Ministering to the Amish?

Sally Schwartz wrote:

I grew up in Canton and later taught in Ashland Ohio so seeing Amish and Mennonites was a common experience. I think if I were Amish, all those tourists coming to stare would really tick me off. I haven’t seen the TV programs you mention but see all those Amish romance novels around and think they can’t be a lot of help in people’s perceptions. Wondered what you think of the groups who take up ministering to the Amish. Not those trying to assist those who have left on their own accord, but those trying to make evangelical converts. I have stumbled over some of this on the Internet.

Sally, you have great comments and questions here. Yes, if the tourist industry had been as vital as it is now when I was in my community, I might have gotten very self-conscious with so many eyes watching me.

Amish romance novels, oh yes. In my mind, they were a precursor to the reality shows. It's all the same… corporations exploiting the Amish name, dress, and cultural symbols for their own gain. And all except for Linda Byler, none of these authors were ever Amish, and they get the details all wrong. You are so right, these romance novels don't help people's perceptions of the Amish culture. In fact, they create many misconceptions, as if there aren't enough of them already.

You ask about groups that try to convert Amish youth out of their culture. Here are my thoughts on the subject.

Everyone who thinks about leaving the Amish has a hard decision to make. (For those who don't think about it and are content to stay in the culture their whole lives long, this is not an issue.) Those who have itchy feet have to decide for themselves if they are cut out to make it in the modern world, and whether they are willing to leave their family and community to take on the freedom and responsibilites that will be theirs if they leave. If someone comes along and tries to recruit youth out of the culture, it can short-curcuit that process.

It must be very confusing to Amish youth to try to figure out who is right about their spiritual lives. The Amish teach their children that because they were born Amish, God wants them to stay Amish, and if they leave they will go to Hell. Then along comes an evangelical Christian who tells them they can have a guarentee that they will go to Heaven if they will only accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Most of the evangelical Christians who try to recruit, will assert that this is the ONLY way to make it to heaven. So, in other words, unless you accept Jesus as your personal Savior, you will go to Hell. Who are the young people to believe? (Someone once pointed out that the word "lie" is in the word "believe." This is a good example of when is true). Either way, it is fear of Hell that motivates these young people in going one way or the other. And I don't think fear is a good motivator in deciding which path to take in one's life.

There are many youth who do not survive leaving the Amish. When they first taste of freedom, they do not know how to handle it, and they engage in risky behavior. They bring about the very thing they were afraid of. Very often, the body is taken back and buried as Amish. The funeral becomes a "warning" to others that they need to be ready at any time, because they never know when their end will come. There is the inference that God struck that person dead for disobeying the parents, the church, and ultimately God Himself. And ultimately, the mind goes to the "inevitable fact" that this person is now in Hell. This, then, becomes a powerful motivator (fear) to anyone else who has thought about leaving to stay and "obey."

I would love to see a study that looks at Amish youth who leave of their own accord versus those who are "recruited" out. I would want to find out if there is any statistical difference in survival rate. Either way, I find it so tragic when I hear of another youth who died soon after leaving the Amish.

So this is a long answer, but I do think there is a difference between offering a safe haven to those who have left the Amish culture, and actively recruiting them out. It is a tough enough decision for those who are restless, so I don't need to confuse them further. Ultimately, some Amish people are going to live a more settled and happy life among their people. Others will feel torn between the two worlds. And still others cannot fit themselves into the culture, and there basically is no way they can stay.

Thank you, Sally, for your perceptive questions, and for giving me permission to post your questions and my answer here.


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19 thoughts on “Ministering to the Amish?”

  1. I am reading Finding The Way by Barbara Yoder, billed as ‘inspirational fiction’. Barbara Yoder grew up Amish (not clear if she is still in an Amish community) and the story is set in an Amish community. Fear of hell is something two teen characters are struggling with in this story. They are trying to figure out how they can know they’ll make it to heaven, not hell.

    One girl is dying of leukemia and a hospital chaplain quotes scripture to assure her that if she confesses her sins, she is forgiven. It relieves her enough to not be scared of dying. (She has not been baptized.) She tells her friend about this and her friend is greatly relieved. Later the chaplain calls on the dying girl at home. The bishop forbids the chaplain to pray with the dying girl. Her friend asks if there is a way the dying girl can be baptized before she dies. Her mother says she doubts if that is possible and the friend rails against the Amish rules.

    I wish Barbara Yoder had gotten a good editor and a good proofreader for her book. It looks to be self-published. It has the possibility to be a good story, but is much marred by choppy writing and sloppy proofing.

    1. I wonder if “Finding the Way” is thinly-veiled reality. I have a hard time reading books that are not well-written. That voice stays in my head when I am writing my own stuff. Too bad Barbara didn’t get herself some editing help.

      Thank you for your comments.

      1. I think you might be right about the thinly-veiled reality. After I finished the book, I wondered if an evangelical had approached the author at some point as the characters keep talking about finding out about Jesus Christ. Sometimes the characters were all but preaching to the reader. sigh!

        1. That is how the book struck me, honestly, when I saw it on Amazon. You have more patience in finishing books like that than I do. I hope your next book is a more enjoyable read.

          Take good care.

  2. Charles Andrews

    Hi Saloma, just a word to say how much I enjoy your blog. I have learned so much about the Amish just from reading your material. As always this particular blog has answered a lot of my questions. Keep up the great work, you are such an amazing and wonderful lady.

    1. Charles, I appreciate your compliments. It is gratifying that you enjoy my writing, and even more gratifying when you take time to let me know. Thank you so much. May you be blessed for your kindness.

  3. Dear Saloma,

    It is always a joy reading your blog and as Charles wrote I am glad that I too are able to learn so much about the Amish from your blog. This current blog answered a lot of my questions that I actually wanted to email you as well. :-) So thank you. I hope you are well and enjoying a wonderful summer.



    1. Miriam, thank you for your comments. The credit goes to Sally Schwartz for the subject matter. It struck a chord with me, and I thought it would with others as well. It seems that is true.

      Enjoy your summer, too, Mriiam. I hope you keep stopping by and commenting.

  4. This is most interesting. I didn’t know there were groups that tried to evangelize Amish youth out of their culture. I wonder how they do this? Where do they meet these youth? Isn’t it enough to share Jesus with them and let them decide? Surely there are Christians amongst the Amish. Why would these youth have to leave? If the bishops tell them to leave why not start up their own community?
    Your description of the Amish kids being pulled in two directions is sad, to say the least. I can’t even imagine the angst they go through. And you’re right, to use Hell as the motivator…there’s so much more to it. There’s love. The unconditional, unending, beautiful love that God has for us. That He longs for us. All people.
    David Crowder, a contemporary Christian singer, has a spectacular song called “How He Loves.” When I’m listening to it in my car I can’t help but feel…well, loved.
    I just think people are already filled to the brim with guilt and shame and fear. And to throw an ogre God into the mixture? And to do it to Amish youth? No, that’s wrong. Love has to be the foundation. It has to be the beginning point.

    1. Hello, Fran. I think some of the people who try to “reach” Amish youth used to be Amish themselves. So it’s a network connection. In the minds of the evangelicals, I’m sure they are spreading God’s love. But when the underlying message is this is the ONLY way to get to heaven, the alternative (staying Amish) is going to Hell. Yes, the Amish are Christians, but theirs is not the faith of “go out and tell the world.” Theirs is a faith of “the quiet in the land.” It is a deep and abiding faith of following the example of Christ, rather than spreading the gospel. So some evangelical Christians judge them as “not saved.”

      It is very common for Amish youth to become “born again” and use this as their avenue out of the Amish. Some of them are zealous enough to go back and try to convert other Amish.

      I once was talking with an Amish bishop who quoted C.S. Lewis in saying that faith and works is like a pair of scissors… you have to have both for the scissors to work. I think that is what the Amish faith strives for. Of course they are human and fall short of that many times, I’m sure. But at least there is the understanding that it’s not works or faith… it’s both.

      Thank you for your comments. You are very good at spreading love in your part of the world. May it come back to you many times over.

    1. Katie, you are right on about so many churches. There are also churches that are inviting, without being pushy about it. But the Amish are not looking for converts. They have nothing to prove.

      Thanks for your perspective.

  5. Thank you for clarifying this, Saloma. I literally thought there were organizations of never-Amish individuals that targeted Amish youth to pull them away from their families in the name of God. Whew!

    Of course, I’m not familiar with all the Amish that leave and go back to share their newfound news, but I do know about some individuals. They make it clear that there is no need for the youth to abandon their communities. (From what I understand it’s the community that tells the convert to leave.) They do tell how works will not get you to Heaven, though. And I’m pretty sure they quote John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…” But, as I said, I don’t know every story about what goes on.

    On a more personal note, as a born again Christian (I was 25) I believe people will be judged for every deed they did, good and bad, before God on Judgment Day. And I believe that faith in Jesus is the only way for me to be exempt from my many sins. And I believe that God doesn’t allow sin into Heaven so you’ve got to be squeaky clean to make it. Of my own accord, I am not squeaky clean.

    There was a time when I believed all people could go to Heaven whether they were Christians or not. Surely a loving God would allow this. Then it hit me, “There have been a lot of opportunities for me to receive Jesus and I just wasn’t interested.” God did want me to be in Heaven with Him, but I had to do it His way.

    God gets a bad rap so often. Being blamed for the death of a youth who left the Amish; just because he left the Amish. Really? Is sin not its own offense? Does God even need to punish beyond the natural consequences of sin? Did the youth come back dead from using too many drugs, drunk driving, getting involved with thugs? God doesn’t kill people because they leave the Amish faith! (I know you know this, I’m just angry so I’m saying it again.) That is so wrong to say to kids, to manipulate them using God’s faux wrath.

    When I lived in NJ I used to drive by this little white church on my way to work. A small sign out front read: I love you, I love you, I love you. -Jesus That’s all I’ve got to say.

    1. Thank you, Fran, for your perspective. Some of the Amish beliefs are punitive… they come out of the middle ages. Theirs is a whole different mindset than the one you are describing. But the one thing I must say… they are not judgmental of other people’s religion. (Unless they are judging someone who grew up Amish). I don’t think I want to judge them for their beliefs. It’s just that I know the more punitive beliefs (that God will strike you dead) can be very difficult and confusing for those who leave.

      I would say this one thing. Anyone who believes in Hell as the other alternative to Heaven, must also believe in a wrathful God. A God of pure love is simply incompatible with the concept of Hell.

      Wishing you all the best.

  6. I have a few questions which though they does not fit under this category too well, this was the best blog post I could think of.

    In your second book, you intimated that sometimes outsiders can convert and join the Amish. How common is this and does it really last?

    Do Amish men bother with Selective Service or not? If not, didn’t they get in trouble during the draft?

    Now the questions am most curious about. In your involvement with the Amish, did you ever come across an Amish person who was clearly of African descent? Secondly, if you could imagine it, would such a person (say in the 40’s and 50’s) have experienced less racial problems inside the Amish than the general population or the same?

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