A former Amish woman who left the Order when she was married and in her 30s has graciously allowed me to interview her about the Amish experience. Once she began questioning the 'faith', her troubles began inside this closed society. All these words belong entirely to 'Deborah' and because of her current contacts with the Amish, she must remain anonymous. As all Amish do, she refers to non-Amish people as "English."
Q: How do the Amish regard those who live outside their culture?
Deborah: Many have a facade they wear when they are around the English. While most desire to have the respect of the English, they aren't always sure what is required of them to earn that respect. As an example, "please" and "thank you" are seldom used in their interaction with each other, while American society recognizes such things as basic etiquette.
In their interactions with the English, most will also be very guarded and never completely trust anyone that's not Amish. Because of this, it is almost impossible to actually get to know who they really are as a people, especially on an individual basis.
Within the Amish there are various degrees of admirable traits and dysfunction in family relationships, just as there are in all societies. Some children are taught more respect for the outsiders, or English, than others. Most have a respect for people in general and even an admiration for people in professions such as doctors, nurses and law enforcement.
Some do not care how the rest of the world views them and they can be very rude and overbearing to outsiders. These are the ones who would be obnoxious in any society.
Q: There's a lot of attention on the Amish culture in mainstream media. Are these realistic or misconceptions?
Deborah: Some (Amish) feel they deserve admiration and special treatment just because they are Amish and live the Amish lifestyle. I believe that attitude has been strengthened by the unrealistic romanticizing of their way of life in recent years. For example, most of the books that have been written, especially the Christian romance books, bear no resemblance to reality.
The tour groups that visit Amish communities are presented with an almost idyllic life style and given no hint to the complexities and hardships of living in a closed society without many modern conveniences.
The TV shows portraying "rumspringa", supposedly a time that Amish teens are given to experience the things of the world to make the decision if they want to remain Amish or not, are a farce. Every Amish teenager knows full well they are expected to stay in the order after they are finished 'sowing some wild oats.'
Q: What are some aspects from your upbringing that you've kept in your life?
Deborah: The Amish way of life does have some good things that I have hung on to. Things like learning how to sew, growing and preserving my own food and the ability to survive off the land should I have to do so.
All these things with freedom in Christ are a blessing to me but my allegiance is to my Lord Jesus.
Q: Shortly after leaving the Amish, what was your experience like?
Deborah: When I first came out of the Amish order, I was very hurt by things that were said and done to me and wanted nothing to do with anyone in the Order ever again. I felt anger and anxiety and a range of other ungodly emotions for a long time.
For me, the 'coming out' was a relatively slow process and involved trying to find a place to belong among other ex-Amish who had formed a church. They were very cruel and still carried a lot of the self righteous baggage they had grown up with. They called me "Jezebel" and kicked me out of their midst for speaking up about things that weren't my "place" to voice.
We moved out of state for five years to escape some of the on-going conflict. Because of the separation, the Lord ministered healing for some of the pain of rejection and I started to really miss the people I loved. Amish family relationships are very close-knit and friendships within the community are usually from school age to death.
Q: Do you have any contact with family members still inside the Order today?
Deborah: When I began to realize how much I missed the people I loved, I began to try and re-establish some of the friendships in various ways, but my efforts failed, for the most part. I then needed the Lord to deliver me completely from soul ties to these people, their way of life and their belief system. The power to hurt me with their disapproval and rejection needed to be broken and cut off.
I still feel twinges of pain at times but the ability to cause those debilitating wounds that would incapacitate me for days, has been broken completely. I no longer have a relationship (or practice) with any other Amish Order or belief system. I have been separated from that way of life. However, my relationships with various family members that are still in the order, cover a broad spectrum.
I have some family members whom I hardly ever see, some by their choice and some because of circumstances, since I am seldom present or invited to community events.
On the other hand, I have a sibling within the Order who is born again and filled with the Spirit and we are very close, encouraging each other in the Lord continuously. She will most likely never leave the Order because of other circumstances in her life.
As for past friendships with non-family members within the order, they are totally gone.
Q: How hard is it to have family members still inside the old Order and you living outside of it?
Deborah: The Lord God is so good and His tender mercies endure forever! Recently, while in prayer and waiting before the Lord, I was thinking about how I love these people but I no longer have a desire to be with them. As I was contemplating this fact, the Holy Spirit brought a scripture to my remembrance. As I read this scripture I heard the soft whisper of the Holy Spirit in my heart.
My heart rejoiced because I will always love them but I no longer identify with the Amish and I no longer feel ex-Amish. I now identify with Christ. I am in Him and He is in me.
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