To travel is the best activity whether you’d like to know deeply about any country or, in this case, the Amish community which is one of the most misunderstood and fascinating people inside the United States from our respective societies’ point of view because their lifestyle is like going back to the past in the 21st century, so let's start.
The provenance of the Amish dates back to the 16th Century when Anabaptism separated from the other communities during the Reformation in Europe. They are immigrants from Switzerland and South Germany established in the United States, so the most important settlements are in Ohio, Ontario, Indiana and Pennsylvania. In this last one, the community in Lancaster County is “the oldest and largest Amish community, numbering about 30,000, doubling their population in the past 20 years”.
Their lifestyle is very humble and it lacks elements that today would be essential to us but if we look back seventy or eighty years of our society, our grandparents could probably share a lot of things in common with the Amish. In Spain it is typical to visit the village where our parents and grandparents were born and raised, some of them in farms with animals, others in houses with no electricity and all of them went to school only for basic education because they had to work at an early age. Furthermore, that was a time where religion was an important conditioning in their lives. In addition, women were also involved in household chores and childcare, even many of them being great masters of sewing who surely embroidered and created their clothes, such as the Amish community.
We can say that sensationalism has significantly damaged the conception of the Amish that we have as a modernized society. For that reason, I count with the help of Jamie Burkhart from @theamishfarmhouse, who guides these tours and will disassemble some myths about them in this article.
The Amish Farm House in Lancaster receives approximately 150,000 or 200,000 tourists per year, including domestic travel. The people explore the original Amish houses and visit the church, schools and farms guided by an English person who explains more about their culture while tourists interact with the community. Nevertheless, Amish members feel very comfortable with these trips and really appreciate how visitors are respectfully interested in them and their modesty; the Amish have a good working relationship with the agency, even that the visits are previously organized according to them: “our buses stop in places that amish people want us to stop”, explains Jamie.
Another characteristic of the Amish is their relationship with technology. They consider that modern devices are not useful for the community in their daily tasks, so they establish a limit among what it helps to the Amish people until it stops helping anymore. Notwithstanding, they deny its use because they believe that God is all-knowing but Jamie explains that the need to modernize is always on their minds. They are able to use a flip phone because Amish are businessmen and need to keep in touch with their clients whereas the younger members have the internet access shut down because connected devices do not help them as a result of seeing the negative effects in our society too. “They have to keep up with the rest of the world. They are gonna have to use technology, I just don’t know when or what that change would like”, supposes Jamie.
A teenager in the Amish Farm House
When a teen turns 16, they pass through a process called “Rumspringa” which gives the opportunity to choose if they want to be Amish or English trying things that normally they would not be allowed to. For instance, Lancaster’s Amish Farm House is very close to Target which they love because, as Jamie explains, it is the closest retail and grocery store in the countryside, so “it is kinda like when the kids are ‘hey, let’s go to Target and go shopping’ just the same when your mum gives you a bill and you go with your friends to the shopping centre”.
Some people believe that leaving the Church before baptism could have negative consequences but there is no punishment for them. Moreover, they can still be far from the family and they will be welcome to come back and visit them. The real problem of this is the educational level which is remarkably different whether we compare it to our system. When they leave the community many of them are not higher than 8th grade, so if they do not continue studying, they just start running their businesses. “The Amish prove that they do not need a college education to have a good business”, claims Jamie. But over all, according to Jamie, the 80% join the church because there is more support in the community being an Amish.
The pandemic and Black Lives Matter
A few months ago, there was a picture that went viral on Twitter that supposedly showed an Amish family supporting the BLM protests but they were not from Lancaster. “It could also be Mennonites who are known for being very liberal and supportive. The Lancaster’s Amish they do not know about these movements by far”, says Jamie.
They are not misinformed, much less isolated. They are not allowed to listen to the radio or watch TV, however, the main source of news is the newspaper, but Jamie raised this situation as an example: “If someday they go to a restaurant and the TV is on, they are going to watch it, it does not matter”. The same happens with the radio when they travel as passengers in a car. “I am not saying that they know the latest news because the news pushes all the time on our phones about everything”.
This does mean that the Amish community just does not want to get involved with the Government. Most of them do not vote even though they have their rights and according to Jamie, that is based on their history: “At the time when they lived in Europe, they separated from the Catholic Church and suffered a lot of religious persecution. So once they immigrated to America, they decided to do their own thing and that is how they have been going for the past 300 years”. Nevertheless, they were following all the recommendations given by the Government to front covid-19.
Despite our differences, they enjoy the little pleasures of life. We are always posting content on our social media and that does not allow us to enjoy it at all. Furthermore, other societies should observe the humility of the Amish and apply it in their daily lives. One of the traits that Jamie admires the most is their capacity for forgiveness. A hard example is for instance when a man shot into an Amish school, “literally few hours after this tragedy happened, the Amish members went to the shooter’s mum’s house and forgave him”, Jamie ends.