The Amish Speak
The year 1968 marked the first year of publication of the Amish
magazine Family Life. The Amish editors wanted it "to be an
instrument through which thoughts and ideas can be transmitted."
A new book, The Amish in Their Own Words, is a unique compilation of Amish
writings from the first 25 years of Family Life. Rather than some
outsider writing about them, here the Amish speak for themselves in a book about
the Amish, by the Amish. It comes with our highest recommendation. This
year-long series in Amish Country News consists of excerpts from the
(To read each section of the series individually, click on the following
bookmarks, or read on for the entire seven-part series that follows.)
One: The Plain Way
Five: The Outside World
Two: Choosing a Minister
Six: Amish Parables
Three: Amish Youth
Seven: Husband & Wife
Part One: The Plain Way
We dress differently and our lifestyle is different, but is that the only
difference between the Amish and other churches?
Well, let me tell you a story. Some years ago a group of 52 people chartered
a bus and came to Holmes County to see the Amish. They had arranged to have an
Amishman meet them and answer some of their questions. The first question was,
"What does it mean to be Amish?"
The Amishman thought a bit and then he asked a question of his own. "How
many of you have TV in your homes" Fifty-two hands went up. "Now, how
many of you feel that perhaps you would be better off without TV in your
homes?" Again, fifty-two hands went up. "All right. Now, how many of
you are going to go home and get rid of your TV?" Not one hand went up!
Now that is what it means to be Amish. As a church, if we see or experience
something that is not good for us spiritually, we will discipline ourselves to
do without. The world in general does not know what it is to do without!
(Monroe L. Beachy)
But what about among the plain people? Are we always consistent in our
way of life? Following are a few examples that should be questioned:
- Some who consider it a sin to smoke a white cigarette will smoke a pipe or
- While we will not travel in an airplane, some churches have no
restrictions against hiring a motor home, the most modern and luxurious form of
land travel there is.
- Some who refuse to play ball on Sundays will not hesitate to sit down to a
game of cards instead.
- Some who would not think of having a phone in their homes run to the
neighbor's to use his phone, even for calls that are not necessary and for which
a postcard could easily have been sent.
- We don't own automobiles ourselves, but are sometimes caught in hiring a
taxi to go short distances for which our horse and buggy could be used.
There is no spiritual gain, and we are
inconsistent if we avoid one sin only to replace it with another that is just as
bad or worse. When the world sees us inconsistent in one point, most of our
other good points lose their power and influence, and it soothes their guilt
Perhaps it is time that we plain people examined our position concerning
pictures and photographs. Why do we feel as we do?
It is very common when we plain people are asked why we are opposed to the
use of photographs, that someone will come up with the second of the ten
commandments: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image..."
Does that mean we wouldn't object to having our portrait painted, which often
looks nearly as true-to-life as a photo? Does it mean we shouldn't permit X-rays
to be taken, which are photographs of internal parts of our bodies? And if
pictures of people's faces are wrong, why do we use things with such pictures
every day, on our money and coins, and on our postage stamps?
We believe that posing for photographs is part of the world's misguided
emphasis on glorifying our outward man. The Bible tells us that it is the inner
man that is important. A person's facial features should not affect our opinion
of a person's worth or value.
No, let us not slip gradually into the ways of the world that lead to an
emphasis on pride and personal vanity. For when we are gone, let us be
remembered not by how broad were our noses, the height of our brows, or the
angle of our cheekbones, but by what truly matters --- the lives we have lived
and the examples we have left.
Dust we are, to dust we shall return. Why frame and embellish and hang on the
wall the pictures of this house of clay in which we live? Let us beware lest we
permit Self to be exalted, becoming unto us a graven image.
Will the same trends and influences that have wrecked families and
communities in the world around us also destroy us in time? If we follow the
same route, travel in the same train, we cannot expect to arrive at a different
destination. Trailing fifty years behind the world isn't going to get us where
we want to be. Those who ride in the caboose are in reality going to the same
place as the engineer.
Part Two: Choosing a Minister
Several years ago an Amishman who had just been ordained bishop was
congratulated by his non-Amish neighbor. The Amishman was dumbfounded at what to
answer when congratulated. No one else had ever congratulated him, but many
brethren had wept with him. The burden of his office felt too heavy.
Amish ordinations, whether for deacon, minister, or bishop, are solemn,
serious affairs. Amishmen do not attend a seminary seeking ordination. Nor do
they seek it in a political way. They never ask to be ordained. It is thrust
upon them by lot. This practice of ordaining by lot is based on Acts 1:23-26,
where lots were cast to see who would replace Judas as the twelfth apostle.
Who would it be? The ministers had just come in, and now the old,
white-haired bishop had arisen. He stood before the congregation. "Those
chosen in the lot are..." Slowly, clearly, he read the names.
Six black books, each bound with a rubber band, were lying on the table in
the front of the room. In one book was a slip of paper containing an appropriate
Bible verse. The man who drew that book would be the one chosen by God.
To stand up, go over to the table, and pick up one little book. It seemed
like such an easy thing in itself, but Dan Yoder had never realized how hard it
could be to do such a small thing. He was a fearless man, unafraid to stand up
for his beliefs. But now in this solemn moment, his courage and strength seemed
to have left him.
William Yoder's blue eyes were dark and troubled. Unworthy, unfit,
unprepared. He lowered his head and tears dropped on the small black book in his
Henry Graber's face was very pale. "He is working too hard," the
people said. And yet there was no one more willing to help others when the need
arose. He often left his own work to help his neighbors.
Joseph Mullet looked very young as he drew his book. His brown eyes were
clear and trusting. Joseph's mother tried to swallow the lump in her throat.
Joseph had always been an obedient son. Tenderhearted, quiet-spoken Joseph.
More than one person had the feeling the chosen one would be the bishop's
son, Amos. Now his usual friendly look was replaced by a burdened look. How well
he knew the load his father had to carry!
Mark Miller, his curly, bushy hair looking disorderly, picked up the last
book. Only God knew the thoughts that went through the minds of the six men on
the front bench. Only God knew which man held the book with the slip.
Quietly, carefully, the bishop paged through the books. Now there were only
two men, Henry Graber and Dan Yoder. Which one would it be? The bishop reached
for Henry's book. How quiet the room was! The bishop cleared his throat, and
another silence. "The Lord has chosen Henry Graber."
One of the ministers began speaking. How well he knew the truth of the words
uttered to the solemn, listening congregation. "You can help to make this a
tiresome, heavy burden which God had placed upon our brother today, or you can
help make it a great joy in his life." Which would it be?
Letter to a New Minister:
I would like to write this letter to you while the scene from yesterday
is still fresh in my mind. I am sure all of us will cherish for many days that
experience when you were ordained as a fellow minister in our church district.
We know that you will not always agree with us. You will even discover that
we do not always agree with each other. We try to live above our personalities,
our petty grievances, our human weaknesses, and to work united by a common goal
greater than ourselves---the welfare of the church. Often we fall short, but
always we go back and try harder.
No one knows the weaknesses of other members of the family better than do the
members themselves. But if the family is as it should be, each member still
loves the other. We challenge you to lose yourself in a labor of love. Only then
can you be truly worthy of the calling of which you were called.
There is work to do, challenges to be faced, mountains to be scaled, enemies
to be conquered. God has been good to us all. Welcome.
Part Three: Amish Youth
Oh, our poor, deprived children!
We deprive them of education beyond the eighth grade. We even deprive them of
that greatest of educators, the television set. They are deprived of the
opportunity to attend theaters, exhibitions, circuses, baseball and hockey
Instead of having all of the above advantages, they are expected to feed the
chickens, sweep the floor, and fill the wood box after walking home from school.
They drive a team of horses for loading hay and grain. Truly, they have very
little leisure time.
Instead of all manner of public entertainment, our children find enjoyment in
nature on the farm. Above all, they enjoy learning by doing.
Nor do they seem to be hampered in their studies by their lack of TV
education. After eighth grade, our children are "apprenticed" to their
parents to learn their trade by practical application. Their farming experience
seems to serve them as well as a college degree would.
Being deprived of many of the pleasures of this world is a spiritual
blessing. It seems our children are just as happy as those who are deprived of
(Isaac R. Horst)
A boy turns sixteen and starts going with the young people. He soon sees how
some of the boys seem to be leaders in the "gang," and gets an
ambition to be one of these. So he decides that if he takes a drink (just a
little, he thinks), he too could be funny and the "life of the party."
Or he thinks that if he gets a car and takes the other fellows and girls for a
ride, he will be popular.
In other words, he is seeking the answer to that problem that all people, not
only young people, have---he wants to be accepted and have friends. But the
answer to that problem is so simple that few people will believe it really
works. To have friends you must be one.
That is the answer to our quest for friends---to think more of others than of
ourself. It is shallow and cheap reasoning to think that lasting, deep, durable
friendships can be built by trying to do things to impress others.
The following stories are true. All the names have been changed...
Andy Zook was a young, rebellious boy who lived in a community where
disobedient children were not allowed to stay at home. After a while away from
home, the longing to see the family grew so intense that he finally mustered
enough courage to go home. As he parked the car beside the barn, he saw his
father running with an upraised hammer straight for the car. He immediately put
the car in gear and drove back out the lane. The next we heard of him, he had
enlisted in the army and, sad to say, a few of his younger brothers followed
Eli Miller was another boy much the same. Although he was not
forbidden to stay at home, the sad faces of his father and mother haunted him so
much that he didnít spend much time there. After a few years of rebellious
living, he ended up in jail for drunken driving. There he had lots of time to
think. His jail sentence expired on a Saturday and he was free once again. But
where would he go? There seemed to be only one place to try---home. The sad face
of his mother invited him to stay for supper, much like you would invite some
special company. After supper he was admonished that he should go to church the
next day, and the relieved feeling at being accepted at home made him think he
But when he awoke the next morning, that feeling had left him. He got out of
bed and looked out the window. To his surprise his horse, which he had not
driven for so long, was patiently standing at the hitch rack, all hitched up.
Suddenly the kindness of his parents overwhelmed him. Yes, he would go to
church, even if he had to face the people as a jailbird.
This was the beginning of a new life for Eli. Today Eli is a married man with
( Daniel L. Hershberger)
Part Four: Farming
Our mission in life is not to go to some far-off foreign land, but to work at
home and in our churches and home communities. Our goal should not be to leave
behind riches and possessions, farms and homes for our children, but a priceless
heritage they will cherish enough to work fervently to pass along to their
children. It has been done for generations and with God's help it can still be
The high cost of living, or perhaps it would be more correct to say the cost
of living high, makes it difficult to start farming today and to keep on
farming. As far back as we can go in the history of our people, we find they
were an agricultural people. In the Old Testament the Israelites, too, were an
agricultural people, as can be seen by the many laws and commandments which were
given them, nearly all based on a rural people. To change this now would be
taking a serious step. If we consider what effects it will have on the home and
church, the question is before us, "Do we really want to change it?"
We remember how a few years ago predictions were being made in some circles
that we Amish people won't be able to hold out much longer with our stand
against modern farm machinery. The argument was that very soon all the
"horse-drawn" equipment will be junked or worn out, and then
"What will you do?"
The last while one rarely hears those kinds of gloomy forecasts. One of the
reasons is that we are demonstrating that if something isn't available
commercially, there are Amish shops that can make it. And if the tool that is
needed never did exist, someone will invent and design a tool to do the job.
There seems to be a small "industrial revolution" occurring among the
But with the frightening, almost numbing leap in land prices during the last
ten years, a certain number of people have turned to shops and home businesses
simply because the cost of farming was too high. They may agree that farming is
still the best place for a family if possible but, if not, a business at home is
certainly better than a factory job.
"Why Do We Farm?"
Take a paper, pencil and calculator in hand,
And first punch in the high cost of land.
Add painting, repair bills and taxes, too,
And sky-high interest that always seems due.
Figure in the long hours that we have to work,
At wages that would make a city guy smirk.
But, oh no! Farming is much more than that!
Farming is the smell of the soil being plowed in the spring,
While the north-flying geese let their music ring.
It's the wobbly-legged calf on a dewy summer morn;
It's a good stand of alfalfa, a nice field of corn.
It's the super-sweet smell of freshly stacked hay
That fills the entire barn for many a day.
It's being your own boss from day to day,
Making your mistakes in your own special way.
It's seeing the first corn sprouts pushing through,
Realizing God's promise is still holding true.
( David Z. Esh, Jr.)
Part Five: The Outside World
Freda Bender propped herself up on her elbow and surveyed the hospital
room where she lay in bed. The only other occupant in the room was Mrs. White.
Freda turned her head toward the door as a nurse called in with her baby boy. A
second nurse followed the first with Mrs. Whiteís baby.
The poor little boy! What kind of world would he be taken home to? How could
a boy grow up surrounded by dancing pictures on the TV screen, a world of
smoking and drinking, a world of gadgets and switches? What chance did he have
of growing up and really amounting to something?
Suddenly Freda stopped, seized by a new thought. Was it possible that Mrs.
White was also pitying Fredaís little son? Was she saying to herself,
"Poor little baby! Heís doomed to grow up in that primitive way of life.
All heíll ever have a chance of being is a common farmer, toiling with his
hands, sweating all his life, deprived of so many enjoyment---no car, no TV, no
chance to go to college, no chance that the poor fellow will amount to
There was no doubt that the two babies were born into homes that were
different from each other. Baby White would grow up in a world that put a
premium on good looks, on brains, on money, on recognition, and pleasure. Baby
Bender would grow up in a world that put a premium on character and conscience,
and morals, and serving others in love rather than trying to get on top.
I suppose weíve all been guilty of being more zealous than thoughtful.
Thereís an old story that I understand is true which illustrates what Iím
trying to say, and it proves that no matter how right or how righteous we may
be, if we use faulty thinking to support our position, weíre not going to be
very convincing. This is the way I remember hearing it...
An Amish man was walking along the road toward town. A car came along, slowed
down, and stopped. "Want a ride into town?"
The car was soon on its way again. The driver was a stranger to the Amish,
and he was curious. Between puffs of the cigarette he was smoking, he began
asking questions. He held the pack to the man seated beside him.
"Here, want a smoke?" he offered.
"I donít believe in smoking," the Amish man answered. Then he
laughed a little self-consciously and continued. "You see, I figure God
didnít intend that man should smoke. If he had, he would have built him a
The driver didnít say anything for a moment. Then he braked the car and
brought it to a stop.
"Iím sorry sir," he said. "You can get out here. I suppose
if God had intended that man should drive, he would have put him on
Thereís a deep principle here. We must be careful to base our faith on the
Word of God and not on human reasoning.
Is the latest craze to adore the Amish, to idolize the plain people? There is
no doubt about it. The plain people are in the news today and in public favor to
an extent which they probably never were before. The Amish turn up in movies and
television shows. Book after book is written. Stories and pictures fill
newspapers and magazines. Tourists flock to our communities by the millions. How
should we respond to all this favorable publicity? How should we feel about it?
We should be concerned to lead lives consistent with what we profess.
But how many people in the world have looked to the Plain people for an example
of Christian living and have been disappointed? How many people have been
surprised that in some communities young people do use drugs? How often has our
testimony to the world been ruined by our inconsistencies, our empty formalism,
our hypocrisy, our self-righteousness, and our spiritual coldness?
We need to be careful to give all honor to whom it belongs. The world
is desperate for something to satisfy its hunger, some answer to its search for
meaning in life, wanting something external to base faith upon, something to see
and touch and handle. While they focus upon our beards and buggies and bonnets,
they miss entirely what our faith is all about.
Part Six: Amish Parables
"The Greedy Heifer"
One evening when I was helping my husband do the chores, I decided to
feed the heifers so that he would be done with his work sooner. After I had fed
them all and they were eating contentedly, I walked past them with another
shovel full to feed the dry cows. As I walked past, a young heifer tried to
snatch a mouthful off the shovel, ignoring all the feed she had before herself.
"You silly, greedy heifer," I couldn't help but think. It was
disgusting, really. She had all the feed in front of her that she could possibly
eat, and yet she was trying to snatch away some of the other cows'.
But later on, after thinking it over, I had to wonder how often we are in the
eyes of God like that greedy heifer. Blessed with plenty to eat, warm houses,
good homes, family and friends, and all the material things we will ever be able
to use and more, and yet we look about and lament when we see others who appear
to have more than we do.
Are we in the habit of counting our many blessings and appreciating all we
have, or are we often wishing for and wanting what others have?
It was getting dry. The lettuce, celery, and cabbage seedlings we had
transplanted needed to be watered in order to survive. Each morning I took the
sprinkling can, filled it with water, and carried it to the garden. Each day I
wished for rain, not only to be relieved of carrying water, but because the rest
of the garden was suffering, too.
Then one morning the sky was overcast. We waited hopefully. Then the rain
fell. Not only was the whole garden being watered, but the yard, the pasture
fields, the corn fields, the trees. Acres and acres of crops for miles around
would revive and yield better because of this rain.
"Just think how small and meager my little sprinkling can is compared to
a shower like this."
My friend thought a moment, then said, "But your sprinkling can kept the
plants alive until this shower came. They would have died if you hadn't watered
Her statement, so simply stated, became a sermon that stuck in my mind long
after we had both returned to our work. The more I thought about it, the more I
realized that there were other "sprinkling cans" in our life.
The help we give our fellow men and neighbors is small when we compare it
with what God does for us. And yet the smallness of things we can do for each
other does not give us the right to sit back and do nothing. Even though our
"sprinkling cans" seem hopelessly small, our concerns and prayers and
admonishments and good example must not cease as long as there is still hope.
Oh, for more sprinkling cans --- small vessels of love and peace, of goodwill
and patience and hope!
Last winter the ground was covered with a very heavy snowfall. One day a
man visited our farm to inquire about buying logs from our woods. He walked to
the woods, which are situated on a hill several fields away from the farm
buildings. Later that evening I pointed out the footprints to the children, and
we admired the way they wound their way up the hill and disappeared into the
Several weeks later it got warmer, and gradually the snow melted from the
fields. One day as I glanced toward the woods, there on the bare hillside were
the footprints again, white and plain on the green and brown earth. The packed
snow had not melted as fast as the rest, and we had a perfect set of footprints
winding up the hill.
Each thought, action, and deed we do is a footprint. As they wind in and out
through life, there are others about us who may look at them and notice the
pattern they make.
Even after our life on earth is past, our footprints may remain. Perhaps the
path we trod is one our children choose to follow. Or maybe it influenced a
neighbor who was looking for a guide to chart his course.
Where are our footprints leading?
Part Seven: Husband & Wife
There are three reasons why a wedding is one of the most unique of the
services held in our churches today. For one thing, it is the most joyous. The
second reason is that a wedding is such a serious event, where a lifetime
commitment is being made. The third reason is that it is such a sacred event
because it is a representation of the spiritual union between Christ and His
bride, the church.
In Lancaster County, it is customary for the Amish wedding season to begin
after the fall communion and continue until Christmas. The young married couples
then spend the rest of the winter visiting. Uncles and aunts get an overnight
visit. It is their way of starting out on the journey of life together.
I am thankful that in our churches the marriage vows are taken very
seriously, and are considered a lifetime commitment. If we listen carefully to
the words of the marriage ceremony and to the vows which are exchanged, we find
it inconceivable that any provision can be made for divorce and remarriage. I do
not believe our churches could have survived and maintained their separation
from the world over the centuries were it not that we have taken the marriage
vows so seriously and literally. We believe reconciliation is the key word to
solving marital problems. As long as remarriage remains an option,
reconciliation does not get a fair trial.
Before we were married we discovered we both loved pizza, so we decided we
had a lot in common. (Of course, we didn't base our marriage on that.) Now,
after 14 years and six children, there have been times I have wondered, "Do
we have anything in common besides that?"
How I tried to reform my husband, the poor soul! I remember well the time he
told me, "How would you like to be like I am?"
"Impossible," I answered.
He then explained to me that this is what I am trying to do to him, trying to
make him like I am, and he said that's impossible, too. I began to realize we
can complement each other. In many areas we compromise. It is very essential to
give in to each other, but it is not necessary to lose one's individual
Even if we are extremely opposite, it seems we have exactly what the other
needs to make a well-rounded union of two personalities combined in one.
The happiness of the husband and wife determines the kind of home the
children will be born into. No one is born a good marriage partner. He must pay
the price of being one. The happiest marriages are those in which people do what
they can to make each other happy, instead of using each other to make
themselves happy. Marriage partners must remember that everyone has faults and
needs forgiveness. Therefore, it takes the force of true love to blend two
different personalities into one happy union. Love, if it is to grow, must be
nurtured. It must not be taken for granted, even after marriage.
Some families are just so many individuals with the same last name, living in
the same house. They seem to lead separate lives, go their own ways, each
independent of the other. If you ask one about where another member of the
family is, he rarely knows. Apparently, they don't know where the rest of the
family is, or what they are doing. Each is busy living his own life. They lack
the essential elements of a joyful family life --- love, togetherness, loyalty,
sharing. They are missing out on one of the greatest challenges on this earth
--- building a meaningful family relationship where work, possessions, and even
feelings can be shared in love and trust.
Cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow,
For babies grow up, we've learned to our sorrow;
So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep,
I'm rocking my baby, and babies don't keep!
Excerpts from The Amish In Their
Own Words and Edwin B. Wallace's illustrations are used by kind permission
from Herald Press, Scottdale, PA. Copyright 1999. ISBN 0-8361-9123-4
The Amish in Their Own
Words is available in the Lancaster area at several locations, including
the Amish Experience and Plain & Fancy Farm, or through Provident Bookstores
by phone at 1-800-759-4447 or via e-mail. Purchase
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