Jim Cates: Ministering To Those In Need

Jim Cates is a clinical psychologist who does counseling work with clients, both Amish and English, in northern Indiana. In today’s post he shares the story of an Amish bishop who played a special role for one of his clients–and later faced trials of his own.

A Little Rain Must Fall

Into each life a little rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When we consider the virtues that lift the Amish to high ground, few of us would include a bishop who spent time in prison among their moral leaders. I do. The details of his story are shared carefully, in order to give him as much anonymity as possible. And yet there is meaning and purpose to his life that is worth telling, if for no other reason than to balance the hoopla of Amish “reality shows” that purport to rip away the cultural cover and offer a slice of humanity.

I was counseling a young man who was, ultimately, very Amish. By that I mean he was willing to talk and share with me, but his heart, mind, and soul were in his community. It rapidly became clear that my support and counsel carried only so far. He needed a broader support system than I could provide on my own. And yet he was loath to share his struggles with his immediate family. Who was available to offer hope?

My discrete inquiries led to a bishop well-known to many, but unknown to me. He was a vibrant, charismatic man who was much-loved by those he served, and was sought by a broader circle for his empathy and insights. More than simply a leader of his church, he understood the difficulties that arise in life, and responded with a blend of scripture, discipline, and support that many found a light in their darkness. True, he had battled his own demons over the years and been called to account, but these battles left him with an awareness of how dark the nights of the soul could be, and merely deepened his own reservoir of compassion.

And so it came to be that on a sultry afternoon, as clouds hung low and threatened rain, the young man I was counseling met this bishop for the first time. I attended as well, for my client was still hesitant that others within the community could understand his struggle, or provide him with hope, despite his desperate desire to believe it might be so. The bishop’s wife met us at the door with a kind word and a smile and excused herself. The three of us talked for a time, and then I excused myself as well, sitting on the porch, watching the rain move in from the west.

And as the first drops began to splash into the yard, the bishop asked me to rejoin them. My client sat quietly, at peace, and said that the talk had been good. They were kindred spirits, and he felt a connection on which he could draw in the future. I felt a new respect for this Amish clergy whose innate skills in the counseling realm were clearly well-honed. And yet as we pulled away I glanced back and saw the bishop watching us from a window of his home. And in that moment, his face showed the vulnerability and pain with which he lived as well.

Time passed quickly, as it too often does, and while the bishop and I were now acquaintances, our paths did not cross often enough to make us friends. Still, whenever we met there was a bond that I wished could deepen. I would commit myself to meet him more frequently, only to become distracted by other tasks once again.

And then came the news, from another source, that the bishop had been arrested. He had confessed immediately to his church, been placed under the short ban (six weeks of excommunication), and was waiting to be restored to fellowship. However, the justice system recognized no such forgiveness. Moving in its slow, implacable course, imprisonment seemed likely.

The bishop called me, and after consulting, I testified at his sentencing hearing. There was no need for preliminaries. He had confessed readily and quickly to the charges against him, just as he had confessed to his church and his victim, asking forgiveness for the wrong he had done. With no attempt to deny the legal charges the judge, a grim harbinger of justice, gave a prison sentence from the bench that shocked those of us present. He was led from the courtroom, a paradoxical picture in plain clothes and handcuffs, to await transfer to the Department of Corrections from the county jail.

In due time he was moved to prison to serve his sentence. I had been working with another Amish client who was already serving time in the same prison, a much longer sentence for more severe crimes. He was despondent at his status, helpless and hopeless at the path his life was taking. And then he met the bishop. Still shocked and adjusting to the turmoil in his own life, the compassion and empathy that marked his ministry continued while incarcerated. The bishop ministered, supported, and prayed for this fellow Amishman, as for many of his fellow inmates, offering solace in the grim environment they shared. And in their time together the bishop offered hope that would otherwise have been lacking.

Upon his release he returned to his church, and resumed his duties. He looks older, without question, and the vulnerability and pain I had glimpsed so long ago now accompany him much more frequently. And yet there is an even greater depth to his compassion, and strength in his resolve to minister to those in need than was true prior to his arrest. He remains a testimony to the willingness to shoulder responsibility for one’s actions, to courageously accept the fate we are given, and to embrace and be embraced by a community that stands ready to forgive.

Jim Cates is the author of Serving the Amish: A Cultural Guide for Professionals.

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    1. Osiah Horst


      Thanks, Jim for the work you do and for the stories you relate to us. My heart goes out to this man – I am sure many of his own people have condemned and harshly judged him for his mistakes and weaknesses but who among mankind doesn’t fail? In a similar situation a comment was made “nothing he can say will ever mean anything to me again!” The person making the comment or judging harshly is surely just as wrong, at least according to Jesus who said “Let his that is without sin among you cast the first stone at her!”

      With his experiences in life, this bishop is surely one of the best equipped people to help others deal with their own struggles. That heart of compassion is without price in his work. It has been said that discipline is the highest form of love we can show to another. Discipline with love is discipling or continuing the work of Jesus while discipline without love or compassion or empathy is nothing but punishment and cannot be expected to have the same outcome.

    2. Andrea Woodard

      Amish and Jail time

      I would never have thought that an Amish Bishop would serve time in jail. Your story opened my eyes. I would have thought if a Bishop was put in jail that his being place in a bann would be for a longer period of time.
      Thank you for sharing this story.

    3. Alice Mary

      We never know where circumstances (and our “path”) will lead us. Thankfully for this bishop and those he came in contact with in prison, the outcome will have been positive when all is “said and done”. I’ve no doubt that even the “haters” will be forced at some point (by their own conscience?) to reconsider the circumstances surrounding the bishop’s imprisonment and the ultimate “good” that came of it.

      Thank you for this interesting post.

      Alice Mary

    4. Patricia Gardner

      Jim Cates Ministering To Those In Neeed

      This is a beautiful story. Who are we to know what path our Lord puts us on. The bishop took accountability and had much courage. He continued to serve the Lord while he was in prison.He then went back to his church and community and served again with simple pure dignity. This is a story of forgiveness and love. Well saidn.

    5. Amish Girl-Rebecca
      1. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

        no idea

        I have no idea what is being said there in that reply. They sneak in every once in a while, I guess when no one is looking…

        1. Sorry about that guys. For those who didn’t see it, there was a nonsensical spam comment which is what Rebecca and Shom are talking about (just deleted it). Sometimes a spam comment gets through though the filter blocks dozens of them every day.

          I’ve actually been tweaking the spam filter lately to make sure it doesn’t stop comments from real people, so that may be why you see this thing occasionally.

          1. Mark - Holmes Co.

            Spam Again

            It makes me wonder how this stuff is typed up. Is it a computer doing it? Just curious…

          2. Joan Sheldon

            remove this spam, too

            Erik- This needs to go, too.

            1. Yikes, yeah, that was computer generated spam. Just deleted it. I have been keeping an eye on the comments but missed that one. A ton of it gets blocked but sometimes one gets through, and we’ve seen a couple lately. We had a couple of readers who emailed me about their legitimate comments not going through so I had been tweaking the spam settings to try to get it right. Will take another look.

    6. Carolyn B


      My title is really what I can say about this post. I believe so many Christians conveniently forget how Saul of Tarsus started out and became our beloved St Paul the Apostle. God bless you for sharing and your clients too.

    7. Jim Cates


      I am humbled by those who appreciate my work. I have said before, but perhaps not loudly enough – I am one of many. My experience has been that the truly gifted professionals who succeed in partnering with Amish clients and/or settlements are those who are able to stay in the background. That said, I love writing, and Erik has graciously given me a platform to do so. Unlike the majority that places me more in the forefront. As a result, I’m afraid the interventions described can look like a one-person effort instead of the team approach they really are. Please know – with every story I tell, every incident that turns out well – there are fellow professionals I respect and trust implicitly with whom I talk, share, and whose guidance is essential. Truly, truly, the Lord works in mysterious ways. And of course – the Amish described are really where the spotlight belongs. They are the unsung heroes.

      1. Amish girl - Rebecca

        Jim, There’s a sticky situation in my uncle’s family right now. It’s nothing I’d want to share on a public blog (because of privacy issues), but would like your input as a professional. Could I contact you personally ?

        1. Jim Cates

          Amish Girl - Rebecca Response


          Feel free to email me backchannel. You can reach me through either http://servingtheamisn.net or http://catesandassociates.us. Either email connection works.


    8. Osiah Horst


      Jim, it is only when those ministering or those being ministered to speak up that the rest of us learn of what is being done and what can be done. By relating the bishop’s story the way you did others may be encouraged to keep on or to seek help.

      The first time I heard your name, you were in the background (literally) while Christopher Weber held the floor. That was my first exposure to the work being done in northern Indiana and I was greatly impressed by the methods used, the people involved and gave me hope that this effort can be replicated in other areas as well. It is such a shame when those of us professing to be a people of God have to admit the problems among us.

      1. Amish girl - Rebecca

        Osiah, Sometimes I wonder if it’s not more of a shame when our people don’t want to admit we have problems and need help. If we can only humble ourselves God can work through us and like this bishop, he was then able to help someone else. I am glad to say though that on certain levels it is more common or acceptable to ask for help from professionals than maybe in our Grandparents’ days. It’s sad to see people who need help and can’t accept it. You can only help those who need it.

      2. Jim Cates

        In the Background


        I’m pleased that you’ve heard Chris speak. He is a dear friend. I admire and respect his abilities as a fellow professional as well. We have spent many an hour sorting through how to approach and handle problems, issues, and our own struggles in responding to the Amish.