Buggy in snow- Chuck Grimmett/flickr

Free Rein

One day in late fall, snow fell and caught me unprepared for winter. Hoping to save a little time, I took a different way home, one with which I was not too familiar, yet I anticipated no problem. Old Dobbin obligingly trotted on, but I was not far until I began to have doubts that this road was leading me home. By now the only thing I was certain of was that I was not going where I wished to go.

A sudden inspiration came to me, and I urged my horse onward. I turned around and headed back the way I had come. Only this time I left it all to good old Dobbin. I knew I was too confused to decide for myself, and I believed that my horse wanted to get home every bit as much as I did. It was exactly the opposite of what seemed right to me, but I knew my hope was in trusting my horse and God, who had given him the homing instinct. We had not gone too far before the faint outlines began to look familiar. My horse had found the way.

Is it not the same in our lives? We think we know, only to find ourselves on the wrong track. Our only way back is to turn around, let loose the reins, and trust Another to lead the way, even when it is not what we might choose for ourselves. We know he guides the way and knows our every need.

–A Teacher

Excerpt from Amish Voices: A Collection of Amish Writings by Brad Igou, © Herald Press, 2019. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Heraldpress.com.

Brad Igou is the person behind the book Amish Voices: A Collection of Amish Writings.

For many years, Brad was president and co-owner of the Amish Experience at Plain & Fancy Farm in Bird-in-Hand, PA, before retiring last year.

Brad was the publisher and author of numerous articles in the Amish Country News monthly, which you might have come across if you’ve visited Lancaster County. He has also spoken at conferences on the Amish at Elizabethtown College.

The Amish In Their Own Words – an earlier version of this book – was one of the first books I ever read about the Amish.

So it’s nice to have Brad here today to answer some questions on his own experiences with the Amish over the years, and how this unique book – based on writings in the Amish publication Family Life – came to be.

Enter to win a copy of Amish Voices

To enter the drawing for a copy of Amish Voices, just leave a comment on this post. The winner will be drawn at random and announced in a separate post next week.

Brad Igou on Amish Voices

Amish America: Can you give us some brief background on this book – how did it come about and what does it contain?

Brad Igou: In 1999, after many years of reading Amish publications, the first book The Amish In Their Own Words, was published. Then 20 years later a condensed version, Amish Voices, was released.

The idea behind both books was to let the Amish speak for themselves through their writings in the monthly magazine Family Life, from Pathway, the Amish publishing house based in Aylmer, Ontario, Canada.

Amish America: How did you first meet the Amish and how have you worked and interacted with them over the years?

Brad Igou: In college I got a job working at a local Amish attraction as a guide. One of my jobs was to go out and pick up craft items from an elderly Amish lady. We struck up a friendship, and I became so interested in the Amish that I changed my major to sociology/anthropology at Ithaca College.

In my senior year, I was able to do an independent study by living and working with an Amish family for three months. It was there that I came across copies of Family Life, and found them a fascinating window into Amish life, quite different from the academic books I was used to reading.

Obviously during my thirty years at the Amish Experience (Route 340, between Bird-in-Hand and Intercourse), I had contact with many Amish, especially when we developed our unique Amish Visit-in-Person Tour.

Amish on scooters- likeaduck/flickr (cropped)

What did the process of putting together this book look like? 

I don’t know exactly when, but I believe in the late 1980’s, I met Amishman Abner Beiler while on a tour. Of all things, we got talking about cornmeal pancakes and I told him I would drive by his house with a recipe I had.

Known as a local Amish “historian” and a good talker, I learned he was currently housing a library in his house, and all the issues of Family Life beginning in 1967 where there (the library eventually moved into a permanent building beside the Gordonville Bookstore).

I had been thinking of compiling some articles from the magazines but never thought I would find all the back issues. And so began the process of my leaving work at the Amish Experience most Wednesday nights and reading through the issues, writing by hand the sections I thought interesting.

In the process, Abner became a treasured friend and resource. I had decided to stop reading at the 25-year mark. Near the end of the project, the big old computer in my house crashed and I lost what I had typed in (these were the days of actual floppy disks).

Luckily, I had kept my hand-written notes, and Abner encouraged me to start the process of re-typing them all again. I then printed the selections out and organized them in chronological order into appropriate categories (chapters) for the book.

What in your view are the biggest misconceptions people have about the Amish? What surprised you as to what you learned while compiling this book?

Many people think of the Amish in monolithic terms… they all live and think alike. Today, readers of the Amish America website certainly discover that diversity of Amish culture, practices, and opinions.

As I read Family Life, I was fascinated by the different thoughts and the honest writing and discussion, often grappling with very difficult personal problems. Also, for people with an 8th-grade education, many of the poems and articles were extremely compelling and emotional. This was clearly the “human side” of the Amish.

Finally, I also enjoyed the humor. I have always felt that many Amish have a delightful sense of humor and enjoy a good laugh as much as the next person.

Which topics evoked the strongest responses from people writing in to Family Life?

There were two columns, “What Do You Think?” and “Problem Corner,” in which often difficult issues and concerns were presented, and readers were invited to respond. The range of responses was often fascinating, and people were not always in agreement.

Editor Elmo Stoll’s column “Views and Values” was always worth reading. And “Yesterdays and Years” looked at Amish life in days gone by. All of these clearly got people thinking and inspired many responses.

Which articles or comments made the biggest impression or stood out to you the most?

The one lengthy article that convinced me a book would be worthwhile was the story about the Amish selecting a new minister.

I had read the description of this choosing by lot in scholarly books, but I had never read something describing the thoughts that might go through members’ heads during the process.

Having been lucky enough to attend such a service, and moved by all the emotion I felt in the room when the new minister was announced, I now had a window into the various thoughts that might have been swirling around in the room at the time.

I also enjoyed what I called “Amish Parables,” in which something simple inspired the writer to a bigger realization or inspiration. Having taught English in Japan for eight years, I saw these stories as a sort of Amish Zen, or akin to Christ’s parables in the New Testament.

What, if any, changes did you notice in the magazine over the 25-year-period you covered?

The changes really had to do with what was going on to a degree in the world around them over the 25 years. But I remained more impressed with the consistency of a sense of community, how they might often question their beliefs, and by being humble and rarely judging others.

Rarely are religion and way of life tied together as they are in Amish culture. As one column was titled, “The Answer is in the Scriptures.”

What might non-Amish readers gain from reading Amish Voices?

Many readers say they like the short selections, making it easy to pick up the book and simply read a couple paragraphs at random. So it is not a “tough” academic read, but one by which we see the Amish not as “cookie cutter” people, but facing many of the same challenges of life in a changing world, raising children, making a living, dealing with technology, and our relationship to religion and to one another.

I like how one writer said their focus should not be on this world, but on the world yet to come. Finally, the Amish are quick to note they are far from perfect, and don’t always face serious problems as they should.

Few people are “studied” as much as the Amish. But in this book, I just wanted the Amish to speak for themselves so we could see them “as people,” not as objects of academic study or the subject of romance novels.

Thanks to Brad for his answers. Enter to win a copy of Amish Voices by leaving a comment below. Or if you’d like to go ahead and get the book now, you can do that here.

Amish-made cheese

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