Expectations often differ from reality. My thoughts run wild imagining a life with no electricity, cell phones, or automobiles. When I hear the term Amish, I conjure a picture of pioneer days with log homes and rustic homesteads. I imagine life is an everyday reenactment of days gone by, but much to my surprise, my Amish ideas are far from reality.
As we drive the country route from Philadelphia to Denver, PA, the landscapes amaze me. Fields of crops such as corn, soybean, and alfalfa separate the rolling hills into picturesque views. Immaculate homesteads, complete with barn and silo, set the stage for the avid farming commerce of this lush state.
Anticipation builds as we pass farm, garden, and buggy. I’m eager to learn more about this set apart community. The towering multi-level homes, complete with stonework, shutters, and gorgeous, blooming flower beds, surpass any vision I had for the Amish country.
You can easily spot the Amish homes because there are no electric wires attached to the houses. Most have buggies parked tidily in the drive or the barn. Full size horses, tiny horses, donkeys, mules, cows, sheep, goats, and pigs pepper the pasture land, and beautiful personal gardens accompany each plot. On occasion you see a woman adorned in her full length dress, apron, and bonnet mowing the lawn or tending the garden. You might pass men and boys with teams of horses working the fields. There are gasoline powered combines to cut the corn and shoot it into the adjacent wagon, yet no motor for the vehicle itself, only actual horsepower.
You learn that although the homes have no electricity, they do use propane and solar panels to light, heat, cool, and operate household devices. Each home does have running water; and, although they must hang their clothes out to dry, the clothes line runs directly into the house using a pulley system. Quite impressive indeed.
Out by the road you find a small building which serves as the phone booth. Amish are allowed use of a phone for business and medical reasons. Only, it cannot be inside the home. Some even use cell phones that can be recharged using solar panels. This practice differs from district to district.
About 25 families make up a district. These families attend a private Amish school and worship together. Amish families are large, and their homes not only must house the immediate family but have a space for around 150 people to gather for church service. Most families only host church services once a year due taking turns. A usual service consists of two hymns, one 30 minute sermon, one 90 minute sermon, and a light lunch. There are storage buggies located in each district that house the benches needed to accommodate the services. Drawn by horse, these extended length buggies arrive at the host home a couple of days early, so the family has time to set up. The Amish have been worshiping in homes for hundreds of years due to the persecution of their faith. Fear of radical prejudices kept them from building church buildings.
One bishop is in charge of two districts, so they can only meet every other week to accommodate the availability of the preacher. Services are spoken in German. All Amish speak three languages: Pennsylvania Dutch, German, and English. However, Amish children only receive an education for first through eighth grades.
On the off-church Sundays, the families spend the day “frolicking”. They play games, visit with friends, and fellowship with the community. No work is done on Sunday. You will see people out on leisurely buggy rides, playing volleyball, riding scooters (for bicycles are not allowed), and spending time with neighbors.
Many of the practices seem contrary to one another, but the elders greatly consider all the effects of their decisions upon the individual family lifestyle. For example, the use of electricity might lead to television which would rob them of their family time. In many ways it’s a hard life working the farm, but the balance comes with the simplicity of family time.
When an Amish teen turns 16, they enter a season called Rumspringa, in which they are allowed certain worldly experiences. They must choose to be baptized into the Amish faith or not. Contrary to popular believe, they are not shunned because of their decision. The teens remain in their household, and if they leave, they are welcome to visit their family. Amazingly, there is an 85 to 90% rate of people who decide to be baptized and live the Amish lifestyle. Many give back cars, cell phones, and other “English” practices to return to the Amish way of life. Once baptized, however, if you decide to leave the Amish way, then you are not allowed back in and that is when you are shunned.
“… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
Experiencing a taste of the Amish ways has taught me not to judge. They are a happy, resilient, and faithful people. I hope they trust Jesus and call Him Lord. There are some ways I envy the Amish, and I pray they follow Christ whole heartedly as they live by their convictions.
“But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”
“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.”
Whatever you choose to give up for Christ’s sake is not done in vain.