What? Why? How? An ex-Amish Interview

Amish Jonas (Josh)
English Josh
I interviewed 25-year-old Josh, asking the questions some of you might ask him. Josh is a valued part of our Nixon family; legally he’s my son-in-law’s cousin so we are related by marriage but, Josh has moved into our hearts; emotionally he belongs to us.

  What was the best part of growing up Amish?
"For me, the best part was sitting around the table to eat with family; Amish seem to value family. They all help each other such as barn raisings (nobody gets paid). Amish make a lot of their own things like food, clothes, and furniture. They work hard. Kids are taught to work for a living, no sitting around playing video games while expecting someone else to pay the bills."

  What do you feel was a challenge to being Amish?
"The worst part of growing up Amish was trying to follow all the rules, which is nearly impossible
as there are so many. Multiple rules nobody understands but, we're taught not to ask why, just obey. For example, we had to wear black boots with 6" thick heels, if the heel was 6 1/2" we had to cut it down to meet the 6" rule. Our clothes had to be dark and we had to cut our hair by the rules. Anything outside of their rules is sin. [Tweet that]

Not all Amish are the same; there are different rules in different Orders. Where I'm from, we were not allowed to ride in a car except for medical emergencies. Everything had to be done the hard and slow way; convenience is worldly. Going 15 miles to visit cousins on a Sunday was a 2-hour drive, and if it was 10 degrees I’d freeze my nose before I got there. Clopping 10 - 20 MPH in a horse-drawn buggy with no windshield, made the wind bite my face. Sometimes we would put hot water in a plastic jug and put it under the covers to help stay warm.

In our house we had two wood stoves; one for cooking and one for heat. Both were downstairs and we slept upstairs. Our rooms had registers where some heat would get up but it'd still get really cold during the night until I got the covers warm with my body heat. In the summer it was hot and stifling with no air conditioning allowed. I remember many nights trying to sleep with open windows to stay cool.

Another thing, they're too tied up in the Amish religion; you can do only what is tradition and allowed by the Church. If one wants to be a truck driver, doctor, firefighter, serve in the military, or play football that is prohibited, and not possible without leaving."

  Josh, why did you leave?

"Too many rules. And I think if there are easier ways to do things then it’s not sin to try them. At age 14, I dreamed of driving a 4-door Dodge with a flatbed. I know that’s getting down to it but I share because three years after I left, I was driving a 4-door Dodge with a flatbed pulling a trailer! I drove to Montana, FL, NC, NY, and other states in between and around Ohio where I live. Then I decided to drive a dump truck. I got a new job to do that and love it.

I still want to move up to drive semi someday. I also dream of being a cop or a counselor since God got me out of a bad addiction and habits. He set me free so I decided to live for Him and do what he wants me to do. I feel that may be counseling, as my passion is to help people live a free, healthy, joyful life."

    How did you leave? 

"I had a buddy who had left earlier so I called him (I had to secretly use the neighbor’s phone). He lined up a job and home for me on the outside. I waited three weeks till details worked out; we arranged for him to pick me up one Saturday night and go to his house. The first thing was to cut off my required long hair, take a shower, and get in English clothes. I had $140.00 with me, enough to get started. My friends let me live with them for free and gave me food until I started my job. They drove me around until I got my drivers’ license. I was blessed with good friends. It took time but, I worked my way up and six years later, I’m still learning."

Do YOU have a burning question for Josh? Feel free to leave your comment or question below so we can extinguish your curiosity.  ~Brenda

(C)Copyright, 2013, Brenda Nixon.
11/7/14 Update - Thanks for reading. What's 3,905? The number of reads on this post. Josh is still in our heart and lives. Since this post, he found a job driving a semi truck OTR and is engaged to Sarah - another former Amish we helped.
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  1. Tell Josh I hope all his dreams come true - I remember leaving home at 16 with a few bucks in my pocket. It's scary, but so worth it! You know so many young Amish who have left the community. I'll be coming to you for potential scholarship applicants this summer. We've been promised a nice donation to the fund, so we should be able to give a substantial scholarship.

  2. Thanks Emma for your comment! Yes, I can think of at least one who, today, told me she earned her GED & now wants to go to college.
    Dear Readers, what Emma is talking about is an educational program she founded, Amish Descendant Scholarship Fund http://www.amishscholarship.com/index.html. Amish complete school at 8th grade. Those who leave may want to continue learning. First, they must earn their GED, then if they want to attend college they can turn to ADSF, a non-profit program. Ex-Amish do not have the emotional or financial support of their parents so your contribution to this worthy cause will support their continuing education efforts.

  3. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this!

  4. Your writings have been very interesting. It is a culture that really has not been looked into at all. The books that are out there are fiction. I have read them and have enjoyed some of them. I learned some about their culture, but what I found most interesting is their lack of a personal relationship with God. It is even forbidden.

    As a Christian, I always thought the Amish were also Christians who believed as I did. They just had these strict rules for daily living. Reading the books even though they are fiction let me see how obedience to the manmade rules, set by the sect bishop, takes all precedent over a personal relationship with God. They are not allowed to have their own Bible to read.

    I also find it interesting that all this is done in a culture of secrecy. It is like a secretive cult. Getting to the real truth is something that is needed.

  5. Leaving the Amish life isn't easy,but once you see that the Amish life with all their rules is like leaving Egypt,and now you keep on going towards the Promised Land,the land of Milk and Honey,and that's not just the natural milk,or natural honey,but the Fruit of the Spirit.That's the Fruit that you never get tired of,Love,Joy,Peace, etc

    1. very encouraging brother, Thanks

  6. We love Josh too. He's got a great sense of humor. Always makes us laugh.

    (Cousin in law)

  7. Anonymous of February 13, thanks for reading & leaving a comment! In most of the Amish Orders, obeying/living by the rules (Ordnung) is the way to earn God's favor. Sadly, the God they hear about in Gma (see an earlier post here) is one of wrath and vengeance rather than God of grace and forgiveness.
    They are allowed to have a Bible but, it's written in German, the least understood language of this culture. An English-language Bible is discouraged. I remember visiting an ex-Amish guy, Marvin, in the hospital and giving him an English-language Bible. He later told me that when his Amish parents visited him, they expressed disapproval that I'd given him the Bible. Another young ex-Amish, Uriah, told me that he accepted God's free gift of salvation while still Amish. He sent away to a radio evangelist for a Bible and materials. When his Amish father found the English Bible that Uriah received, the father burned it. Uriah eventually left the Amish so he could practice a faith-based life.

    John Lehman, thank YOU for reading/leaving a comment. You're right, leaving the Amish life is a brutal decision to most; some have an easier time of it because their family still maintains a relationship although they disapprove of the person's decision to leave. I can think of 3 ex-Amish, off hand, who have a relationship with their Amish parents. Again, depending upon the order, the severity of rules and disapproval vary. Higher orders such as Beachy and one in Florida seem more lenient towards those who leave.

    Lynsey, you're right about Josh. He has a quick wit.

  8. Josh, serve the Lord with gladness!!!!!!! tell the other guys we said hello. Call my new # 419 545 3802 Pastor Dave & Neva

  9. from Sally Elam
    Sally writes ~

    "Hi Josh,
    Thank you and Brenda for making this blog possible. We are all a product of our experiences. You learned from your good ones to use your time wisely and for useful purposes (not frittering it away). You also figured out a way to change what you could to improve your situation. Everyone has to do both of those in their own special ways. Kudos to you for what you have accomplished so far and good luck and best wishes for continuing to chart a meaningful and satisfying path ahead."

  10. As I said I'd like to drive semi someday, as of today 04/25/13 I've been driving 2 weeks now and like it more then I though I would, all I can say is God has been good to me, I've been blessed in so many ways, still I have my bad days & rough times but that's live, Now my next goal? Get married but first find a girl lol, I know there's a beautiful one out there, it's all in Gods timing, so lone Josh

  11. As far as you know does the tradition of shunning drive people out of the Amish or keep them there? I know its a form of punishment but it's worse than being in a maximum security prison because even they are allowed contact with their families

    1. I don't know if your question is for me (Brenda) or Josh but, I'll answer it. Being shunned - put in the bann - is a reason many think about leaving. I asked Monroe, who just left the Swartzentruber Order, and he said when you're shunned you can't eat at the same table with others, fellow Amish cannot purchase goods from you, you're basically ignored & cease to exist. Monroe said, "I think it drives 'em away more than keeps 'em in."
      Hope that answers your question & thanks for asking.

  12. interesting blog Brenda ...brings back memories ..and like Josh said not all groups are the same...we left in 2001..married with 4 children..it some ways it was easier for us..we had each other..these young kids that leave are often alone..an don't know where or how to get a start ...our parents shun us to ..haven't seen nor heard from my parents since we left...even when our daughter was hit head on by a drunk driver an almost lost her life..they never called nor came to the hospital..but they would ask others for updates on her...it hurts but..but it is what it is..its not easy but its also not impossible...those who are free are free indeed...thanks a lot for your blog be checking back more often...Martha..:)

  13. Thanks for sharing Martha! I can kinda understand about not having family show interest because I've a sister who never called nor came to the hospital when I had a serious, life-threatening surgery & 6-month recovery. No card, interest, nada. Like you say, "it is what it is."
    You were brave and have overcome so much Martha and I'm glad we've become acquainted.

  14. Josh's story is most interesting. What a blessing that he has embraced a relationship with the Lord and that he has such a heart for helping others. Since I'm so late in reading this blog, I'm wondering if he still thinks of counseling as a possibility.
    Every time I read your blogs I am just amazed at the work you and your husband are doing. God bless you both!

    1. Well, right now he's driving OTR during the week. He still needs to earn his GED, and then it'd be college training so it's anyone's guess if he still thinks of counseling. He is in a new relationship with another ex-Amish gal so between driving and his girlfriend, he's preoccupied. Thanks for asking.

  15. When breaking into the 21st Century lifestyle, where did Josh find himself shopping, any particular stores? What products he gravitated towards, etc. This is for a marketing project. Any advice would be greatly appreciated

    1. Hi Sean and thanks for reading. Josh, like the other young men, go for western shirts, jeans, and cowboy boots. They listen to country music. Because they grew up frugal and because they have little money when they first leave, most of their shopping is at thrift stores and Walmart. Since all their Amish clothing was homemade, they don't know what size to try on at the stores. At first, it's a hunt & try experience until they find what fits.

    2. Brenda, I couldn't have said it better, Josh

  16. Wow, Brenda. I just read this interview with Josh. So, so fascinating. I love the Amish folk, but their "religion" appears to be just that - religion. Where is their joy and freedom in serving Christ? They are so tied to their long list of rules that it holds them in bondage.

    My question for Josh (or you) would be what is his relationship with his family like today? Do his parents welcome him home when he comes to visit, or are they shunning him? Do they believe he is bound for hell now that he's left the community? I don't understand this "shunning" thing. It is so lacking in compassion and forgiveness. Where is the love? In a true Christian society we hate the sin, not the sinner.

    1. Thanks my sister author for reading/leaving a comment & question. I'll answer to my best knowledge & see if I can get Josh (who is still much in our lives) to answer you, too.
      First, you're learning! Most of the Amish orders - esp Swartzentruber & Old - teach a rules-based salvation to the exclusion of faith in God's gift of salvation. For the most part, Shar, they have no joy & freedom in serving Christ because they're too busy following all the rules in hopes of gaining God's favor.
      Josh's relationship with his family is improving. At first his dad wouldn't have anything to do with him, and then it was an argumentative confrontation. Once Josh's dad (who is a bishop!) a letter promising Josh money if he'd return to the Amish. But now, I think they talk and are civil to one another. Josh has made the initiative to maintain relationship with his parents.
      The Amish have some Biblical scriptures from which they base their shunning practice. I'm learning that one cannot (should not) be shunned by the church/settlement unless one has joined and then left Amish. However, some families will shun a "wayward" child even if the church hasn't shunned.
      When a person is shunned, church members are not allowed to eat at the same table with the errant person nor take a tool - or anything - from the hand of the errant person. No talking. No attention.

  17. Wow, so interesting -- and so harsh!

    Thanks for answering my question, Brenda.


  18. I have a question for Josh: Do you practice any organized religion now that you've left the Amish faith? If so, which one?

  19. Yes I'm a Christian I believe the bible is truth, God is the creator of all thing and Jesus died for all of my sins, and I know life itself with him is much better with him then without. Josh

  20. First of all, Happy Birthday Josh and second, Brenda, I do read all of your blogs and enjoy every one of them even though I may not comment on them. You shed so much light on the life of the Amish....during and after leaving! I love to hear it from the "horse's mouth" so to speak. You are being the hands and feet of Jesus and these guys and girls are so blessed to have you in their lives!!!

  21. Happy birthday, Josh! It sounds like you are definitely finding your way with God's help. I pray He continues to direct you and guide you. I hope your relationship with your family is continuing to improve, that they see you truly haven't forgotten God or thrown away your faith--that your faith is just that--faith--and not works. :)

  22. Dear Josh and Brenda,

    I study Industrial Design at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, and I'm writing an article about the Amish culture for the magazine of our faculty's study association (http://unid.lucid.cc). The article will be focusing on the way the Amish control their technological development, instead of being enslaved by it like Western society increasingly is. We have the idea that we can learn a lot from the thoughtful way every new invention is being evaluated and, when not in line with the community goals, rejected in the Amish society.

    After doing quite some research on the internet and learning a lot about the Amish way of living (thank you very much for this blog, Brenda), I still have quite some questions.

    It's not easy to find information about how the decision whether a new technology will or will not be allowed is made. I read that changes to the Ordnung are discussed in church meetings, but are new inventions also tested on small scale first to see what their influence on the community is? And does everybody more or less have a possibility to express his/her opinion? Could you perhaps tell me about an example from your experience?

    From your story I understand that even though you really appreciate the emphasis on family life and community feeling, you prefer an individualistic society above the collectivist way of living of the Amish. Do a lot of Amish people long for personal freedom, or were you an exception? Does the community feel as a healthy place where people are happy?

    Do you have the idea that you can decide well for yourself what part of modern technology you should and shouldn't use in order to live happily and in a right way? Are there for instance electronic devices whose influence on your life isn't positive? Do you still feel like having control over your technology?

    I'm sorry that it's such a long list of questions, but I just find the subject really intriguing and I haven't had the opportunity to speak to someone with experience in this culture until now. A reply would greatly help me with my article and would be useful to everybody at our faculty, as we are designing technological products and services to help solve societal problems.

    Thanks a lot in advance!

    Kind regards,

    Stef Arends

    1. Josh may answer these questions differently but for me....
      "changes to the Ordnung are discussed in church meetings," Church meetings happen twice a year. However the Bishop, preachers, and deacon might discuss new rules for the Ordnung anytime.

      "does everybody more or less have a possibility to express his/her opinion?" No.

      "Do a lot of Amish people long for personal freedom, or were you an exception?" Josh was among many who were strong & brave enough to leave.
      "Does the community feel as a healthy place where people are happy?"
      Depends upon the order and the particular settlement.

      The Ordnung tells the Amish settlement which technology they should and shouldn't use. Again this varies from order to order.

      The other questions are probably better answered by Josh. Thanks for reading and come back again.