Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Amish Country

I doubt if there is anyone reading this who does NOT know about the Amish. The thing is, is what we know about them true?

The Amish and the Plain People of Lancaster County PA tell us this:

The farmlands of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country are among the most productive in the nation. But many of the farmers here are different from most Americans; different by choice. For these are the Old Order Amish and Mennonites, also known as the "Plain People".

Our Amish neighbors have been employing horse-drawn power since the days when horsepower had a whole different meaning! In comparison to our fast-paced society, the simpler, family-centered Amish way of life holds a special fascination.

These people trace their heritage back hundreds of years, and yet, despite all the time that has passed and the many changes that have taken place in society, they still live and work much as their forefathers did. Their families and their farms are their top priorities, second only to God.

The Amish are very devout in their faith. They believe in the literal interpretation and application of Scripture as the Word of God. They take seriously the Biblical commands to separate themselves from the things of the world. They believe worldliness can keep them from being close to God, and can introduce influences that could be destructive to their communities and to their way of life.

Today there are over 25 different Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren church groups in Lancaster County, all holding to slightly different traditions and their own interpretations of the Bible. The more traditional groups are called 'old order'. They do not permit electricity or telephones in their homes. By restricting access to television, radio, and telephones, the Amish are better able to keep the modern world from intruding into their home life.

The Amish have long preferred farming as a way of life. They feel their lifestyle and their families can best be maintained in a rural environment.While they do not permit the use of tractors in their fields, these old order Amish groups do use modern farm equipment pulled by teams of horses or mules.

These old order groups do not own or operate automobiles, believing that cars would provide easier access to the ways of the world. You will often see their horses and buggies on our local roads.

These traditional groups wear plain clothing styles, which has earned them the name "Plain People". It is the simple, peaceful lifestyle of these plain people that attracts such a curiosity today. Many wonder how these people can survive in their supposedly backward ways. Well, they're not only surviving - they're thriving. Since 1960, the Amish population in Lancaster County has almost tripled.

Their separation from the rest of society actually helps to strengthen their community. Amish children attend Amish one-room schoolhouses through the eighth grade. Amish worship services are held every other week in one of the member's homes. Socializing is an important part of Amish life.

The Amish have a strong sense of community spirit, and often come to the aid of those in need. Their barn raisings are a good example. Neighbors freely give of their time and their skills to help one another.

The Amish are generally private people and often find all the attention and curiosity about their lifestyle disturbing. They believe that the taking of photographs where someone is recognizable is forbidden by the Biblical prohibition against making any 'graven image'. Please respect their desire for privacy when visiting here.

With our society's current interest in restoring 'family values', much can be learned from studying the Amish way of life. Their devotion to family and community and their strong work ethic are good examples for our larger society.

Here's an Amish grandmother:

My original intent of this posting was to tell about our experiences in the various Amish communities in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana.

Amish boys:

Baling hay:

Sunday services:

Working the fields:

The first we knew about was the community of Plain City, here in Ohio. I doubt if many people would officially call it an “Amish Community”, though there are some Amish there, as well as at least two large Mennonite Churches.

An Amish Community in Ohio is in Holmes County, in the northern part of the state. The various communities include Walnut Creek; Millersburg; Sugar Creek; and Charm; et al.

Jean and I, for several years, drove to Holmes County at least once a year. We tried to get there at different times of the year, to observe the various different farm activities of the Amish.

We especially liked to watch the buggies; horse drawn implements; and “plain clothes” children. In the fall, wheat shocks were prevalent - which have almost completely disappeared in our “English” culture, as they call us.

We sometimes went on a Sunday afternoon, and driving out in the country, we ran across several church meetings with horses and buggies parked all around. Seemed like the meetings - including Sunday dinner - must have lasted all day.

In any visit to a Mennonite or Amish community, it would be almost a sin to miss eating in one of the local restaurants. The food is always outstanding, and plentiful.

We visited Lancaster County, PA a few times, and we took the same driving tour around that country, as in Holmes County, OH.

Now, last spring, just a few weeks before I moved from John and Tonya’s home back to Springfield, I experienced another Amish community called Shipshewana, IN. It’s in the north-north central area of Indiana, and is Pure Amish!

I went there, because friends from our Chicago days of 50 years ago, had re-located from Chicago to this community. When we knew them in Chicago, they were also Mennonite - though not Amish.

Here’s how I “ran onto” them:

In Indiana, I attended an Evangelical Free Church that had as its members, a few of my former friends from Moody Bible Institute. On two or three occasions (it was a LARGE church), I ran across some of them.

One Sunday, I asked one of the men with whom I met on Wednesday nights for a Bible Class, if he knew Jim Wick - whom John had told me attended there.

He said, “Sure………”then pointing to the back of the church, “There he is right there, about to leave the Sanctuary.”

I turned around and looked, and sure enough, there was Jim Wick - several years older than when I knew him (me also), but I recognized him. I “sneaked” up behind him and said “James Wick?”

He turned around right away and said, “Mike Maddex, as I live and breathe” (I think that’s what he said). “What are you doing here?”

Me: “I’ve been attending here since last July. Why haven’t I seen you?”

He introduced me to his wife, as well as his daughter, who promptly told me that she had assisted in our granddaughter’s delivery of her firstborn.

Good meeting.

Two weeks later, Jim showed up at John and Tonya’s house (where Jean and I had lived over the last year), and said, “I have a story to tell you.”

Jim is a Field Representative of Moody Bible Institute. His area to cover is, I think, Northern Indiana and Southern Michigan. He said that a week ago he had visited a couple that he had the names of, but hadn’t met yet.

After discussing Moody Bible Institute with them for awhile, the lady of the house said to him:

“Do you know Myron Maddex?” (Mike wasn’t used much when we knew them).

Jim said to her: “Do I KNOW him? I just saw him in Church last Sunday!”

What Jim came to our house for was to tell me that story, as well as give me their telephone number; e-mail address; and home address, in Shipshewana IN.

These folks were Charles and Joyce Unruh, whose parents had been our Landlords in Chicago in 1954. She was then a teenager, and had NOW been married almost 50 years.

Charles and Joyce:

Of course, I called first, then e-mailed them, to renew old friendships. They asked me to please come to visit them.

Discussing this with John, I found out that Shipshewana was at least 80 miles from their town, and driving there was a task. And, snow had not completely left our “shores” yet, either.

One morning 10 days or so before I was to move back to Ohio, I was driving home from the Library at about ten o‘clock, looked up at the sky and the weather, and called John to see if he thought it would be prudent for me to drive right now to Shipshewana in the Ford Voyager they let me drive all the time.

John saw no reason to object, so, sitting in their second car in a park right near their house, I called Shipshewana to see if it would be convenient. Joyce said, “Come on! We’ll wait lunch for you, if need be!”

I took off right away, using Interstate 80 almost the whole way. In an hour and a half, I pulled into their driveway in Shipshewana.

Though I had met Charles before they were married, I would not have recognized him on the street. When I saw Joyce, I KNEW her right away.

I spent the next about 4 hours with them, and had the most joyous experience one could want. After gabbing and catching up on the families of each of us for awhile, as well as trading and taking pictures, they said “Let’s go get an Amish lunch”.

If there ever was a typical Amish restaurant anywhere, this one “took the cake”. I THINK I ordered swiss steak and mashed potatoes, but talking so much, I did leave a good bit on the plate.

After lunch, they gave me a tour of Shipshewana, and surrounding county.

The village itself, though retaining much of the Amish flavor Jean and I saw several years before, has modernized in many ways.

Out in the country was different!

I saw two or three Amish schools, with only bicycles “hitched up” outside; mothers and children riding bicycles home from the store, with one on his own bike, and a little sister bundled up behind her mother on her bicycle. All the houses were plain, with very few curtains and no blinds.

The farms and barnyards were immaculate. Everybody was friendly. I don’t know - it may have been because they recognized Charles and Joyce - though they were dressed just like me.

I saw some Amish churches, along with Mennonite Churches (one of them was theirs).

Going back to their house, we still talked - and since Joyce had baked a peach pie, we ate that with ice cream.

I almost hated to leave - except, of course, I have family in Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Michigan and even cousins in Connecticut.

The drive home was uneventful, and I arrived in Tonya’s kitchen from their garage, JUST as she was “laying out” supper. (Oh..dinner.)

I brought home with me some pictures of Joyce’s sister and her family, as well as of her brother - whom John used to play with, some fifty years ago.

Jim’s mother-in-law, Charlotte, has lent me some Amish books written by Beverly Lewis, that I’m just now getting into.

Whew! I didn’t know I had this much to say about the Amish Country!

Did I ever mention that I’m a “gabber”?

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