What I Learned from the Amish

My husband and I visited Shipshewanna, Indiana, to experience an Amish community. From the quilt square garden to the decorations in local restaurants, the Amish culture permeated the area. We woke up to the clip-clopping of a horse’s hooves drawing buggies into town so folks could run their morning errands. Shipshewanna is a town with two lanes for automobiles and two lanes for buggies and bicycles. 

The pace of life is much slower than Houston, and its traffic jams on the freeway. The thirty mile an hour speed limit is strictly enforced with $1000 fines for speeding or reckless driving. The calmer pace of life and the cooler weather were a respite for us from our life in Houston with its frantic pace and hot, humid weather. 

What they Value

Our trip included a visit to the Menno-Hof Museum, a buggy ride to have dinner in an Amish home, a baking class, and visits to a leatherworking shop and a camel dairy farm.  

The Amish are known for their family values. They have large families. The children are involved in working the farm and contributing to the family business from the time they are elementary school age. In the home where we ate dinner, the children served our meal. There were two groups of about forty people visiting that night. Children and teenagers managed the tables well, bringing second servings and making sure everyone had dessert.  

The owners of the leatherworks and the camel dairy farm had worked in the nearby mobile home manufacturing plant. We asked why they started their business and they replied, “I wanted to leave something for my children.” The owner of the leather works had an eight-year-old son. His son is already trained to cut out belts. His parents cut out purses and wallets. It is a family affair.  

Commitment to their Faith

From about the ages of eighteen to twenty, young adult Amish are given permission to go out into the world and experience all the world has to offer—drinking, drugs, parties, movies, television, and everything they can not experience in an Amish community. According to our tour guide, over ninety percent of the young adults return to the community. 

A high percentage of those who do not return usually join the Mennonites. Mennonites have the same faith history and basic beliefs but do live in the world with electricity and cars. Their family lifestyles raise up young adults who embrace the faith even if they reject the lifestyle.

Living Counter-Culturally

A film at the Menno-Hof Museum explained things well, and I was challenged by the choices of the Amish:

  • The world is shaped by fashion; the Amish are shaped by modesty.

  • The world is linked by grids and wires; the Amish live without electricity.

  • The world is shaped by the automobile with speed and status; the Amish reject both.

  • The Amish value community over communication, so they live without a telephone in their homes.

  • The world values power and might; the Amish value humility.

The video pointed out that their central belief is “to follow Christ.” They do not believe the Bible teaches they should live without cars or telephones or electricity. But they choose to give up these things to enable to them to better follow Christ. 

Living Out their Beliefs

Visiting the community reminded me of the news in 2006 when a young man entered a one-room Amish schoolhouse and shot eight girls. Five girls died, and three more were injured. After, the young man then took his own life. 

The world watched in amazement as the Amish community not only ministered to their own families who had sustained great loss but also ministered to the widow and parents of the assassin. The news media showed a picture of the long line of buggies traveling to the funeral of the young man.  

When I see interviews on television now, everyone wants justice. Sometimes, what they really want is revenge. However, the Amish community's response was an example of perfect forgiveness.

What About Us?

Americans are very angry right now. We see increasing violence in schools, on highways, in homes, and even in churches. When we do not forgive, anger at the one who wronged us seethes deep inside. But Jesus tells us about forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-22:

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

I need to remember this example and Jesus’ words when someone cuts me off on the freeway or a sales clerk is rude. These petty day-to-day interactions do not begin to compare to forgiving a mass murderer and ministering to his family. 

We enjoyed our time in Shipshewanna. We enjoyed the calm, cool days and we especially enjoyed the pies! Amish women can surely bake. But when I watched the families interact, I saw respectful children who took on responsibility early and parents who knew apprenticeship raises competent leaders. They stay in the faith and the community. 

The Amish make choices that help them to follow Christ. By separating themselves from the world, they remove temptations and distractions. Maybe, I could separate myself from some of the tempting electronic devices that distract me from a deeper walk with Christ. 

I wanted to experience the Amish culture as an extension of my sabbatical five years ago. The Amish have lived a counter-cultural life maintaining their faith, families, and lifestyle. They are an amazing example of living in the world without succumbing to temptations the world offers. Christians are not persecuted in America, but harassment increases. The Christian culture that defined America is waning. There are lessons here on how to be Christ followers when it is not culturally acceptable. 

Sally Hinzie is a Church Consultant who has worked at UBA for many years. Her primary areas of ministry focus include church planting, bible storying training, organic church, and ministry implementation.