Do Amish do mission work?

How active are Amish in mission work?

As touched on in “So you want to join the Amish“, Amish have traditionally looked more inward than outward, focusing spiritual energies on their own rather than seeking converts. But that doesn’t mean they shun all mission-minded outreach.

There has been historical interest in mission work within the Amish. The New Order Amish movement grew, in part, out of an interest among Amish in mission activities beginning in the years after World War II.

Today, Amish involvement with missions varies.  In An Amish Paradox, Charles Hurst and David McConnell describe how not only New Order but also Old Order Amish have been open to mission work.  However Amish have generally been more active in relief and charity work rather than trying to actively gain converts.

Some work in missions that help both domestically and internationally.   Christian Aid Ministries (CAM), headquartered in Berlin, Ohio, is one example.   CAM is involved with overseas relief projects as well as domestic disaster cleanup.  To date, CAM has distributed $1.3 billion of donated goods across the planet (see An Amish Paradox, p.64).

christian aid ministries amish
A Christian Aid Ministries clothing drop box outside a Kentucky shop

Involvement with CAM may take place right at home, with Amish giving time and resources.  Amish volunteers might spend an afternoon helping can meat to be sent overseas, for example.

In Holmes County, Ohio, these are primarily New Order and Old Order Amish.  As Hurst and McConnell note, involvement by the more conservative Andy Weaver and Swartzentruber Amish is much more limited (Paradox pp. 65-6).

Iron Curtain Ministries is a relief organization founded during communism by the New Order to assist in Eastern Europe.  Despite the fall of the Iron Curtain, interest in the region remains.   Amish aid continues to parts of Eastern Europe today as well as to harder-hit places such as Haiti.

It’s not hard to find Amish, particularly youth, who have helped clean up after disasters such as hurricanes and tornado strikes.  A friend’s son just returned from a couple weeks in Mississippi helping with the ongoing Gulf Coast rebuilding process.

In some cases, Amish may even travel internationally.  A New Order adolescent spent time doing work in Southeast Asia, for example.  It’s not only limited to the youth, however, with groups such as Illinois’ Amish Disaster Service sending adult volunteers, hammers in hand, to places needing help.

In comparison to relief work, proselytization is more limited.  Unlike most Amish,  New Order Amish print pamphlets outlining their beliefs, and even give them out to non-Amish (I’ve received a few over the years).  New Order Amish will also deliver parts of church services in English when visitors are present.

Despite these signs of openness, it would still be a long stretch to say the New Order Amish are “active” in seeking converts in anywhere near the same sense that some evangelical Christian groups are.

Hurst and McConnell note that some Amish leaders cleverly characterize their mission involvement as “light that makes no noise”.  The researchers call it a “metaphor for a nonintrusive approach that focuses on setting an example and providing relief services without seeking to reconstruct the indigenous church” (Paradox p. 67).

Despite the potential benefits of shining a “noiseless light”, some Amish remain wary of mission work.  As G.C. Waldrep observes, some Amish look at the New Order Amish missionary enthusiasm with a skeptical eye.

Part of this has to do with lower retention rates.  Hurst and McConnell found only 60% retention among New Orders, vs. 86%  for mainstream Old Order Amish.  Waldrep notes that “The problem of “keeping the young people” has been paramount in recent New Order self-criticism.” (see “The New Order Amish and Para-Amish Groups”, MQR Jul 2008 p. 408).

Some see the mission orientation of the New Order as part of the problem.  Even the New Order, Waldrep points out, have become more cautious towards missions.  He quotes a New Order publication: “Many people who ambitiously promote mission programs are creating a mission field at home.  Their own children and grandchildren go astray.” (“Para-Amish” p. 407).

The question Amish face here is a common one for many churches–to what degree should we focus spiritual efforts “at home” vs. “abroad”?

Reflecting the diversity in their society, Amish have reached different conclusions in answer to that question.

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    1. Alice Aber

      Greetings Erik!!

      Very good post. Filled with many thoughts and questions I have been thinking about for years. I have attended to churches that pushed mission work abroad like their lives depended on it and I have attended churches that believe charity work begins at home so to speak. Each seems to have their own set of problems to deal with.

      I do like the idea of the “noiseless light” the Amish have. As a Christian I have found over the years that with a lot of people, the more you cram something down their throats the more they rebel. I have seen where that holds true a lot with people talking to a non-Christian about Christianity. But setting a gentle example or shining a “noiseless light” will do more good. There is a fine line kind of balance I believe. And I believe for the most part the Amish have found it.

      So many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, admire the Amish for various reasons, but mostly because they have a belief system in place and they stick to it. They do not cave in to peer pressure so to speak. And I think everyone, whether they agree with what the Amish believe or not, admire them for their strength and fortitude to stick to their beliefs no matter what.

      Just my thoughts for the day. Now I am wiped out and need to go back to bed,,,, taxed my pee brain too much, LOL.

      Blessings, Alice

    2. Theresa H.

      We are currently stationed in Gulfport, Mississippi where the need for rebuilding is very stong. You would think in some places that Hurricane Katrina came through only last week and not 5+ years ago. Every winter Jan.-March they have numerous volunteers to include, Amish and Mennonites who come down with MCC, CAM and few other organizations to help with rebuilding. The volunteers are all ages and are both boys and girls.

      While they are visiting, numerous ones attend the church we are currently attending and it is always fun to find out the different areas they are from. (mostly Pennsylvania and Ohio) We are definately going to miss having them join us in church each Sunday.

    3. We all have out slot in life.

    4. Bob Rosier

      I like the way you put it Alice “they have a belief system in place and they stick to it.” That may be the key to success.

      All religions are supposed to be based on love and forgiveness which the Amish follow, yet the newer form of fundamentalist often seem critical of anyone with a different view and often associated with too much negativity. I have always believed that what matters are not so much what you believe, but how you behave.

      The test of true religion is simple. If people’s beliefs, secular or religious, make them belligerent, intolerant, and unkind about other people’s faith or beliefs, they fail the test. If their convictions impel them to act compassionately and to honor others views, they are good, helpful and sound.

    5. Alice Aber

      Hi Bob,

      It is a combination of beliefs and behavior. As you state in your third paragraph by stating, “If peoople’s beliefs”. Our beliefs tend to dictate how we behave.

      Blessings, Alice

    6. Forest

      Hi Folks

      Regarding what Bob shared:
      “I have always believed that what matters are not so much what you believe, but how you behave”; we would generally agree and say that how you behave reflects exactly what you believe, no matter what you may say. We wear, for example, modest dress because it (hopefully) is an outward sign of our inner modesty and humility.

      The statement “Preach the gospel daily, use words if you have to” is one that frequently comes up in our services, and is a re-statement of the old saying, actions speak louder than words.

      Just some random thoughts.


    7. Bob Rosier

      Thanks Alice and Forest….good comments and good thoughts

    8. Mona

      Good article Erik, I did not know that the Amish did this…..that’s great….we need more people like them….
      I did get to see the program last nite on the Amish and found it very interesting…..I thought Mose was doing a wonderful job helping the Amish kids find a job, etc. wish they had more programs like this on tv…..I am so sick of the prison ones and the stupid reality shows….just a waste of time…..just sayin……………..

    9. Richard

      Another good post Eric, and im sure alot of folks didnt know the Amish were involved with some of these missions. The Mennonites are mostly known for this. We are on a flood warning here in south central Penn, between all the melting snow and above adverage rain fall the last few days.As i type this im hearing the sound of wind and rain hit my sliding glass window in the down stairs room.I hope everyone else is dryer than we are here in Pennsylvania. Richard. From the Amish area of Lebanon,pa

    10. Christine

      You mention a list of mission organisations that the Amish are involved in. I had heard that they are also somewhat involved with MCC. However, I can’t find that mentioned explicitly on the MCC website, I don’t suppose you know either way?

    11. They are active in MCC as well Christine. There is a good discussion of Amish participation in MCC vs. CAM in the Amish Paradox book.

    12. Hi Erik…I am enjoying reading all these posts…and I wish I could record all your radio talk shows….and you have great music as well…God’s blessings on you…

    13. Mona

      Hey Erik, what radio shows are you doing? First I’ve heard of it….what, when where and the time please… we can listen too….
      Hey Alice if you have any info….email me….thanks

    14. Alice Aber

      Sorry Mona, its news to me too. OK Erik, fill us in please!!!

      Blessings, Alice

    15. You know what, I’m a little stumped too!

      I did some radio interviews when my Amish business book came out, but that’s been a few months. And, don’t recall that I’ve ever played any music, or sung anything, over the airwaves. You wouldn’t want to hear my singing, trust me…Brenda, maybe you have mistaken me for someone else here? Either way, thanks for your kind complement on the posts, I will take at least a smidgen of credit there 😉

    16. Lindsay

      Hey Alice – I’m probably in a small minority of regular readers of the blog who are non-believers. I think a lot of my respect for Amish/Mennonites come from the fact that they aren’t in your face about their beliefs (well, I’ll be honest the food is pretty high up there too)! I also tend to think as Americans we have made our lives overly complicated with technology and we should look to other groups to simplify. Finally, some of the home arts that have died out in the past few generations (canning, sewing etc) are skills that have been kept alive in the Amish community. I respect good people, and it doesn’t matter if they are Christian or not…but I think Americans could learn a lot from the Amish in many areas of their lives.

    17. Alice Aber

      Greetings Lindsay,

      I couldn’t agree more with the statements about the “home arts”. I am one of very few non-Amish in my area that still gardens and cans etc. I taught myself to sew a few years ago too and I garden. Much of this I was encourage to keep doing because of watching the Amish. I have learned a lot from their life style.

      And as I had said in my previous post. Believers and non-believers a like admire the Amish.

      Blessings, Alice