Last week, I received this message from a young woman who read The Outcast . She had grown up in the Amish church but left under the protection of her family when she was nineteen years old. This is what she had to say:
I remember the intense attraction the other church people had about this girl who was shunned. They wanted to hear about her sins, and her shortcomings. They would gasp in shock at the terrible things she was supposedly doing. I would sometimes look at her, in her eyes, and see fierce determination and pride, and yet an almost nauseous look of hurt. She did not defend herself or engage in the gossip. There were a couple of times in reading The Outcast that I felt like I could not breathe for the pain that Rachel was feeling. I think I know now what my friend went through. Your book was so authentic, the German words, Rachel’s loving yet harsh mother. It felt like more than a book to me.
Over that day and the next, this young woman (who wishes to remain anonymous) and I communicated. Soon, we went from writer to reader to lifelong friends. I was so honored when she not only agreed to an interview about her experience in the Amish church, but felt like she had a message that needed to be shared.
Without further ado, I present to you one of the most resilient young women I have ever met. She is a testament to the difference between legalism and righteousness and the power of God’s true love.
Unshackled From The Amish Church
Thank you so much for sharing your story today. I know that you would like to remain anonymous, and I greatly appreciate you reaching beyond your comfort zone to let others, who have left the Amish church, know that they are not alone.
What was your favorite memory during your time in the Amish community?
My favorite memory was all the fun I had as a child. Our life was very gentle and innocent. I had a pony, and my brothers and sisters were my very best friends. I loved working with my brothers outside, and they always treated me as if I were one of their favorite people.
You said that you lost your friends twice: once during a church split, and then again when you left. How old were you when the church split took place?
I was eleven when the first church split happened. I was too young to fully grasp what was going on, and could not understand why all my cousins and some of my friends were just taken from my life. It felt like I had experienced the death of most of my friends. It took me quite a while to make really close friends again, but it did happen. My family left the Amish when I was nineteen. Again, I lost pretty much every single friend I had, plus all of my cousins. I realized that day that I was only loved for the clothes I wore, and the religion I professed to believe in. I realized then that nobody except my own family loved me for me. It was my kapp, my dress, the pins in my halsduh (cape) that they loved.
How did this affect your growing up years?
I learned to walk away from relationships at the first sign of danger. And for a long time, I held almost everybody at arm’s length. I had a mindset that I was not worthy of any kind of real relationships until I met my husband, and after ten years of being married, he is convincing me that I am worth it to him.
Did you stay in the same area when you and your family left the community?
Yes, we did, although my parents’ families begged us to move to alleviate their shame. I know it would have been much easier for my parents to move, and it would have even eventually restored their relationships with their families, but they did not back down. And for that, I respect them enormously. It would have been a lot easier on us, too, if they had moved. But I think it would have taught us to give up, and that we do not do. We are not quitters. Not a single one of us.
How did the family still within the Amish church treat you when they saw you?
Sometimes my aunts would cry when they saw us. They would beg my parents to return to the fold. They would turn their backs in stores and quickly hurry away, pretending they had not seen us. They hurt my parents often, and for a while I became quite bitter about it. People said terrible things about my parents and told me they pitied me.
Have you since reconnected with those who have also left the Amish church?
Yes, I have. I have met many sweet ladies who have also walked away from the only way of life they have ever known. Some of them are still known in their communities as “the bad one,” but I see their lovely hearts which long after the Lord, and I wish that the people who loved them before would be able to see them now as they shine with the relief of forgiveness from the terrible burden of sin. My very own husband is one of these. But now when I hear from others, and even his own family of his old sin, I can just laugh with delight and I tell them they do not know the man I know!
Is it bittersweet to recall the times within the community?
It’s very bittersweet. When I start to reminisce, I always end up in tears of sadness that my sweet little girlfriends are not even known to me anymore. I don’t know their children or their husbands. It’s very, very hard sometimes. I still love them intensely. When I was small, I loved with innocent abandon. I will never forget my sweet little girlfriends. Those memories are so sweet. But not being in their life now, is a bitter pill.
What are the aspects of your Amish heritage that you and your family cherish?
The importance of family, and the importance of marriage. My parents have a wonderful marriage, and my mom taught me to honor my husband no matter what. It’s good to have a simple way of life.
What aspects of your heritage are you grateful to leave behind?
I am so grateful to leave behind the belief that one must earn one’s salvation. I am saved. The work is done; my sin has been taken from me as far as the east is from the west. I am free! This is so overwhelming to me and almost incomprehensible. I also do not miss the straight pins, the kapp, the awful belt I had to wear, the gossip, the rites and rituals and so much more. . . .
Is there anything you would like to share with those who may have also gone through the shunning or left the church?
Yes, I sure would. Stand up, ladies and gentlemen, and do not be afraid anymore. Only fear God. Do not fear man. Do not try to please people because people will not be pleased. Not ever. It’s not possible! Only fear the Lord, and He will give you wisdom and you will be used above and beyond what you ever dreamed! My husband and I constantly compare our first inclinations, our first feelings, our first thoughts, with Scripture to see whether they are actually the way it is, or just the way we were taught from little up from a religious point of view. Open your hearts to people. Do not become bitter. Allow yourself to trust and love again. . . .
Thank you so much, my friend, for being here today. I am honored to know you. Beyond that, I have no more words. Just gratitude.
(Image from Breaking Amish)