Amish within the community.
Anna expressed her concern about hell at one point, but seemed to pass it off. Well, deep within I think it bothered her along with homesickness. The biggest favor anyone could have done me in my days of struggle would have been to see me through that issue. The truth of the entire matter is that it is Jesus who holds my destiny, not the church. It is Jesus who is head of the church, not the church controls Jesus. The notion that Jesus cannot save you when you are expelled from the Amish church gives the church the most power anywhere in the universe.
I am sure you learned a lot from your time with Anna as she did from being with you. Sorry to be so lengthy, but there are probably several other factors that contribute to the question as to whether Anna will stay Amish. If it was a divine calling to come out in the first place, she will return. That’s my point of view.
Thank you for your thoughts. Anna seemed afraid to consider any other thoughts about salvation, other than the ones she was taught. She refused to attend any other church service while she was out. I think you’re right… Anna would need to change her thought process around salvation for her to have the courage to leave again. And then there is the leaving the family behind for good issue that Katie Troyer raised. All in all, her decision to leave would be a very difficult one to make.
My husband and I were not raised Amish, but in a similar church started from the Anabaptist movement. We have left the church but live in the same community still. I think the constant pull back is the community feeling…it’s hard to explain if you weren’t raised in that setting. I am strong in my faith and know I am saved by the blood of Jesus, but sometimes the closeness felt among one another is dearly missed. Noone can understand how it feels to be able to travel across the country and have family/friends/church members all over willing to be hosts/hostesses. That feeling of nearness upheld by all…the casseroles brought after having a child or surgery/drop in visits from family and friends/etc. So in my opinion, I unfortunately think it will be much harder for Anna to leave a 2nd time b/c of that longing to belong.
Thanks for sharing your stories :)
Christy, I think you have hit on something very fundamental… our need for community and belonging. What you describe is right on. So often I am at a loss for words when it comes to describing what it is about the Amish lifestyle that I miss the most.
And I think you might be right… that Anna has a stronger need to belong than she does to develop her “self” and life outside the community.
You are welcome about sharing my stories, and I thank you for sharing yours.
Heard your interview on VPR last night (03/17/14) and recognized your name from a comment you left on Monica’s blog a year or so ago… Mennobrarian. I did not know at the time that you were an author, but now I’m interested in reading your book. Guess I’ll have to get busy and purchase a copy.
I think it is difficult for any person to change the faith they were brought up with, but must be many times harder when it is a community as well. I will pray for Anna. Thank you for sharing your story.
Hello Mrs. D,
Thank you so much for dropping by. You might want to know about a giveaway that is happening over on the “Amish America” Blog. Here is a link: http://amishamerica.com/saloma-miller-furlong-bonnet-strings/.
Leaving the Amish is indeed a hard decision. Thank you so much for your prayers for Anna.
Many blessings of peace to you.
Saloma, I’ve read your blog entries on multiple occasions, but I don’t think I’ve commented before. This post got me thinking about how Amish youth could be given a better chance of succeeding in the outside world. As you suggested, if Anna could find a mate outside her Amish community, that would help her stay out.
There is a well-known ex-Amish named Mose Gingerich. From watching episodes of his TV shows, I became aware that there is a substantial community of ex-Amish in a town in Missouri.
If someone like Anna were helped to settle there, she could meet a bunch of people her age, whom she could relate to more easily than she can relate to “English” people. As a bonus, more young men than women leave the Amish, so in Missouri she would enjoy better prospects for attracting an ex-Amish guy (the sex ratio would be skewed in her favor).
As seen in Mose’s TV show (Amish Out of Order?), some ex-Amish guys go work out on the oil rigs. That means they live in isolated areas with few people around. If someone like Anna moved to a tiny town near an oil patch, she would enjoy extremely favorable mating prospects. But she might need a chaperone because living among roughnecks could be dangerous.
From viewing the video on this page, I can’t tell whether Anna is in good physical shape. But she or any Amish person might benefit from a change in diet. I’ve read that Amish food is starch-heavy. She might benefit by switching from meat-and-potatoes to salad-and-brown-rice.
Joining a gym would help the ex-Amish too. One of the best things my parents ever did for me was getting a family membership at a health club when I was fifteen years old. An ex-Amish guy might do hard enough physical work that he wouldn’t even need gym exercise. Girls leaving the Amish probably do physical work too, but not enough for keeping fit, so the gym would help them.
It might seem strange that I’m talking about food and exercise. But let’s face it: success in the mating game depends partly on physical attractiveness.
What do you think?
Erik, I think it’s quite complicated. Anna was so much into the Amish way of thinking, that she didn’t want to visit another church or think about religion in any other way than what she was taught. She was also reticent to go out and meet new people. I don’t actually know how she would have done among other former Amish youth, but I can tell you that with Anna’s personality, living near an oil rig would not have been a good match.
I think there are so many complicated issues for those who leave the Amish to deal with, that diet and exercise are likely the least of their worries.
I wrote my response late last night when I was tired. I don’t mean to minimize the need for Amish young people who leave to eat healthy and exercise. It’s just that when young people leave, they are usually in survival mode for quite some time. They usually have little to no money, so it’s common to have a hand-to-mouth way of thinking and functioning. They cannot usually consider things that move past surviving and into thriving, such as education, good health, plans for their future, etc, etc. I don’t think Anna ever really moved out of the survival way of thinking while she was out. Though she liked eating fresh foods and she was physically active while she was with us. Her hair became healthy, her complexion improved, and she had her first physical exam. But she is from farm stock, as am I. Slimming down is not that easy for those with our genetics. My mother once likened losing weight to losing cement. That is just about right.
Thank you for your comments, Erik. I’m so glad you stopped by.
That idea of being in survival mode makes sense; having to make so many life changes would be overwhelming. It’s good to hear that Anna’s health improved under your care; hopefully she can figure out how to maintain that. Thanks for your thoughtful reply.
It is overwhelming. When Anna was planning to return, she said she hopes to continue to continue to eat like she was here. But without fresh food (her community is not allowed refrigeration), I’m guessing she had to resort to their ways of cooking again.
Thank you, Erik, for your comments. And for fostering the discussion on your own blog… I’m am really blown away by the topics we’ve covered!
All the best to you,
I don’t have a blog. Maybe you have mistaken me for Erik Wesner, the owner of the Amish America website. On the few occasions I posted comments on his site, I named myself “The Other Erik.”
Oh, sorry! “The other Erik” I LOVE it! Thanks for setting me straight.
I am reading your blog for the first time. What is astounding about Anna is that she had the courage to leave the first time! God’s hand must have been in there someplace.And if she does not leave again ,hopefully she will be be a happier person for having walked on the outside for a time and experiencing kind people like yourself in the wider world.
It’s always gratifying to have new people reading my blog and commenting… thank you so much for dropping by and sharing your thoughts. I know, I’ve often thought about the courage it must have taken for Anna to leave. The longer she is back, the less likely I think it is she’ll leave again. And maybe that’s actually best for her, I really cannot say. I’m trying not to be judgmental about the decisions she makes, for only she can make them.
I saw the “The Amish Shunned” episode of the American Experience for the first time last night. Since then, my thoughts have been consumed by the program, and the people in it.
I was especially touched by Anna. My heart broke when she said that she wants to be Amish if she dies; that if she were to die “out here,” she might go to hell. It was hard to watch her walk back to her Amish life.
So, here I am, online, searching for news about Anna. I so wanted to learn that she had left again, and was happy and doing well. My romantic heart hoped that perhaps that she had even found love.
I hope and pray she’s OK. I especially pray that she’ll come to know the truth about salvation through Jesus. How terrible it must be to always be striving to be “good” and to obey all the rules and regulations in that culture. All of that, and yet no assurance that you will go to heaven.
I don’t know whether Anna will return to the “English” or remain with the Amish. I just pray she becomes born again, and experiences true freedom and the “peace that passes all understanding.”
Laura, I am so glad you were able to watch “The Amish: Shunned.” Yes, Anna’s story is a compelling one. No, she has not left again. Last I knew, she seemed happy back in the life she chose. She may even have found love…
At first it was excruciating when Anna went back because we didn’t think she was in a good place when she was still living with her parents. We don’t hear from her often, which has been hard.
Thank you for your prayers for Anna. I, too, hope she finds her rightful path.
So sorry to see Anna go back. Hope she is doing well. In the Amish religion, if your spouse dies can you remarry?
What a thoughtful post. It’s now been almost four years since this was written. I wonder if you have had anymore insight or interaction with Anna. May the Lord bless you both.
Saloma, I was particularly touched as you sat with Anna in your kitchen, she with her back to the video camera, and she told you how she was not asked for a second courtship ‘date’ with the Amish man, and you validated the sense of disappointment and sadness that was so obvious in her sharing.
I am wondering how the young woman who became a Registered Nurse is doing, now going on 6 years after the video release?
Thank you for your compassion and your work.
Hello Saloma! I have been following the Linda Stoltzfoos case, an Old Order Amish 18-yr-old girl from Bird-in-Hand, PA who has been missing since June 21st. She was a baptized member of the church and there was no indication she desired to leave. Have you heard of this case? She is still missing and they are not sure why she disappeared or where she is located now. No note or message was given to her family that she had left on her own, so they fear she many have been abducted. Since following this case, I have been trying to learn more about the Amish, in particularly the different types of Amish, since there is a lot of confusion out there, especially among the English of the vast differences between Amish groups.
I recently finished watching the “The Amish: Shunned” documentary and yours and Anna’s story really touched my heart the most. The early scenes when you were first talking to Anna and the camera was not allowed to view her face, so it was panning parts of her body, like her bare feet, etc., and she was hesitantly and timidly telling her story, just brought tears to my eyes. I just cannot even begin to understand the life she’s had and what she was going through. I could tell it was the most difficult decision in her life and that she was truly scared. I remember you mentioning Anna was from a very strict Amish community. I’m just curious, does she happen to be Swartzentruber Amish? I’ve recently learned about the Swartzentruber and how they are considered to be the most conservative, strictest, and “lowest” of the Amish groups. I couldn’t help but wonder if Anna was Swartzentruber or if she is from another Old Order Amish group, that happens to be stricter than most others?
Also, I see that the Shunned documentary was filmed in 2013 and this too is an older blog post written back on March 5, 2014! It now being July 2020, I have to ask: Have you heard anything more from Anna? Is she still living in her home community and a member of the Amish church? I hope and pray she has finally found peace and happiness in her life and in her decision to return back home, after she gave it a try in the English world for a while. If she is not truly happy, I hope and pray she will gain the courage to reach out to you again one day again. If not to leave, but to at least reach out to you as a friend and stay in touch. I cannot imagine how hard this must have been for you to go through, too.