“The main thing I miss is my family. That’s the only thing I’d like to go back for.”
John Shrock was one of several people featured in our recent 3 stories of leaving the Amish post. The now 25-year-old man grew up in a Wisconsin Amish community before leaving at age 17.
Now he’s helping a teenager who has left the community as well. It turns out the two grew up just six miles apart, but did not know each other.
KVRR brings us a video report on Jay Miller’s story:
19–year–old Jay Miller also has to get out.
Now, he’s living with Shrock.
“The main thing I miss is my family. That’s the only thing I’d like to go back for,” Miller said.
The two grew up only six miles from each other in the same Amish community but never actually met.
Miller started thinking about leaving the Amish a year ago.
It wasn’t until this July that he decided to ask his milkman, who wasn’t Amish, for help.
The milkman then connected Miller to Shrock’s adoptive father.
“I stayed there for a couple days and then he came to pick me up,” Miller said.
While they’ve only been together for a month and have a six year age difference, there’s already a father–son like bond being formed.
“I mean just in the past couple weeks, I can connect with him; I can understand what he’s thinking, what he’s struggling with,” Shrock said.
If you remember Shrock’s story, he had been taken in by an “adoptive father” – who himself had been taken in 15 years previously.
With Shrock’s help, Miller has begun to figure out formerly foreign things like the internet and English manners.
He’s visited the zoo, and enjoys bowling. It’s been a collection of new and amazing experiences:
“How many times do you feel like you’ve heard ‘wow’ in the past month? Oh, all the time. It’s like every day,” Shrock said.
Having been in the same position not too long ago, Shrock says he’s just glad he’s able to lend a hand to Miller throughout what will be a very long journey.
Shrock calls it “very rewarding” to see Miller achieve things that he himself had found challenging. “It’s almost impossible to do it without someone helping you,” he says.
Better to be dead than not Amish?
To return to Shrock’s story, here’s a detail – strong to say the least – from his life that wasn’t in the original story:
He says his mother even reached out to him saying she wished he were dead rather than having left.
Wow. Is Shrock exaggerating? I would give him the benefit of the doubt. He also related a strange encounter with his father in the original article.
Anecdotes suggest that in some Amish communities (or at least families), leaving is tantamount to being consigned to hell.
A mother could conceivably say something like that in a fit of emotion. Or in a twisted way, to convey how much she wants him back.
Not to mention that if a person thinks a child is headed for condemnation, it would follow that one alternative to losing one’s soul – becoming dead before making the fateful choice to leave – would be better.
That’s harsh stuff.
If Amish get the “cult” label attached from time to time, it comes from stories like this.
I won’t judge whether leaving the Amish is “right” or “wrong”.
But I’ll say I admire the strength of these young men facing the pain of disconnection from family. Especially hearing things like Shrock describes.
What a burden to deal with at that young age.
It’s good they can find themselves support systems after they’ve left. Former Amish provide this in some ex-Amish communities.
A place at the table
Jay Miller is no doubt grateful he found John Shrock to help him out in an unfamiliar world. And it sounds like Shrock is inspired to help others:
“I would help anyone. I didn’t know his name, I didn’t know who he was when I went to pick him up, I just knew there was an Amish kid coming and I knew I was going to pick him up,” Shrock said.
Good luck to Jay Miller and others who find themselves in similar shoes.
Miller says the only thing he’d go back for is his family. But what must his parents be feeling?
For obvious reasons, we usually hear the side of the leaver, rather than the ones left behind.
The clip does end with this: “Shrock took Miller to Wisconsin recently to get his Social Security card. Miller noticed his parents had set out breakfast for him – something Amish parents tend to do every day, if their child has left their community.”
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What price community
Having grown up without supportive family and community, the idea of leaving that all behind seems unimaginable. I suppose I’ve envied the Amish lifestyle for that reason. The motivation to leave that life must be very powerful. I hope that if they come to regret their choices, that they have the option to return.
They should have the option to return. I mean that is the way it is supposed to work in Amish churches. John Shrock in my view seems very well-adjusted to the outside world and seems to have found his place. I would doubt he goes back to the Amish, especially given the family environment he describes. Jay Miller in my view seems a bit shell-shocked to for lack of a better term. But with John’s help he looks to be getting along. I would imagine they certainly miss their families and it must be sharper for Jay at his age and having just left.
Where in scripture would you ever find the legalism dumped on the “born Amish” anywhere in the Bible. Christ died on the cross to relieve us of the laws and give us freedom in Him. The unbelievable rules inflicted on the Amish are about control, not Christianity. This puts them in the category of “cult.” No doubt, they are the most trustworthy, quiet, personable people around. However, the total lack of moving forward in a society that offers convenience and relief from a primitive past is nothing short of keeping people under some sort of control by whoever – seeing you dead rather than have the freedom to choose where you want to live? Seriously! your parents ousing you from the community? What kind of sick, dysfunctional, enmeshed belief system is that? No zippers? Where in scripture do you find that one, even for men to urinate – they have no zippers or underwear? Who came up with that one? Turn on some lights. Have a little air. Take a daily bath after a hard day’s work. Take off the overheated clothes when it is 100 degrees and wear something cooler – white cotton-like other societies that live in hot weather. What scripture tells us that if we don’t believe just like you, we are less than you are? Where in the world is that biblical book and verse? Man made laws are legalism and is contrary to the reason Christ died for us. He died to give us Grace, not more rules. Their basics are great – simple living. But- all of their good, simple – living belief system is blown right out of the water by an endless list of man-made, don’ts that has nothing to do with salvation.
Broader view of this reality
Important article because of the pathos for all people involved when a member departs.
While most automatically sympathize with those Amish seeking their freedom, it is also important to
write about the family members they left behind. Are they suffering? I think so.
I would not emphasize the Amish doctrine but rather how family members’ hearts are broken by a loved one leaving the family. It’s hard to fathom but they might be experiencing it as victims of abandonment by a loved one.
Is it possible to get some family members to open up? That would be great journalism and also a broadening of cultural understanding from within the Amish family and community.
Yes, I think that’s a side that naturally goes much-less reported. I think that poor mother must have been suffering when she said what she said to her son.
Sad but true
Having listened to an Early Childhood Psychologist speaking about Children of divorce I can only sympathise with the mothers comment. as the psych stated in his years of observation. A child who experiences a death of a parent has less problem adjusting than a child of Divorced parents. Why? Because the child will always know where the deceased parent is. I feel empathy also in respect to being a single-parent Empty nester whose son went to Iraq with no way to communicate or help him. I am his & her DAD. & do understand her plight.
I had never heard that idea about children of deceased vs. divorced parents. I don’t have experience with the divorced aspect, but I would think having two living albeit not together parents would be easier to absorb than losing one forever. However there is the aspect of disruption and instability that the divorce brings into the picture. Something to think about. Thanks for sharing this Daniel.
Ex-Amish and the media
Back in June I was contacted by a local (Wisconsin) TV reporter about John Shrock’s story. I declined to be interviewed, explaining that I feel that most stories about ex-Amish in the media end up casting the Amish in a negative light. The reporter insisted that she wanted to present a balanced story, which is why she reached out to me. I told her that only about 10%–15% of people who grow up in Amish families make the decision to either not join the church or to leave after baptism, so for a story to be truly balanced, she would need to interview 8 or 9 Amish folks who John grew up with and haven’t left and are happy with their lives as members of the Amish church. To the reporter’s credit, she never produced a segment on this story.
That’s a good point Mark. I don’t know that I’ve seen many articles on why Amish are glad that they chose to become and remain Amish (not as a main focus anyway). I guess it lacks the drama. But even getting 1 or 2 voices from the Amish side in the leaver’s community could provide some counterbalance.
I have very close Amish friends and I am constantly telling the kids the grass may look greener but it is NOT, their family and community bonds their simple life is to be treasured there is NOTHING in this English world that is better than what they have. I feel an instant peace and weight lifted the minute I go stay at their farm.
Unless I missed it, we don’t hear much about why Miller left his family.
Is it simply because he was curious about the Englisch world and wants to experience it before deciding on becoming baptized? Is he tempted by fast cars, big trucks, motorcycles?
He seemed shy, hesitent, in this video. That’s understandable. But certainly not confident that this is what he wants. His body language profile screamed reserved and lacking confidence. Again, that could be because he needs time to adjust to this new life.
Saying he misses his family is also telling. In time, we’ll see if he remains in the Englisch world.
As for Schrock… He may have come from an overbearing family, but that doesn’t mean the Amish youth he helps leave are dealing with the same issues.
Some Amish youth are simply young, full of energy, and curious. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to leave the Amish for good. But rather a phase some young people naturally go thru.
He might mean well as some young Amish do need help leaving. But what about those Amish who are simply confused and need time to decide what direction they want to go in life? Does Shrock let his personnel family experience affect how he helps these youth by manipulating them into leaving? Hope not. Because some of these Amish youth, like Miller, look very vulnerable.