July 13, 2020

Wilma’s Story

Shopping Day, Photo by David Cornwell

Shopping Day, Photo by David Cornwell

Note from CM: Earlier this year, I gained a new co-worker, a bright and personable hospice nurse named Wilma. When she told me her story and I read her book, I knew right away I wanted her to share it with our Internet Monk community. Wilma grew up in an Amish community. To many looking from the outside, that world seems like an oasis of peace and tranquility in the midst of our fast-paced, chaotic rat race. But she experienced life differently there, and was constantly exposed to anger, rejection, cruelty and abuse. She only discovered the grace and love of Jesus after leaving that world. Now she shares that kindness with our patients, their families, and our team. I’m pleased to have Wilma share her story here today.

• • •

Does loneliness kill a person? Maybe not physically, but it can crush your spirit and break your soul to the point where you feel that life has been drained from you. It can take away any motivation to live, resulting in a struggle to survive, instead of a desire to thrive.

This is how my life was for many years. Now at 42, there are times where I find myself slipping back into that pain. Today this happens when I feel deeply rejected or disrespected. It takes me back to the same feelings of worthlessness.

Most of my life I felt that I was one of those old vending machines you see at the rest areas. You put your money in and your item doesn’t quite fall out, so you have to give it a good bang on its side and it makes that hollow metal sound. Eventually your item may fall out.

Many times in my life it felt like my family and others didn’t like what I had to offer or I didn’t offer it fast enough, so they would verbally hit me like an old vending machine. I felt they were saying, good grief, what is wrong with you girl?

This was the attitude I received from my family ever since I can remember. I grew up in an Amish family of four children. We lived in the country and worked hard with our hands. There was very little free time. We were busy with: gardening, canning, freezing, sewing, baking and cooking.

When I did have free time I rode my bike or ran around the four mile section. Life was always better after a four mile run. I now realize it was the Lord’s way of helping me deal with my life.

My dad was an angry man who would threaten to kill himself and everyone in our house, except for me. I was the baby and I soon learned how to stay out of his way. He was very upset when mom was pregnant with me and abused her verbally and physically during her pregnancy with me. In my mom’s words she said, ” I cried all the time when I was pregnant with you and dad would yell at me and I would tell him please don’t yell at me I can’t handle it.”

I was told that as an infant I cried a lot and my dad would yell and tell the family to take me in the bedroom and shut me up. I was abused by other family members and told my mom and she did nothing. It was all she could do to survive and she had no energy left to give anything to me.

I grew up feeling a deep sense of loneliness and wondering what was wrong with me? My family seemed to look down their nose in disgust when I spoke or even entered the room. The attitude was, Oh it’s her again or oh it’s “Just” her….

I moved out at a ripe old age of 17 and made a life for myself. Through counseling and even abuse through counseling, I  survived.

I had an encounter with the Lord Jesus in 1996 and have never been the same since. I was 22 years old and although the road has been hard to recover from my past. I have to say it was all worth it. When rejection happens to me today, I do remember the old feelings and it helps me to stay humble and remember where I came from.

I am now a Hospice RN and love my job as I live out my purpose being Jesus’s hands and feet. I wrote my book to give hope to those who have suffered from childhood trauma.

I know this has become a cliché, but it’s true: “With the Lord all things are possible.” Truth can prevail in your heart and the chains/lies can be broken.

• Willie J

• • •

Wilma blogs at Dancing on the Dumpster, writing each day about the “pearls” she finds in the midst of life’s poop.

Here’s a link to her book of the same name, which shares her story in more detail: Dancing On The Dumpster: Beauty From Ashes.

I recommend it.


  1. Wilma, thanks for letting CM share your story, and CM, thanks for doing so.

    Wilma, I will be reading your blog and book. Where I live, there is a very large Amish community as well as many very conservative Mennonites. There is a lot of abuse, and a large number of mental health problems, within both groups, but I am guessing that that is just the tip of the iceberg. A friend who grew up Mennonite in Indiana recalls seeing more than a few women coming to church with livid bruises on their faces. It seems that the less engaged people are with the rest of society, the more room there is for such evils.

    I only wish I had some answers. Am so glad you’re out and living a good life. Am equally sure that patients and their families see the love of Christ in you.

    • Do the Amish and Mennonites you know seem…happy? Like honestly, really, truly happy?

      • Wow Stuart, what kind of question is that?

        And while we’ve got the broad brush out, how about we also ask…
        Do the Millennials you know seem…happy? Like honestly, really, truly happy?
        Do the Catholics you know seem…happy? Like honestly, really, truly happy?
        Do the Muslims you know seem…happy? Like honestly, really, truly happy?
        Do the Elderly you know seem…happy? Like honestly, really, truly happy?
        Do the Women you know seem…happy? Like honestly, really, truly happy?
        Do the Blacks you know seem…happy? Like honestly, really, truly happy?
        Do the Asians you know seem…happy? Like honestly, really, truly happy?
        Do the Undocumented you know seem…happy? Like honestly, really, truly happy?

        How ridiculous does that sound to you?

      • Stuart, I don’t understand why you wrote this. But it seems unkind, given the subject matter the OP talks about. It really isn’t sadly, uncommon in these communities.

        Neither is animal cruelty, and it’s more than just puppy mills. The Amish have an extremely utilitarian view of animals, and some of the horses I’ve seen between buggy shafts around here would be better off if they were euthanized. One looked like it was literally on the verge of collapse – and starvation. They tend to buy horses that were failures at either flat or sulky racing, and many of them are already in bad health.

        This *isn’t* to say that ALL Amish and conservative Mennonite people live like this, but I do know for a fact that their emphasis on gender differences and patriarchy makes it hell for many girls and adult women. I’ve had Amish men scoff at me for claiming to know anything at all about what they see as “men only” subjects, and they treat their own wives and daughters much worse when it comes to this.

        • My state is the puppy mill capital of the US. The puppy mills are run by Amish people. See That Other Jean’s post below.

    • There is a large Amish population in my area, too. People who don’t live around Amish almost always react with surprise when I tell them about the alcohol consumption, spousal abuse, genetic problems, etc. that are common among the sect. There are many, many birth defects. People do believe that the community is like that portrayed in Amish Christian fiction. It is not. I see them in the grocery store and Walmart loading up on Mountain Dew and Hamburger Helper and twinkies. The women frequently look tired, the children most likely won’t look you in the eye.
      A former co-worker of mine spent years as an OB assistant in a local hospital and said the staff had to come up with stories of infections, fevers, etc. to keep the husbands from coming into the hospital rooms of their wives for a conjugal visit, generally within 24 hours after she gave birth.
      There is also a large Mennonite contingent in the area with a huge church (one of the largest in the nation) 20 or so miles from me. They control the town and, as I have heard from a number of acquaintances, if you aren’t Mennonite in the town, your prospects in life there will be limited because of it. It’s almost a caste system. Rumor has it that they fired their pastor a few years ago because his adult daughter came out as gay.

      Do the Amish & Mennonites seem happy? Not particularly that I see, but it is difficult to tell, especially the Amish, because they keep to themselves. They don’t know anything else. As their population keeps growing, though, and their economic prospects dwindle, their encounters with the “English” are becoming harder to avoid. It’ll be interesting to see how things change in the future.

      And, as for Colin Kaepenick not standing for the National Anthem, perhaps he is Amish. They won’t do so either. Nor will they swear an oath in court or anywhere else, which is part of why they won’t hold public office. They’d have to be sworn in and they will not do so.

      • Exactly. Same here, though I’m not certain as to whether there are any towns here that are controlled by Old Order Mennonites. Villages are another story altogether, though…

    • Thanks Numo, It’s sad to see people get beaten down. It’s a slow fade and one day you wake up and realize you’ve been created to be a certain way and you have no idea who YOU really are. I searched and searched until I found out who I was and what I wanted, not what my family wanted. I was so tired of others telling me who I was and what I felt…how did they know how I felt? Funny they told me what I felt and I use to think they must know something I didn’t..not true. I stopped believing them.

      • Wilma, thanks to you for your kind comment. While I have not had the same experiences of abuse that you have, let’s just say that I think anyone who has been verbally snd emotionally abused (whether by people in a religious group, or family members, or peers who bully in school, or co-workers -whatever) can easily understand a lot of the things – generally speaking – that you have done and have to continue to do to become more and more healthy and whole. Because whatever the circumstances, those of us who have left those people and places behind are having to do the same kinds of things in our own minds, hearts and behavior.

        I have been reading your blog and am encouraged by the way you kerp going! Please keep us posted, and again, I am sure you are bringing not only your oen compassion, but that of Christ, to the hospice patients you work with.

        May you continue to find grace, mercy, healing and freedom in your life. (Btw, your post about speeding cracked me up – if I’d been raised Amish, i think I’d want to press down on that pedal and *fly*! It seems like a totally normal reaction to having gotten out from a highly restrictive environment to me. Am a fellow lead foot, so… 😉 )

  2. Wilma I am so glad you shared, are sharing, your story. if only more people knew. When I lived in Ohio I was an activisit & rescuer to save dogs from the A. puppy mills in Holmes co. Every time I hear someone talk about the peaceful community or go there to spend a wknd and money on their tourism & crafts, I still cringe…but proceed to show them the pictures of the dogs in the hopes of educating them about the reality. Bless you in your mission.

    • That Other Jean says

      I’m with you on this one, having been lucky enough to own a breeder dog from a puppy mill in Pennsylvania. She was ten years old when we got her, nearly blind, ran away when she heard the clink of her food dish on the floor, o matter how hungry she was–because her previous owners had used food to lure her close enough to grab–had no experience with household sounds or stairs, and was pretty much terrified of everything she encountered. It took eighteen months for her to work up the courage to accept a treat from my hand and a gentle ear scritch, but she did it. Bravest little dog I ever met. By the time of her death from congestive heart failure four years later, she kept the household in order from her favorite spot–a dog bed that got the morning sun–fussing at us to get up at the crack of dawn and feed her, and grumbling her displeasure if we hadn’t started to bed by 10 pm. I will miss her for the rest of my life, but I don’t have much respect for the society that created her and too many others like her.

  3. Yikes! Tough stuff to grow up in. Thanks for sharing your testimony.

  4. When I read this story, I cringed, not from the story, which seems believable enough, but from the expectation that it would unleash a storm of broad-brush Amish bashing in the comments. So far, my expectations, based on past comments, is off to a roaring start. I don’t doubt that the Amish, like every other denomination and religion, can provide examples of hurtful low-level spiritual consciousness. I don’t doubt that this may be more prevalent in some areas than others. My own experience with my Amish neighbors is limited, but in general they are highly respected here and I sense many happy children being raised in love. I’m sure this varies from family to family, as it does with us all, and there is a difference between living a disciplined life out of principle and outright abuse, which is a human failing across the board.

    Please won’t someone who actually knows Amish people personally as friends and neighbors, and has some positive, happy stories to tell, tell them here? Today’s post is starting off my day with a fight against depression, not from the story itself, but from the unqualified bashing that spews out to cover all plain people everywhere. Most of all I would like to hear an affirmation from Wilma herself that somewhere she knows of Amish who do not fit this dark picture and would be equally upset with it as the rest of us. Perhaps, like some of the survivors of Evangelical abuse here, she isn’t ready to see any good in people doing their best with limited resources of understanding, which would include me.

    • –> ” I cringed…from the expectation that it would unleash a storm of broad-brush Amish bashing in the comments. So far, my expectations, based on past comments, is off to a roaring start.”

      Only four comments so far, only two of which are of the type you feared. Hardly a “roaring start.” Ease off the pedal, Charles. It’ll be okay.

      • ..>> Only four comments so far, only two of which are of the type you feared.

        Like the glass half full or empty, we seem to have a different view of 50%. I can handle abusive comments better when they’re down in the 10% range. Perhaps I need to check the width of my own brush, but the only negative comments I have heard here against the Amish came from so called Christians.

        • And by negative comments heard “here”, I intended to mean where I live and should have made that plain, if you’ll pardon the pun, or whatever that was.

        • Are they negative comments against Amish, or against fundamentalist/abusive attitudes and views that many Amish have?

          I’m sure there are many good Amish people. Just like many good fundygelicals.

          Doesn’t make the fundamentalism or abusive or whatever around them any better.

          …and Charles, why do you anticipate this? Could you share some of your own positive experiences with the Amish?

          • Stuart, the negative comments were against the Amish period as they might be against Muslims or Catholics. I’ve only heard two locally in the two plus years since I moved here, and that’s tiny. My experience with Amish in personal face-to-face interaction is limited to business transactions, and personal greetings or waving on passing. I have found them to be anywhere from polite to personable, which is how I find most of the people up here in general. One of my personal plusses for an area to move to is if Amish are also living there and moving in. Like most people, they are not likely to settle where people are narrow-minded and bigoted and antagonistic. I personally have only experienced one negative, bigoted response to me since moving here, and that was from the local Methodist pastor, but not the congregation.

            My anticipation of the bashing here at iMonk was based on past episodes of fervent unqualified Amish bashing in these pages. It’s ugly in my eyes. What kind of Christian sense does it make to read an account of deplorable child abuse, and then turn around and heap deplorable abuse on the entire world-wide group in which it happened? Jesus did heap abuse from time to time, but he saved it for individual self-righteous religious finger-pointers. It’s hard not to drift into that group. If anyone reading this shows up to protest the Amish family moving in a few weeks ago two places away from me, you’ll find me standing in the driveway or on the porch between you and them. I have a defense against all this that the Amish do not have unless they come to visit me. I’ve put on Amy Grant and cranked her up. She has suffered deplorable abuse from the so called Christian community herself and I like her a lot.

          • Charles, you don’t get why I posted as I did, or why others did as well. You could start by actually looking into the topic of child abuse (physical, sexual, emotional), abuse of women, partriarchal attitudes, etc. among the Amish as well as conservative Mennonites. I know a man who left the Church of the Brethren (related denomination) partly due to the way they treat women and girls. (C of B women in garb like Amish garb used to be a common sight around here, though not anymore. All of the Mennonites and C of B people I’ve known seemed very kind, but am sure there was a lot going on behind the scenes that I didn’t know about.)

            Also, how is posting what my Mennonite friend said about obvious domestic abuse among IN Mennonites “bashing” anyone? There are many things about her background that she loves, but that is definitely not one of them.

            By NO means am I saying that *all* Amish or Mennonites are like this. But sadly, many are.

          • Stuart – thanks for the clarification. But I guess it isn’t getting through to Charles. I meant no slam against those who live good lives and treat others well.

            However, as I know from personal experience in some weird “Christian” groups, abuse can flourish (and usually does) in closed communities. So I’m just trying to back up what Wilma said about what she has been through. I think she’s a very brave woman, and I’m glad she’s out of what was, for her, hell on earth.

            Charles, reading Wilma’s blog will clarify some of this as well. It is a familiar story, unfortunately.

        • >> By NO means am I saying that *all* Amish or Mennonites are like this.

          But numo, when you make accusations without qualifying them, that is exactly what you are doing. You have qualified them in your subsequent remarks well enough, but it needs doing in your initial remarks to avoid blanket smearing of decent, well-adjusted groups and individuals who don’t deserve it. I have no doubt that Wilma and you and others have personal experience of abuse and dysfunction. It isn’t an Amish trait, it’s a human trait. Not every Amish man is a wife-beater and child-abuser and puppy-mill owner. Some are but so are some Baptists and Methodists and Episcopalians and Catholics and Assembly of God and on and on and on. There are good people in this world, numo, in all walks of life just as there are clunkers. There are even good Evangelicals if truth be known. All I ask is for people to use a wide enough lens to keep some perspective on the total picture like historians are supposed to do. Otherwise it becomes mind control and manipulation such as the mass media practices. A little qualification goes a long way.and marks you as a fair-minded person.

          • Did you see Wilma’s reply to me above?

            I’m not going to convince you, clearly, so let’s please just end this. OK?

    • I don’t really know how to respond to this. Amish bashing? When a large percentage of people have overwhelmingly negative encounters and responses to a community, it’s hard for someone to pipe up and say “but it wasn’t all bad”. It’s difficult for me to do so for the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist communities, or that cult I spent in college. Most of the time, the “good” simply came from people being people, sharing interests, and in no way from any of the religious trappings around us…maybe even in spite of those religious trappings.

      I admit my ignorance with the Amish/Mennonites. I only know them from research, not face to face. But stepping back and looking at a broader picture…can these communities ever be truly healthy and happy and good, when you look at the history of where they came from? The persecution, the Swiss Anabaptists history, the local history, etc? Almost akin to good coming from the IFB, who solely exists as an opposition movement? Can something founded in negativity produce something positive?

      Can a bad tree produce good fruit?

      • I’m not ignorant – my parents were Mennonite (the strict kind) for some years. It was like hell, but less fun. The “community” was just about everything negative you can think of, from abusive to anti-intellectual, to misogynist, and everything in between. I wouldn’t for a moment expect all mennonites to behave that way, but it wasn’t difficult to see that they were the product of a twisted and hurtful religion.

        • Doc – wow. I had no idea that you were from a Mennonite background, and am sorry you went through sll of that. (Also genuinely puzzled as to how some Armenians ended up Mennonite, but I understand if you don’t want to discuss it any further.)

          Are you folks still there? (Again, same deal as my prior question.)

          Am also at a loss to understand why some would perceive honest comments about the things many Amish and conservative Mennonites go through (or inflict on others) as a blanket condemnation of the entire group, but I dunno… maybe it makes sense to those who’ve endured whatever kinds of abuse, but isn’t as clear to those who haven’t – ???

          Glad Wilma is no longer there, and ditto for you and all the other folks who have not been able to endure toxic environments and beliefs/practices.

          • Oh, apologies for not noticinb the obvious in your comment.

          • It was my dad. For some reason he was attracted to pretty much every abusive patriarchal religion on the planet, and didn’t particularly care what the theology was as long as they were misogynist. Mennonite, charismatic, baptist – we got to sample them all. Lol about the Armenian thing…that’s my mom’s side, and while she always sort of looked at my dad’s religion as a nice hobby, the “old country” mentality is still pretty patriarchal, so it was a nice model of dysfunction. Fun times.

          • Doc – I hear you. I ended up in a string of highly authoritarian “churches,” largely due to naivete plus hopes that the next one would be better.

            Ikwym about patriarchal culture among Armenians as well, though the closest I’ve ever been to it is via A. Apostolic church festivals and some contacts I used to have in California and NYC, when I was writing about a few Armenian and Armenian American musicians and their work. Some of those guys were control freaks for sure. (Have also known a few A.A. women who broke away from their backgrounds in order to have careers in music. Not easy, even though their musical talent was appreciated and encouraged by their folks.)

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          My burned-out preacher of a writing partner (an Anabaptist himself) explained the difference to me this way:

          First you have Anabaptists.
          Mennonites are one step beyond Anabaptists.
          Old Order Mennonites are one step beyond Mennonites.
          Amish are one step beyond Old Order Mennonites.

          • Well, they’re all anabaptists. And there is no single Mennonite conference in the US. A lot of Mennonites are vety mainstream, even around here.

            I guess the short answer is: it’s complicated. Especially because all of these groups have evolved and changed a great deal over the past 300+ years. If they had remained static, they would be extinct.

      • Patrick Kyle says

        StuartB, You could say the same thing about people of color in the inner city, but hey that would be bigoted. Why not dog pile on various conservative Christian communities, because ‘we all know’ that they are secretly twisted. You and a couple others in this thread are rank hypocrites….

        • Is that so, PK?

          • Ignore him. He literally only shows up to slam me.

          • I still don’t know whether to laugh or cry at conflating a religion with “inner city people of color”. Apparently critical thinking need not be the basis for critical comments. Frankly, Patrick’s comment is like a rorschach test by and for alt-right nut jobs.

          • Stuart, he’s not fond of me, either. Not that it matters.

            Doc – agreed.

          • Patrick Kyle says

            “When a large percentage of people have overwhelmingly negative encounters and responses to a community, it’s hard for someone to pipe up and say “but it wasn’t all bad”

            Add whatever modifier to the word ‘community’ (other than Amish or some other Christian group) and it becomes a sentence any bigot or racist would likely say. How about ‘inner city Black’ or ‘Muslim’ or ‘illegal immigrant.’? Of course several others have to defend the blanket observation. If these words were used in any other context you all would be ‘outraged’ and ‘triggered.’

            Dr. Fundystan, you seem to be having trouble with the basic logic of StuartB’s sentence structure. Maybe it’s your own Rorschach test.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The only “Amish Bashing” I would do is bashing the Evangelicals who present a false idealized picture of the Amish in their fiction (i.e. the one-time fad for Amish Bonnet Romances). As one commenter put it “When I read a book about the Amish, I want to read about the Amish — not what some Evangelical THINKS the Amish are like.”

      And there are Amish down here in SoCal. I see them on occasion on the platforms at Fullerton Station, apparently waiting for Amtrak. At least they dress like Amish, have beards characteristic of Amish, and speak what sounds like German among themselves.

      • HUG, yes, that business with Evangelicals and the genre of Amish fiction is pretty weird, and it’s still going strong. But then I find Christian fiction in general to be pretty weird. In my understanding, Amish in particular and plain folk in general are mostly self-governing, like many Baptists, and it makes no sense to put them all in the same box. Each group seems to have its own rules. Around here they seem to be based on reason, being allowed to trade their broad brims for watch caps in the winter, and to ride bicycles for transportation. I even saw an Amish woman with a pink bicycle, which might have been pushing the envelope. The local bank has a hitching rack. My favorite picture is of half a dozen children where I was buying some eggs taking turns riding on a sled pulled by a very patient pony around the barnyard. going fast on the straightaway. They sure looked like they were having a good time, even the pony, and I wanted to try it myself.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I have a low opinion of Christian fiction, PERIOD. Especially Christianese attempts at F&SF and their utter failure of imagination in a genre where imagination is the Prime Directive. The subject has been touched on several times in the IMonk archives (search for “Surprise God Does Art” or “Selling Jesus by the Pound”).

          I don’t have the link, but last time I was on the East Coast I discovered (and bookmarked for my writing partners) a blog report about a Christian SF Writer’s Conference(TM) where it was stated in so many words that the only “SF” a Christian can write is Near-Future Persecution Dystopia with an End Time Prophecy tie-in. If anyone wants to pursue this angle any further (or spin it off into another posting), I’ll contact him re the link.

        • I even saw an Amish woman with a pink bicycle, which might have been pushing the envelope. Which, in a nutshell, is exactly why this religion is wicked. Christ already damned those who taught as commandments the traditions of men, but it is basically impossible not to totally f* someone up if they are raised to believe that ethics proscribe the color of one’s bicycle.

          • Doc – yes.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            My burned-out preacher of a writing partner keeps getting invitations from an Extreme Mennonite colony somewhere in Central America (Belize?) to join them. He told me once this colony took sides in a knock-down-drag-out Apostasy Schism because someone there rode a bicycle on the Sabbath. And that if I ever heard he’d joined them, I’d know he’d finally had a breakdown and would not be interesting in anything other than slopping pigs from then on.

            His description sounded like this rap from Alfred W Yankovic (from the mean streets of Lancaster County), except for real:

      • Oh man, yeah – all those “bonnet books” that idealize Amish life. They are correct in many details, but incredibly phony when it comes to, say, depicting the unrelenting physical work that all parties have to engage in to keep things running. And how very hard it is for many kids to have to quit school after 8th grade.

        Amish don’t register with Social Security, so if someone leaves, they literally have few or no ways of establishing themselves outside the Amish community without a long, long search for the documentation needed to do simple things, like getting a learner’s permit + driver’s license, or any jobs that aren’t nanny/domestic work or unskilled manual labor They can’t even register for 9th grade without the kinds of documentation that we take for granted.

    • This is Wilma’s story, Charles, and not meant to be a blanket statement about Amish communities.

      • Yes, CM, my point exactly.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        How is Wilma being treated by family et al now that she’s Gone English/on Permanent Rumspringa?

        • It depends. Generally, if you leave the sect before you “officially” join the church (kind of like confirmation) you are still in contact with your family. However, if you join the church & then leave, you are shunned and contact is very rare or nonexistent.

          • Generally. yes. It does depend on the specific church.

            People in my area have literally been excommunicated for preaching from John 3:16 and similar texts. They have had to start their own churches, known broadly as “New Amish,” though they have many different names. I am sure that there are Amish churches that wouldn’t care if people preached about the new birth, but in this area, which is home to the most severe of the Amish churches in the entire US< that's not the case.

          • This might help clarify:


          • Yes I was never a part of the Amish community. I have an aunt who joined the Amish church and then left when she comes back for a funeral or any gathering..they will not eat with her, she has to sit at a separate table..it’s sad to me…this has been going on for over 40 years. I’m surprised she comes back. Most of the time those of us who are :”opt ta ga” translated as gone off..meaning we left the Amish..we all sit with her so she doesn’t feel as rejected. But they can’t do that to those of us who didn’t take the Amish vows. I guess when you become an Amish member you vow to never leave the Amish religion. I never went through that class so I wouldn’t know..

          • Wilma, so you were not baptized in the Amish church? From your reply, that’s what I think, but want to make sure that I’m understanding you correctly.

            I am very sorry to hear about your sunt, though glad that you and others are csring and supportive. I was subjected to a slightly less severe form of shunning, after being kicked out of a churvh thst I had never actually joined (!!!!). I was in the music ministry for quite a few years, and most of my friends there were fellow musicians. They were told not to speak to me, and not to return or acknowledge phone calls or emsil from me. I literally experienced people turning away from me physically and refusing to acknowledge hellos, etc. from me. Some of the musicians got fed ip with this and were very supportive, but the damage had been done. I felt I had no choice but to leave the geographical area, as the “pastir” of said “church” knows a *lot* of people and my chances of being able to attend most any other church I had in mind at the time would more than likely be informed about my being “under discipline” by my old “church.” (The greates irony being that I did not do anything wrong, and that even though I tried to explain this, the “pastor” refused to listen and said a number of sarcastic, belittling things to me that are still quite shocking and hurtful, even though it all happened well over a decade ago.) I lost all my friends there in the end. It was a truly horrible time in my life, but now I am free of that place, and believe I am worth something, though some days I have to fight to believe thst.

            Which is a very longwinded way of saying that I would be more than happy to sit with your aunt at her table. I think that is where Jesus liked to sit during his eartly life, and that he’s right there now.

          • Sorry about typos; my tablet isn’t always very cooperative that way.

          • Thanks, CM! It can get confusing, if only because – as far as I understand it – baptismal age can vary, depending on custom, church and location. But 18 seems like a good average, or at least, common age for it.

        • How am I being treated now…well my parents respect who I am now. I only know this because of the look in their eye, not because they ever say anything positive to me. I never heard good job or we are proud of you or we respect you.

          They treated me like dirt for a long time, but now that their harsh treatment of me didn’t work to bring me back to the fold..they stopped. But I think they are releaved. They only treated me badly because they thought they had to do so or they would not be good parents.

          They took it as a personal attack that I did not stay Amish. It made them look bad. I feel bad for them in this regard, but I was still going to move on.

          One of the big reasons I left was because the religion made no sense. The church deacons decided what was right or wrong. So one year we couldn’t have bicycles and then the next year they voted we could and then one year you couldn’t have rubber tire on your buggies and then you could.

          My question was..if it was wrong/sin last year, why is it right now?

          The positives about the Amish culture is how they come together during a death or other tragedies. It’s amazing and gives me good goosebumps when I see the Amish get together to help someone in need. They also taught me how to have a strong work ethic.

          Charles…if you read my book some of your questions will be answered.

          Thanks everyone for jumping in and discussing…I’m probably half way through reading all of the comments.

          • Thanks for sparking all this off. And my apologies if I came across as rude or harsh or whatever.

            Fact is…I don’t respect the Amish religion, or any other fundamentalist religion, but I will defend their right to exist and to choose the life they do.

    • Charles, relatively few outsiders are friends with Amish people. In Ohio, it seems to be more common than in the part of PA that I live in, which is very, very, VERY severe per sects/churches.

      But in Lancaster County, it’s a lot more open, especially because a lot of Amish men had to give up farming and establish other kinds of businesses starting in the mid-late 60s. They are in constant contact with the general public as a result. But it;s much harder for women to get out and circulate, so to speak, than it is for me.

      My aunt and uncle had an Amish contractor build their house, back in the late 60s in Lancaster. He enjoyed riding his bulldozer! 🙂 I’ve seen Ohio Amish using credit cards and getting a big kick out of the look of surprise on cashiers”= faces (mine included).

      • Yes, numo, that’s good information. Anything that helps us remember we are dealing with individual people within individual groups is good, and not just with the Amish. We can do a lot of damage speaking as if people existed in monolithic blocks. Amish around me seem well-adjusted and reasonable and friendly, and some of my Quaker friends interact with them as friends and neighbors and fellow farmers. I always enjoy watching their horse and buggy or wagon go by here out in the sticks, but I don’t enjoy seeing one in the midst of city traffic that’s difficult enough in a car. I would not be surprised to learn that the younger generations are becoming less severe along with the rest of us.

        • See, I’m thinking that I have some context that you didn’t, but clearly, in my own mind – and based on previous comments I’ve left over the years – I’d never have assumed that you or anyone would take my comments the way you did. As Wilma said in her reply to you, the projected appearance (of any group) can and often does hide a lot of ugliness behind the backdrop. I agree with her, having been part of more than one abusive religious “community” myself, as i mentioned in a previous reply. Plus, being from an area with a lsrge Amish and Mennonite population, i know there are some ugly realities, and not just within communities in my state as a whole, but within local Amish groups.

          It can be hard to tell the truth about such things without all kinds of people accusing the person telling the truth of “bashing.” It was never my intention to do that, and if you had asked me why i said what i said, i woild have told you. But you kind of jumped to conclusions, which got all of this turning into a far more complicated discussion than was necssary. I am not lying about the prevalence of domestic and sexual abuse within many Amish communities, and I just would not exaggerate that. It might also be harder for men (in general) to accept the veracity of what a number of us (mostly women) have said, but it’s true nonetheless.

          Unfortunately, i think the content at the 2nd link i posted is a bjt whitewashed, but they do have a lot of good recs for books and films. The media has had a field day with idiotic shows like Amish Mafia, but the sanctimonious portrayal of all Amish as truly pious and being better people than the rest of us is b.s., too. You *will* find more than you bargained for if you look for information about sexual abuse within Amish communities, I guarantee you. It is hideous and involves truly nightmarish collusion by family members (including mothers and grandmothers) in many instances. Unfortunately, because these are by definition closed communities, it is very difficult for women to reach out for the help they need, and even harder for social workers and mental health professionals to get a foot in the door.

          If women are bound to submit to men (includes husbands who sexually abuse their own kids), and children *must* obey their parents… do you see how this can be a total setup for pedophiles as well as domestic abuse, including marital rape?

          This should give you something to think through, at very least. Unfortunately, there is next to zero written material by abuse survivors who either were/still are Amish, which in turn leads people to assume that those of us who point it out are talking through our hats. We are not.

          • Re. mental health pros, etc., in this instance I am referring very specifically to both child sexual abuse and domestic abuse, not to other kinds of mental health issues. These things are very hard for anyone to bring up with the intent of getting help, let alone for women and children in closed communities.

            The thing is, i would do love to idealize the Amish in general, but with more and more information coming to light regarding cases of abuse, it’s not possible.

            Also, consider the amount of pressure exerted (both spoken and unspoken) on an Amish kid who is gay or lesbian… Talk about shame and condemnation and self-hatred.

            Again, if you have not bern part of a closed or semi-closed community, it can be hard to imagine the effects. But I have, and suspect that i only know about the tip of the proverbial iceberg in those places. It doesn’t mean that i think or believe that everyone in those groups was a monster, but anyone dealing with the effects of trauma and abuse of any kind has a lot to work through… and is also much more apt to see red flags in other, similar situations.

    • Charles Fines, I am trying to reply to each individual comment, but when I click on reply it makes me scroll way down here..so hope you get this message.

      Yes, I have great friends who are still Amish. Dysfunction is found anywhere you find humans so no one is exempt. There is an image portrayed of the Amish to be perfect and peaceful. This is a misrepresentation.

      I know Amish who are Christians, meaning they have a relationship with Christ and they simply choose to live the Amish lifestyle. They are very kind people. Then there are those who claim to be Christians and yet have no relationship with Christ and so they are merely religious, which brings about no heart change. In fact it usually make a person more arrogant. This happens in a lot of Amish communities. But there are always a remnant of sincere Christ followers.
      What I just described could be true about any culture group.

      I think the thing that is twisted with the Amish is how they portray one thing but there are a lot of evil things going on behind the scenes. This is bothersome because of the contrast. It appears deceptive and manipulative to me.

      I see many people who are stuck and can’t seem to grow while being Amish..but they aren’t all bad. That kind of goes without saying, I guess?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Anyone remember the “Amish Beard Cutting Attacks” hate crime/scandal in Ohio from about five years ago?

        Made all the newsfeeds due to pure strangeness — Apparently some dispute having to do with excommunication boiled over and one family faction did a little “do-it-yourself” excommunication on the other faction’s patriarch by grabbing him and hacking off his beard in a home invasion situation.

  5. Good read, thank you.

    Why are families and individuals like this attracted to extreme ascetic groups like the Amish? It seems we only ever hear of angry or depressed people or outcasts getting involved. Do happy, well-adjusted, ‘normal’ people just never join these types of groups?

    • Richard Hershberger says

      The Amish are not ascetics. They are skeptical of adopting modern technology without considering its implications. This is hardly the same thing as asceticism. I share their skepticism, in kind if not in degree. I only got a cell phone, about ten years after everyone else did, because my wife insisted. I still don’t own a smart phone, because I have yet to be persuaded the benefit outweighs the cost (which is not merely monetary). Am I an ascetic? Let’s discuss that over a beer.

      • Using modern brewery techniques or old monk techniques? lol

        Maybe ascetic was the wrong word. Skepticism of technology can be healthy. Tho tying it to religious reasons is a bit eye raising.

        • It isn’t asceticism; it’s the way they’ve been doing things since they came here in the late 1600s-early 1700s, and it *all* depends on the individual church. The restrictive ideas have much to do with being part of the group and not showing “pride,” which varies widely from one church to the next. An example: none of the Amish in my area have shutters on their windows. This is seen as being “too English” and “proud,” although many of those same Amish make porch furniture, shutters, etc. for the “English.” There is also tremendous resistance to vaccinations here, and there have been local outbreaks of polio, sometimes fatal. By contrast, the Amish in Lancaster County, who are, in general, much better educated on health (etc.) issues have no problem and get their kids vaccinated.

          You might check out John Hostetler’s book The Amish (he grew up locally, but became a Mennonite because he wanted to continue his education), and anything by Donald Kraybill, who was his protegé. Very good, readable books with much insight into Amish life, history and culture.

          The short answer is: you’re born into it. They rarely allow anyone to join.

      • The reason they don’t use technology is because they believe they should be different than the world..once we start driving around in cars that don’t have to be driven..then they will probably get to have our cars..as long as they aren’t doing what the “so called” world is doing then…it’s ok.

    • David Cornwell says

      People do not normally become Amish. They are born Amish, not through choice. Like everyone else there is a range of psycho-social experience in the families. Trouble is usually held closely. Mental illness can either be hidden and dealt with privately, or sometimes the sick family member goes to a counselor or day treatment facility. These are the lucky ones. Most of them have good relationships with the “English” and good reputations as carpenters, laborers, and even such occupations as small engine mechanics. One young man who lives near me works for a factory in a nearby town, does carpenter work on the side, and now has started a chicken (eggs) farm near my house, with modern facilities and a very large building. He has an excellent reputation in the community. His family and young children seem very happy. While working outside he will sing exuberantly, in a German dialect. He likes to tell stories that are off-color and very funny.

      • You beat me to it, David. It may happen, but I have never heard of a non-Amish joining the Amish. You are born into it. A number leave the sect. If you leave before you officially join the church, it’s ok. You can still see your family. If you officially join the church and then leave, you are shunned and most likely will have little or no contact with your family after.

      • I know families like these and they are a lot of fun! I have seen some people try to become Amish it doesn’t work very well..most return to “English” living.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I have seen some people try to become Amish it doesn’t work very well..

          Got to be some good stories there.
          Especially if the wannabes come in clueless.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Why are families and individuals like this attracted to extreme ascetic groups like the Amish?

      Why are people attracted to extreme groups in general?

      My theory is it’s a way to prove your Moral/Spiritual Superiority to yourself and parade it before those Less Godly. Remember Acquire the Fire/Teen Mania and all us Lukewarm Apostates? The more X-Treme you get, the more Godly you must be. (Jihadi Islam — al-Qaeda, al-Taliban, al-Daesh — use this same dynamic on young Muslim men as a recruiting tactic, offering Real True Original Islam as opposed to the weak Islam of the recruit’s compromising apostate family.)

    • I think if you lack connection and are searching for love..certain groups like the Amish can appear more intimate and draws you in..but then you end up feeling controlled like you don’t get to think for yourself ?

      If your the type of person who likes this kind of structure..where you don’t have to make any choices for yourself then it’s a good fit.

      I’m not one of those people who can attend a church who tells me I can’t wear a pink dress or cut my hair or wear jeans ..or I’m going to hell..umm I don’t think so..

      I have friends who like the Amish rules and have no problem following them. They see value in them. I don’t condemn them for that..I’m just not one of those people.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        If your the type of person who likes this kind of structure..where you don’t have to make any choices for yourself then it’s a good fit.

        Or if you’re burned out from having to make too many choices all the time.
        (Or suffering from Analysis Paralysis.)

        Some years ago, I remember reading an online article about Englishwomen (not Middle Eastern ethnics) who converted to the strictest forms of Islam (Saudi-strict). How a lot of them seemed to be backlashes from the extreme free-range permissive upbringings. They ended up rootless in a confusing world and went into a highly-structured, rigid gender-role Islamic world as a relief. Exactly how to dress, exactly how to act, exactly what to think, just to make the thrashing stop.

  6. Klasie Kraalogies says

    Any very closed community, while having the ability to be very supportive, has the same ability to shelter incredible evil. Any community.

    While I live in s Mennonite-dominated area, they are more evamgelical in nature, with a minority being the very conservative, closed-community type. But we have lots of Hutterite and Doukhobor colonies, and I have heard similar stories…

    • Richard Hershberger says

      I am fascinated by the Hutterites, and have read material both about and from them. My sense is that they are aware of the dangers of the social model. A charismatic leader will sometimes seize control of a colony. This never goes well, and might take decades to clean up.

      • Googled Hutterites. The first auto suggestion was followed by “Inbreeding”. Whoa.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          That may just mean Hutterites don’t marry outside their faith or community. I have heard of several tribal peoples who do the same.

          Which would present a problem if their community was small.

          • >> Which would present a problem if their community was small.

            Solved normally by periodic festivals or get togethers with nearby groups of similar persuasion.

          • Richard Hershberger says

            We need to clarify what we mean by “their community.” They are organized as “colonies,” typically of around a hundred to a hundred and fifty persons. If it grows larger than that it will usually spin off a daughter colony. All property within the colony is owned collectively by its members. Each colony is an economic unit, independent of one another. Members usually (always?) do not marry among themselves, but rather they intermarry between colonies.

            That being said, the overall group is still not all that large, and there are some problems with recessive traits manifesting themselves.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            The 50/500 Rule I heard somewhere:

            For most all mammals (including humans) you need between 50 and 500 breeding pairs to prevent inbreeding and recessive traits/mutations manifestations. Less than that and you don’t have enough variety in the DNA for the long haul and can wind up in the same dead end as the cheetah and monocrop/monoculture agriculture.

            Intermarrying between colonies — Exogamy — does a lot to avoid this, and is common in a lot of tribal societies. (I was doing some research on Andean cultures earlier this year for a gaming article and found that even the smallest villages in the Andes have at least two ayllukuna (lineages) or sub-lineage clans within the ayllu for this purpose.) Still, it depends on how many colonies are available and the total size of the resulting gene pool.

          • Charles, back in the 1920s, a woman doctor who taught at Penn State was the 1st outsider permitted to work with people who had rare birth defects caused by inbreeding in the Amish communities around my area. She found a number of severe, crippling genetic diseases that have literally not shown up anywhere else on the planet.

            Because they allowed her into their communities, this problem has largely disappeared. How she gained their trust, I’ll never know, because most of the Amish who lived here at that time were from the most severe sects and had nothing to do with outsiders. In fact, I have literally never seen some of them (garb varies from sect to sec), although I grew up here and have spent a good portion of my adult life here. They are *that* isolated, and that’s the way they want it.

          • I am so sorry that these kinds of rare diseases are still prevalent in some Amish families…


      • Here’s an IM post about the Hutterites: https://internetmonk.com/archive/extreme-community

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And I find this comment from that post’s thread a caution to Outsider Christians and their image of similar “Plain-ish” communities and subcultures (such as Amish-setting “Bonnet Books”):

          Having grown up in a plain and conservative Mennonite culture, I understand the reluctance to engage people when in public. When in our local town, no one bothered us too much but when traveling, people projected their ideals onto us, objectified us and treated us as an exhibit for their entertainment and curiosity. It is especially futile to answer the questions of people who assign their own ideals to you, such as believing that vegetables grown by plain people are organic.

      • The Hutterites and the Amish share problems with inbreeding, sexual abuse of children, partriarchal views of life and women, the whole megillah.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          The inbreeding is a problem for small isolated populations in general. Though I don’t know if Amish inheritance customs might play a part — both Spanish Hapsburgs and modern Saudi upper-class clans got very inbred from near-incestuous marriages to keep the “bloodline pure” and all that power and property away from other families/lineages.

          And abuse is much much easier to cover up in an isolated insular subculture, to the point where it becomes Normal to those on the inside, the One True Way.

          • The Amish and descendants of the originsl Mennonites who came here share a very small number of ancestors, so a lot of truly bad things keep happening as a result of the small gene pool. See the link from pennlive.com that i posted just above for more info.

            Honestly, there is a “look,” around here and in the IN Amish and Mennonite communities that come from this part of PA – that’s very recognizabl, though that said, it is a thing in the broader PA Dutch population (of which I’m one). On a trip to a German bird park (like a zoo, but birds only), I was stunned by how much the visitors looked like people where I’m from. Change some clothing details, drop them on the street anywhere in Central PA, and they’d pass for locals. (This place was a big draw for German tourists, but not for those from other countries, so the crowd was very homogeneous.)

          • Should have said the Midwest, not just IN. That said, i know Mennonites from IN who *must* be related to families in my locale. The resemblances are remarkable.

  7. Are you familiar with the subculture of Amish themed novels in the Christian publishing industry? Romances, mysteries, etc, that sell like hotcakes. I first became aware of this phenomenon because my mother was enamored of them. When I asked her why she just shrugged and I could never get her to articulate exactly what the attraction was. Perhaps the perception is that these groups live a “purer” form of the faith? But then a lot of them take as their theme the conflicts between the community and the outside world.

    Strange.. and interesting!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “When I read a book about the Amish, I want to read about the Amish — NOT what some Evangelical THINKS the Amish are like!”
      — long-ago comment about Amish Bonnet Romances; don’t remember the blog

      Yes, I’m familiar with the “Bonnet Books” phenomenon. But then I don’t have a high opinion of Christianese Fiction or the Christianese publishing industry in general. I find the quality to be extremely low, the propaganda always front and center, and in genres where imagination is the prime requisite (F&SF) an utter failure of imagination.

  8. Thanks for sharing Wilma’s story.

  9. Wilma,

    Thanks you for sharing your story with us. It must be hard to tell and relive parts of it. That took courage. Thanks also for going on the the difference Jesus has made in your life. May God bless you in your ministry as an RN.

    • Ric,

      It’s hard to think about, but then it’s also healing to remember how far The Lord has brought me. Mike asked me to write this about 3 months ago..but for some reason I kept putting it off, until finally the first sentence came to me and then it flowed. It’s hard to narrow down what needs to be said of 42 years…of life.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Of which the past 25 were spent on Permanent Rumspringa.

        And sometimes a piece of writing just waits and waits and waits for its time to come, then flows when the time is right.

        • Rumspringa has been *really* exaggerated by the media. It’s not what you’re thinking, in most cases.

  10. Thank you, Willie J., for sharing your story with the iMonk online community today. I went over and read several of your recent posts at Dancing on the Dumpster and came away feeling blessed. You are an excellent writer with a distinctive and authentic voice. I love the idea of looking for the pearl in each day’s experience.

    Some of the folks here have to weigh in on each and every post with a contrary opinion. Don’t mind them; I’m sure they mean well, at least I hope they mean well. Just keep doing what you’re doing and you will influence more people than you imagine.

  11. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    This is a bit off-topic, but I can’t hear the name “Wilma” without thinking of The Flintstones.
    (“Yabba Dabba Doo!”)

    Incidentally, the voice actress for Wilma Flintstone, Jean VanDerPyl, was a regular call-in on Rich Buhler’s radio talk show in the Eighties. (“Talk from the Heart”, a Christian afternoon talk show that was actually one of the better talk shows on local AM radio.) I remember an incident when the board operator broke in with “Got some woman on the line who says she’s Wilma Flintstone!”