"Free" Book for Helping
"Brenda, how can I help ex-Amish adjust?"
I'm asked about the needs of ex-Amish or ways to help them adjust to life on the outside. Some people think ex-Amish are like anyone else yet nothing is farther from the truth. Most people have few clues to the myriad and primal needs of these precious young adults.
In my experience, there are one of three reasons an Amish person leaves; to escape the rigid, oppressive rules; to explore religious freedom and a faith-based life; or simply to shed the Amish life and belong to the non-Amish life. I could go into detail and share stories about each of these three reasons but, that's another post. To keep it focused, I'll answer the question of helping.
Since I live with, love, and assist Swartzentruber and strict Old Order, my answers apply to these groups.
1) Recognize they grew up speaking Deutsch, therefore they're ESL or EOSL - an educator's term for
English as a Second Language or English for Speakers of Other Languages. There are many of our words they don't understand, weren't introduced to, nor comprehend. When talking to ex-Amish, watch for subtle facial cues that they don't understand a word, then explain or define it. You don't need to "dumb down" your language but do bear in mind and respect that they need some comprehension help and typically won't ask you to explain.
I was sitting at the ICU bedside of a young lad who'd left his PA Amish community. He'd been in a horrific car accident and the surgical staff was explaining to him the surgery plan. I could tell he was bewildered with their words. How can he make an educated decision about his body and medical care when he doesn't understand what they're saying? I thought. So I mentioned that he was ESL and asked the surgeons to explain in "layman's" words. They accommodated and the lad was enabled to understand and ask questions about his surgical care. Love looks out for the needs of others.
I've found that common words - mayhem, astronaut, summary - are unfamiliar to many ex-Amish. Respecting their dignity and need to learn, be empathetic, alert, and explain words.
2) Offer to help the ex-Amish obtain a birth certificate and/or a social security number. The ones I know left without a birth certificate . . . to our government they were nonexistent. Since most Amish do home-births, parents may forgo filing a birth certificate. This was the case of Josh (see his interview in a previous post). In these cases, the ex-Amish person must go to the county seat and pay for a new - or copy of existing - birth certificate.
This may be an arduous and time-consuming process. A Swartzentruber Amish man phoned me once asking if I could help his wife get her birth certificate. It seems she was born at home, in another state, and her mother never filed a birth certificate. The gal was now married and living in Ohio without any legal documentation. We had to contact her birth state, gather affidavits from the Amish relatives present at the birth - who'd be willing to sign an affidavit - and wait. If you've ever waded through legal paperwork you can appreciate the needed patience and diligence.
Likewise, applying for a social security number is a prerequisite for employment. It is illegal to employ anyone who doesn't have a social security number. Even if you want to serve ex-Amish, you do them no favor if you model breaking our laws.
3) Ask if he/she needs clothing or housing. Most of the ones I know left with two immediate goals: cut their hair and go to Walmart for English clothes. But, as you know, clothing isn't a one-time purchase; most will need a growing wardrobe. Since their clothing was always dictated and they had no freedom of choice, they may not know what they like or dislike. I found this true with 18-year-old Marvin when I bought a shirt for him. He was grateful but wasn't sure if he liked it or not. The bold colors and patterns were unfamiliar and counter-cultural. No offense was taken, it was just another move up the learning curve. Days later, Marvin told me he liked the shirt I gave him because two other teens said they liked it. I guess he needed some validation to his tastes.
4) Encourage them to earn a GED. I've repeatedly shared with Harvey, Mosie, Josh, and others, "I love you for who you are!" However, in our world, formal education is valued plus a GED testifies to self-discipline toward goal achievement. A GED will empower ex-Amish with confidence and new opportunities. The uphill struggle to earn this certification is exhausting due to limited education. Although they completed Amish school at 8th grade, they never had homework and Amish teachers rarely have any credentials beyond 8th grade. In our GED programs, high school courses are taught to these ESL students with barely a middle-school education. Starting to see their struggle?
For those who aspire to go on to college, the Amish Descendant Scholarship Fund, a non-profit program, provides financial assistance. You can help ex-Amish by donating to this worthy scholarship fund.
5) Live graciously and give unconditional love. “A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge,” observed Thomas Carlyle. Unconditional love is messy; it falls outside black/white lines, is defined differently by each person, demands spiritual stamina, maturity, grit, and at times awkwardness. Besides that, it can drain you!
I know one man who intentionally attaches onto ex-Amish, beats 'em over the head with Bible verses to save 'em, pressures baptism, and church membership even before the Holy Spirit has opportunity to prepare their heart. Swartzentruber Amish grow up in a work-equals-worthy environment; they conform to this man's pressure because they believe obedience to him is synonymous with salvation. Live graciously and love unconditionally. Let the Holy Spirit do His job.
PERMISSION GRANTED (BakerBooks) by Margot Starbuck to one helpful individual. Endorsed by pastors, professors, and authors, PERMISSION GRANTED is filled with humor, honesty, and grace. Dr. Tony Campolo says this book offers "...a host of wonderful stories..." I found the book so provocative, so daring that I had to lay it down after each chapter and let the message sink in.
To enter for your chance to win this new book, leave a comment below telling me if you tweeted about this blog or shared it on Facebook. You'll earn two entries for both a tweet and a Facebook post (give a link to your tweet or post & your contact info). I'll randomly select & notify the winner on April 30.
(c)Copyright 2013, Brenda Nixon.