Amish Questions & Answers

"Are you anti-Amish?"
    He wasn't trying to be rude; he was confused and curious. My answer, "No. How can I be anti when I'm helping?" I neither romanticize nor criticize the Amish.
    My heart goes out to those who run - jump the fence - and need outstretched arms to catch them and soften the landing. So far I've helped Swartzentruber & Old Order Amish runaways with food, a temporary place to stay, English clothes, acquiring their birth certificate, limited dental care or transportation, GED encouragement and info, unconditional love, a home for the holidays, etc. A few church friends teasingly refers to me as the Harriott Tubman of the Amish Underground Railroad. That I'm not trying to be.

    I'm learning a ton about the Amish from relationships with those who've "been there, done that." Often facts are stranger than fiction! "He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow" (Ecclesiastes 1:18), applies here; the more I learn about their way of life, the more compassion I have for Amish, and the more I understand why some leave.

Questions. I repeatedly hear the same ones. Thought you'd like to see my answer and get more info:

"How'd you get involved in this?"
    I didn't look for it. I never had a strong opinion about the Amish. God threw these precious souls across my path.
    It started when my two daughters were attending a Wesleyan church where several "Ex-Men" attended. We met 'em and one thing led to another. One of the "Ex-Men" was Mosie, whom we "adopted" as our son. Through him I met Levi and Josh. I still remember blond, bashful Henry who returned to his Amish family. Then our daughter married wonderful Harvey, who was raised in and left the Swartzentruber Order. Along the way, there's been Noah, "little Joe," Marvin, Uria, Uriah, Andy, Dan, and Rudy. Menno left but his dad sent the sheriff to force his return. Presently, I'm involved with Sarah and Monroe; I'll post more about this brother/sister duo in coming weeks.

   My Mom-heart goes out to 'em; maybe I can share resources or give a listening ear. Wouldn't you help if someone from another culture was lost in ours and needed assistance?

"Are they on Rumspringa?"
    Nope. The Swartzentruber and Old Orders do not offer Rumspringa - the year of running around. Therefore, they must stay Amish or leave to face the consequences.

"How do they know to contact you for help?"
    The Amish network is like the LA freeway system; word quickly spreads, news travels fast, people find out. There are many kind hearted, generous people around our country helping Amish who leave to live in a world they've been warned to avoid. 

 "Amish sit on the porch and enjoy life, don't they?"
    Ha, that's a romanticized myth. They work from sun-up to sun-down . . . and beyond. They believe life isn't supposed to be convenient nor easy. Hard work and the sweat of the brow is one of their means of righteousness. If something is easy or convenient, it's usually a sin.
    Harvey's English neighbors, when he was growing up, told me they often saw 11-year-old Harvey in a wagon driving a team of horses or plowing fields well into the night. The Amish life is anything but simple.

 Being a teacher, I wonder if the Amish allow English to visit the school.
    You can always ask. I know non-Amish who've visited an Amish school or its Christmas program. Perhaps the teacher may like to meet and show you the one-room school. Reception will vary from settlement to settlement and among the Orders.
    Being an educator myself, I found four facts amazing: (1) Amish teachers have no advanced training nor are they certified; they're Amish who want to teach for the income. Occasionally, non-Amish (English) are teachers; I know of one and she has fascinating stories; (2) Amish complete schooling at 8th grade, after which they go to work on the family farm, in a family business, or elsewhere; perhaps for an English farmer; (3) Classroom discipline is entirely up to the teacher, who may practice corporal punishment; and (4) Students are called scholars.

Religious beliefs? Doctrines?
    Their beliefs are based on The Bible (the King James version), which is translated into an oral Ordnung (the settlement's rules). For most Amish - there are many orders - their doctrine is: rules make righteous. Following the Ordnung rules, obeying parents, and being Amish will earn them God's favor and a place in heaven . . . hopefully. Most Amish orders believe nobody can know for sure if they're saved.

"Don't they speak German?"
    Only in church (gma). Then it's High German. Their conversational, every-day language is Deutch or Dutch but, the etiology is German. Amish language is an oral language meaning parents pass it orally to their children. When Monroe - the lad living with us now - speaks in his Amish language I think it sounds pretty. It's an interesting, almost slurred speech of some recognizable English words.
     If you're curious about the Amish language, Speaking Amish, is a new self-published book penned by an Ex-Amish. Also, on Facebook you can join the PA Dutch Dialect open group.

"Why do they quit school at 8th grade?"
    It's a complex answer but, to put it in a nutshell . . . To Amish, formal education is schooling that supports their way of life, i.e., math, reading, learning German, and writing.
    Advanced or abstract subjects, i.e., sciences, American history, and politics, are topics they neither value nor see as necessary to their way of life. Remember, this culture is compact and practical; it doesn’t celebrate individualism or individual achievement. I plan to write a fascinating post about the one-room school and what goes on inside.

Do you have a question about my work with ex-Amish? How about one about the Amish? Feel free to leave it below in the comments section.

See ya next week.  ~ Brenda

 (c)Copyright 2013, Brenda Nixon.


  1. I really appreciate your blog posts, Brenda. So, so interesting and informative.

  2. I'm really interested in the Amish language, since my mother tongue is German I can understand quite a bit if I really concentrate. For me it sounds like an extreme variant of Swabian German although I don't really know if Pennsylvania Dutch origins in this German dialect.

    1. Thanks for your comments. The Amish language is an oral one, meaning it's passed down from generation to generation. There are few written resources, however I've found one that may help you. It's a book called Speaking Amish http://www.speakingamish.com/buy-speaking-amish. True Amish is a combination of German & Dutch, with dialects depending on states. I think the Amish themselves call their language Deutsch or simply Amish.

    2. I just stayed awake watching "Amish Shunned" and was very saddened by their stories. Although I did not grow up Amish, I did grow up in a strict religious home in the Midwest. I ran away when I was 17 and then returned and sought custody of my sister and brother as our father was an extremely abusive man. I am now a licensed foster mother and have also adopted a special needs child. I have the heart to help these children. How can I find out where and how? I would like to open my home as well. -Diane
      I can be emailed at dcarre_34@yahoo.com

    3. You are courageous Diane.
      First, thanks for opening your heart & home to foster children and your adopted special needs child.
      Second, thanks for providing your email. I'd suggest if you want to help these former Amish that you (1) read several of my past posts about helping these people. They are a different culture with different needs and mindset; (2) alert area churches and businesses that you are open to helping former-Amish; (3) get involved in an ex-Amish Facebook group so you can learn specifics of the culture and let out the word of your willingness to help.
      Once you help a former-Amish assimilate - or even provide housing for a short time - word gets out. We often think of Amish as closed and without phones, but honey, they can talk - and they have a fast-moving network. So word will quickly spread that you are an English who helps.

  3. Thanks for your response. I will read as much as possible about the culture. I so feel for these young children in the strict Amish families who can not be who they want to be or get an education. Thanks for all you do for them as well. I will find a facebook page to connect with as well. Thanks again. :)diane