April 2009 Issue
Understanding the Amish
From informative books to lesser-known tours, these steps will help youget the most out of your next trip to Amish Country.
I've always lived on the edge of Amish Country. My first paying job, in the 1950s, was picking berries at area farms, where many of the workers were Amish children about my age. We picked side by side for the entire season. The Amish kids spoke German, but I did not. So there wasn’t much conversation.
Still, I was consumed with curiosity: “How could they bear to wear those old-timey clothes?” “How did they survive without TV?” “Had they even heard of Elvis?”
I was too shy to ask. So, naturally, I assumed the worst. In my ignorance, I thought they were being unfairly punished somehow — for something they hadn’t done, and couldn’t control.
I know better now. To the Amish, obedience is a joy, not a burden. And conformity — in dress and deportment — is a comfort. Amish children grow up in a society where individualism is discouraged, for the good of the community as a whole. One of the first prayers they learn is this: “I must be a Christian child, gentle, patient, meek and mild ... I must cheerfully obey, giving up my will and way ... ”
And, to reinforce that message of selflessness and submission, there’s a saying, often posted on the blackboard in Amish schools: “J-O-Y — Jesus is first; You are last and Others are in between.”
The Amish rules — about what they wear and how they get around — make more sense when you realize that every decision is made with this one thought in mind: “Not what I want, but what’s best for the group.”
When I was 10, I thought the Amish were weird. Then I began to learn more about what makes them tick. As my knowledge increased, so did my admiration. So I suggest this five-part, quick-study course. I promise it will broaden your understanding — and maybe open your heart.
Step Three - Find a Local Tour Guide
Step Four - Stay with an Amish Family