We received dozens of questions in our recent “Ask an Amish Person” post, covering everything from gardening to child discipline to challenges and rewards of being Amish.
Indiana Amishman Merlyn Yoder has responded to a good chunk–about 17 of them–below. We’re calling this “part 1” as I’m hoping we’ll receive further responses, if Merlyn’s schedule allows.
But either way, a big thanks to Merlyn for his efforts here.
Your Questions & Merlyn’s Responses
Linda: I know you don’t use cell phones in your homes…but as a mom and a nurse wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a cell phone in case of a medical emergency even if you don’t use it for anything else?
Merlyn: In an emergency, seconds count. Most homes in northern Indiana have a phone within 2 or 3 minutes down the road.
Jeff Smejkal: My wife and I go up to Lancaster PA. a lot. While we drive the back roads we notice a lot of vegetable gardens. In these gardens there are a lot of different flowers planted through out the garden. I was wondering if these flowers were there for beauty or are they there to deter insects. If the later what flowers do they use to repel insects?
Merlyn: Probably for beauty. Although some flowers can be planted to attract beneficial insects who prey on the bad guys.
Slightly-handled-Order-man: There has been a lot of discussion on ‘Amish America’ about the challenges of being Amish faced by English people trying to join the faith and ‘born and raised’ Amish youth who ultimately choose to leave, but, I was curious, what in your opinion is the most challenging and yet rewarding part of being Amish?
Merlyn: In my opinion, raising children in today’s world and then seeing them decide to continue in the faith.
Terry from Wisc: This is not a new question, rather one I’ve had most of the 50+ years I have known Amish. When you see little kids,at least in the public eye,they are well behaved. My latest observation was recently at the Amish consignment auction in Marion, WI. In the furniture/quilt tent were three little boys about 5 yrs of age just watching and being good. Their dads were most likely helping with the furniture, so not that far away. No mischief…just watching for probably a good hour. I’ve come to the conclusion that Amish kids are ok being bored, which helps being in church for three hours.
Another observation was a dad who had 5 little girls with him alone. Mom must have been taking her turn in the food line. The three oldest ones just sat, one hanging over dad’s knee, and the youngest around a year old, sat in her dad’s lap. No toys, no books, no entertainment other than watching the auction. And then us fellow observers ask ourselves…why are they being so good?
Merlyn: Are you sure those weren’t life-size dolls?
Derek J: We hear about how the young leaving the faith and move on due to rejection of all the church rules and such. But do older Amish leave too? Do older folks or maybe even entire families in later stages of life (40 on) leave?
Merlyn: Yes this does happen.
Natalie: My husband and I were in WI and when we were driving back to our campsite he was asking how to tell if a lady was married. Is there a way to know as I know the Amish don’t [wear] jewelry? I know the men usually grow their beards out.
Merlyn: Not a one-size-fits-all answer. There are many subtle variations in dress from community to community. The surest way to find out is by asking!
Abe: Growing up old order, I virtually never heard anyone talk about social issues not directly affecting the church. Barely a mention of abortion, gay rights, race relations or social justice. With many Amish becoming more integrated with the outside world, is there more debate or discussion about current political or societal changes? Are they addressed by the church?
Merlyn: Yes, especially abortion and gay rights.
Leilah Dimar: How does the family teach children how to behave? What do they do to teach little ones to sit still in public? Any approaches that have worked for you?
Merlyn: Oh dear, I am open for advice on this subject.
Carol: In articles in “Family Life” I’ve read the term “breaking the child’s spirit” several times. To the “outsider” this would seem to equate with “breaking a horse to ride.” Sounds awful when applied to children and it makes one wonder if “breaking the spirit” is the early training to discourage later “jumping the fence.” So Merlyn, what does “breaking the spirit” of a child consist of? Harsh physical punishment, the “death stare” (as my kids used to accuse me of), just what?
Merlyn: Probably being firm, fair, persistent yet loving with whatever discipline being used.
Donna J: I would love to know what all vegetables the women can from their gardens. Also, how much is the average? Do they keep a garden year round? Do they ever buy from each other to can if their garden does not produce enough to feed their family?
Merlyn: Almost any veggie can be preserved. Sharing excess is common. Some women use more intense practices. Almost all can beets and pickles for the church menu.
Debbie H: I have the same question as several others. How do the Amish discipline their children. I guess we are curious because so many English children have no respect or discipline and are very loud. I know from watching the TV show the Nanny that very undisciplined children act out for attention because they do not get attention otherwise. Could this be why Amish children are calm and obedient? They do get attention so no need to act out.
Merlyn: Small children need to understand what no means. You are probably right about the attention part. We all have room for improvement in that area.
Jeanne R: I was reading this article that the Amish has a way to stop hearing loss or prevent hearing loss, is this the truth?
Merlyn: Haven’t heard of that method. Amish ears are just like non-Amish ears.
Barb Zimmerman: I have noted the huge change from the old standard plain brown (Morgan?) horse to many different varieties of horses being used to pull the buggies, wagons, etc. What brought about the change? Did the horse choice become more lenient? Or was there a practical reason for the change, such as a shortage of the plain brown horses?
Merlyn: There are plenty of horses. Some prefer to drive an exciting horse instead of the old plug. Breeders select for these traits.
Pat Wala: I have read about your problems in finding farms in America due to cost and space. Have you ever thought about immigrating to places where there is plenty of space….like New Zealand for example? I know that community is important to you but would you consider opening a church elsewhere?
Merlyn: If we faced the persecution our great grandparents did, I think New Zealand would be a good option. We might upset the sheep-to-human ratio though.
Harriet: For many years, I have wanted to have a conversation on a deeper level with an Amish person. I want to know more about Gelassenheit. I understand what it means, yielding to a higher authority, submission and humility. But how does one go about this? I understand from a Christian perspective, yielding to God’s will, but how does the average American, who is taught to be independent and self-assured, do this in their everyday life?
Merlyn: Deep question. I think it would take a willing and conscious effort continually. Matthew 22-37, 38, 39 sums up my opinion. May God help you!
Alice Mary: Do the Amish use window screens & screen doors? I read about some not using screening. Doesn’t that cause a lot of bug problems in the house? I know we’re being warned in my area about mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus, among other deadly diseases. How do the Amish keep them out of the house (especially in hot weather when windows are wide open)?
Merlyn: I haven’t heard about the absence of screens. Our area has several window repair shops.
Laura: What is your favorite memory as a child?
Merlyn: There are many good memories. Climbing trees on a clear summer day rank high for me.