“Leaving Amish Paradise” documentary
You may remember the “Trouble in Amish Paradise” documentary film of a few years ago, which examined two Amish couples’ decisions to leave the Lancaster Amish.
The maker of that film, Andrew Tait, has released a follow-up film called “Leaving Amish Paradise”. This is one of a number of recent films and books on the experiences of former Amish (see also the National Geographic ex-Amish documentary).
Andrew has kindly shared some comments about the making of this film:
This documentary started out as a follow up to one I’d made a few years back, called “Trouble in Amish Paradise” where I’d spent almost a year filming with two Amish families in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who were on the brink of leaving their culture.
It was very hard to find Amish who were prepared to speak to me on camera; the Old Order Amish in Lancaster believe it to be proud and perhaps vain to allow your picture to be taken, and it’s strictly forbidden – it’s the kind of thing that could get you excommunicated. The families I found and who agreed to take part, though, felt so strongly that things weren’t right in the Old Order that they agreed to do the film with me, which I thought was very brave of them. It’s not easy to go against everything you’ve ever been taught.
The issue for them was that they had come to a different spiritual belief than that held by the Old Order Amish. What I found happening in Lancaster was a steady exodus out of the Amish and into modern evangelical Christianity, and I’d heard anecdotally that there was over fifty families each year leaving the Old Order. Each one of those families would have to go through the pain and difficulty of being excommunicated and shunned by their Amish friends and families.
I became close friends with one family in particular through the filming, Ephraim and Amanda Stoltzfus, and stayed in touch with them. The documentary had a big impact on their lives; they’d got letters and emails from people all around the world who’d been touched by their story. Then, one cold day in February, I got a phone call from Ephraim telling me he was in Ireland, staying with a man who’d seen the documentary and invited them to stay with him for a few months. I had no choice; I had to go over and see them. I brought a camera with me, and so the second film began.
They’d since left Amish culture behind, and had a minivan, a telephone, electricity – even a website. But they were still living in the area, surrounded by the same Amish that were shunning them. I wanted to know if it was actually possible for them to leave the culture that had shaped them since birth. It was a difficult film to make. They were my friends, but I had reservations about some of the things they were doing, and some of the choices they were making. But I had to be honest about what I saw and filmed, and I hope I was fair and accurate in my portrayal of their lives. They have seen the film, and told me they were happy with it, and we are still friends.
I feel that we have so much to learn from the Amish, and those who have been Amish. I feel I have been changed by the experience of making these films; I was forced to examine my own values, beliefs and principles and think hard about what’s really important in life. For that I will remain ever grateful.
For obvious reasons, films about leaving the Amish tend to be skewed to the perspective of the leavers. In “Trouble in Amish Paradise”, we mainly got the views of the two couples, particularly Ephraim and Amanda. As challenging as it would be to make, a film documenting the views of those who remain in the church might provide a valuable counter-perspective.
Here’s a preview clip of “Leaving Amish Paradise”, showing one of the couples shopping for church clothes and a car. The film airs tomorrow (Wed Mar. 16) at 9pm on BBC Two. No word yet on American availability.
From the clip atleast it looks interesting, a fish out of water if you will. I try and never make a judgment when it comes to a few Amish who leave the church, so everyone should be happy because its their life.I just hope this young family does not get taken advantaged of while they get used to their new english ways, but you know they will as they make their way. Richard.From Lebanons Amish country.
I’ve just seen the first documentary and was wondering what had happened with the young girl with leukemia, did she recover or did she get worse
This is awesome view of the Amish changing cultures.I can’t wait to see the whole episode.
I agree with Richard that people will take advantage of the those who left the Amish and are not used to the English ways. I think they should have had someone with them when they bought that car, for sure. I am English, but if I buy a used car I always take a man with me that knows cars better than I do to make sure everything is okay on the car. I feel worry for them in a way. I wonder if they will stay English the rest of their lives or will they return to the Amish.
“What I found happening in Lancaster was a steady exodus out of the Amish and into modern evangelical Christianity, and I’d heard anecdotally that there was over fifty families each year leaving the Old Order” … Andrew Tait
Erik, or anyone else that is knowledgeable about this issue: Does this really seem to be the case? Are that many people really leaving the Amish church in the Lancaster area? That seems like a lot to me, but I have no local insight.
I know what it is like to leave a church that is not meeting your needs; I can’t even imagine what it would be like to leave one that is also the basis for your whole cultural and societal outlook. A difficult thing, of that I am sure. God Bless the path of the pilgrim.
How many Amish leave the church in Lancaster County?
As for number of families leaving Amish congregations for more progressive churches in Lancaster, around 50 families was also more or less the number I had heard a couple of years back around the time of the first documentary. That was anecdotal but it came from Amish. I don’t know to what degree that has held up say in the past year or two. Andrew might be able to comment more on this.
If that’s the case fifty families would be about 1.5-2 church districts worth out of a total of 170+ in Lancaster. Of course probably not a full individual district “disappearing” though I suspect it would often happen in clumps of families.
A good point on leaving a church which is so tied into your culture and everyday life. I can’t comment much on the Charity church but as seen in the video the Charity members are often dressing the same/similarly to their original churches.
Richard and Marilyn as far as families getting taken advantage of it is interesting to recall the experience shown in the Nat Geo ex-Amish documentary with the support community in Columbia, Missouri.
I don’t know how much Andrew’s new film delves into that aspect but would be interesting to see.
I have heard of Charity Church or Charity Ministries. They have a web site. I believe it was formed by an ex Amish Bishop and an ex Baptist Minister. They will be good to help with the transition as so many are ex Amish. But I still feel concern for them as well. It can not be easy for them to make the change.
Hope we get to see the enitre film here in the USA.
Interesting. Thank you very much for posting. God bless them.
As a Plain Anglican and a priest, I am concerned that these families are leaving what I consider to be a more orthodox teaching than what is taught in the churches to which they move. (I won’t go into the theology of it here; this is not the forum for that.)I wonder if they are being prosletyzed. Perhaps the bishops need to do some teaching on this doctrine.
To reassure those of you concerned about Elsie and Jesse and that car, they didn’t buy it in the end – they found a better car through a friend, which was being sold by a Mennonite family. It’s in good condition, lower mileage and cheaper to boot! I suppose that, although they are vulnerable in the English world, they also have good support from others who’ve already walked the same path.
Thanks for your concern, tho!
Thank you Andrew for telling us that. We are concerned for the safety and well being. Transitions of any sort are hard but I can not really imagine having my entire family and friends shun me. Then go out into a world that I know very little about and try to survive it. It can’t be easy for them. Prayers and best wishes to them!
I believe the transition for Amish in Lancaster County would be mush easier than other areas for one simple reason. There is the large Mennonite population. This fact probably results in more Amish leaving the old order in this particular area. If you are making a change and there is a place to go that is one thing….if you are making a change and all your neighbors consider you to be an outcast, that makes live much harder.
I’m sure most of you know that the Mennonite churches share the same beliefs concerning baptism, non-resistance, and basic Bible doctrines. They differ in matters of dress, technology, language, form of worship, and interpretation of the Bible.
Charity Christian Fellowship is indeed a church where former Amish would feel at home and welcomed. It was begun by a former Amishman (not a bishop, however) and former Baptist, and has a unique ministry in Lancaster County and elsewhere. It has a wide outreach in that they are welcoming to people of non-plain background just discovering Anabaptism, as well as those who are from a plain background. They have succeeded in melding these two groups together. Members dress plainly but do not have a written Ordnung as do the Amish. As far as orthodoxy of faith and practice, Charity is certainly orthodox, just not as strict about externals as the various Old Orders would be.
Greetings Mark, I stand corrected, not sure who told me the Amishman was a bishop but my apologies for passing along false information.
I have enjoyed listening to many of their tapes they produce. Excellent messages for sure. I do not know a lot about them but from what I have seen it seems they have taken the best of both worlds and combined them so to speak.
Greetings everyone…… just getting back home, and it looks like it will soon rain over my way. From reading the post that were posted after mine this morning, I’m glad that the former Amish family decided to buy a friends car instead. Not to say the van was a bad choice, but i just hate buying a car from a used car lot. I’m always intrigued to read or watch someone from another countries take on the Amish, like peter Weir the director of the very popular movie made in 1985 “witness” staring Harrison ford. Peter was born in Australia and i thought he had done a great job with the movie, in fact as he’s said before ” he knew very little of the Amish before he made that movie”. So for me its refreshing to watch the makers who are based in the UK, and i look forward to watching the full series if it becomes available in America. If its not, maybe since Erik’s site is so popular and rightly so, that the makers of this ” former Amish ” documentary would let Eric post this on his site at some point. That is if Erik is open to it, and im sure he would strongly think about it. I hope that we all can see it, and id like to see what happens to this family and their adjustment to the outside world beyound the Amish. Richard from Lebanon Pennsylvanias Amish community.
I some how sense that some of us, the English, are taking away the Amish from their life style into ours.
Our lives are complicated with drugs, violence, teen pregnancies, gangs, etc.
Should we not leave the Amish be, and let them decide from other Amish folks what’s really best for them?
Life is difficult enough. We have a hard time solving our problems. Let us not involve the Amish with our miseries.
It is not for us to judge their life style. But alas, we do none the less.
I am glad the former Amish couple bought a car through a friend. The first used car I bought by myself turned out to be the biggest lemon on the road – come to find it out it had been in an accident-before all the used car laws were in. When I bought my second one, I took a man with me and then had it inspected by a garage before I bought it. As I said, I am English not Amish. I hoipe things work out for Elsie and Jesse. I wish we could get that documentary. I never saw the first and would like to see this one.
I found this clip to be very interesting. It amazes me that they would give up their strong sense of community and family to jump into the English world. Although they will have more freedoms, I too would be concerned for their safety and well-being. But like us all, they too must find their way. I have not seen either documentaries and would love to see them both.
This sort of thing happens many times when a husband dies and the wife has to get on without him. He has often been the decision maker of the family, and now the wife has to make the decisions. It must be like being dumped in a wild wood. Thank God for friends and family who care about us.
Erik…I just watched the first documentary “Trouble in Amish Paradise” and I’m wanting to know about little Marie Stoltzfus….how is she doing? Is she all right? All of those children were just beautiful. What was Amanda and Ephraim’s 5th baby, a boy or girl? I just fell in love with their family.
We watched the Trouble in Amish Paradise last night and this is going to show a whole lot of naivete on my Englisher part, but, from what I know of the Holmes County Amish, and the Amish religion/culture in general, if Ephraim feels so strongly about his desire to be Amish and yet be more bible-centric, then why not just start his own affiliation?? It’s how the Andy Weavers started and it’s how the Schwartzentrubers got going… heck, it’s how all of the various affiliations got rolling; someone had strong enough beliefs, broke from their standing district and started their own version of the religion/culture…. It seems to me that if there are that many folks who feel like the Ephraims and the Jesses of the world, they could easily form a new “church”. This was the thought that kept rambling through my heart and head while watching this documentary; if the Ephraims want to remain Amish in essence but study the bible more, they can do it – no one has the authority to stop them. They CAN make a new world for themselves and their families… afterall, it’s what their ancestors did!
Ah Mary, the bible believing excuse for leaving Amish culture is just a cover up to be more worldly. As you so rightly point out, they could remain Amish and be bible believers by starting a new Amish group that permitted such things.
Sad how people always present noble reasons to cover dirty deeds.
To Leigh: Marie’s last chemo treatment ended in the Fall of 2010 and she is thriving quite nicely. Their last child’s name is Faith. She’s a beautiful little girl.
I assisted Andrew in the film and also recorded the sound. Like Andrew, it was a “life-altering” experience for me. I will remain friends with both families…
I was requested by Elsie Miller (the family in the 2nd documentary who bought a van) to post her address in here.
Jesse and Elsie Miller
279 Esbenshade Rd.
Ronks, PA 17572
How do Amish start new church affiliations?
Mary it is a good question. Off the top of my head there are at least a couple of issues that come to mind. Typically there at least needs to be a minister involved for a new group to be seen as legitimate and also you’d need to have enough like-minded people.
In Ephraim’s home settlement Lancaster you do see variation across the settlement (ie, technology) but they try to maintain unity, with regular settlement-wide Bishops’ meetings, which has led to a lot less forming of new affiliations vs. some other communities.
Lancaster is really just one affiliation except for the tiny New Order church (even though the south is generally considered more conservative than the north end).
Splits are painful and most Amish wish to avoid them. However splits do happen among Amish. For instance in recent years at least three separate Swartzentruber groups have come about; there have also been division among the Nebraska Amish resulting in a number of groups.
In these cases differences seem tiny to outsiders and may even manifest in nearly-invisible “small things” like technology and dress while the groups remain identical on deeper issues of theology/doctrine.
However in the case of some (ie Ephraim and others) desired change may lead them outside of what can legitimately be considered “Amish”. So while in theory they can begin a new church but may be difficult to do within the Amish fold.
On the “outside”, certain churches seek to appeal to dissatisfied Amish and so alot end up heading to those already-established churches.
David thanks for sharing that info, glad to hear that Ephraim’s daughter is better.
Erik, That is why I am curious as to whether they or others have been recruited into their new church. I am sure you are aware of sites on the internet that boast of recruiting ex-Amish, of saving them from the “errors” of their native faith. These, as far as I can see, are of the evangelical sort, with their roots in Calvinism. While the Anabaptists share some history with the early Calvinists, there are essential points of doctrine on which they differ. Phrases like “more Bible-centered” or “Biblically correct” would indicate to me that there has been contact with a group from one of these evangelic-oriented churches.
Absolutely, and that I believe would be the Charity ministries. I wonder if the family was so welcoming in the first documentary as part of that group’s missionary effort. I don’t believe this family should have represented themselves as Amish. But that’s not the only time I’ve found Charity churches to be misleading in their attempt to gain converts. I know I shouldn’t judge and I don’t judge them all, but it grates on my nerves a bit. I just hope this family finds happiness and health and love in the end.
I watched the first fascinating documentary when I was looking for people in a situation like that of Ephraim and Jesse and their families to illustrate an important point in my book ‘The Psychology of Spirituality’, published last November by Jessica Kingsley publishers. It was about the competing drives everyone is subject to, to conform on the one hand and to be independent, thinking and acting for oneself on the other. (This sets the scene for eventually thinking and acting for oneself unselfishly, in ways that are simultaneously of benefit to others).
It’s all in Ch 9 of the book. I contacted Ephraim who kindly gave me permission to mention his story. I’d be happy to send you a copy if you would like to read it. (Your documentary was credited in a footnote on page 157.)
I have just seen the recent, equally compelling follow up documentary, and want to say thank you for allowing us this sensitive and perceptive look into a community troubled by issues about rules, boundaries and exclusivity, and what happens when you break out or are expelled from it. As I hope I have been able to elucidate in my book, there is much that is useful to be learned.
With best wishes,
Someone has posted Leaving AMish Paradise on youtube.
Thank you so much for allowing us to catch up with these two families. I feel heartbroken for Elsie after Hannah Rose lived only for such a short time. Do you know how she faring ? They are two beautiful families , I hope they find peace and happiness .
It’s interesting to see the difficulties in the transition from Amish life to English life. I recently read a book “Amish Snow” by Roger Rheinheimer that is about a young mans transition into English life. It’s quite interesting. You can get it at: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1453859462/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_2?pf_rd_p=486539851&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=0982546912&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1TP1YD6KCK27JXHCZZFS
Shortly after I had seen the first film, an Amish friend in Lancaster confided in me that she was afraid they were on the precipice of another schism. She went on to tell me about individuals and families leaving the Amish for a more evangelical brand of Christianity. I’m a Baptist myself and we’ve had many discussions on theology and basically we agree on most things, but since I’m classified as evangelical she may have gone easy on the subject this time. I told her about the film, and was planning to tell her anyway because Ephraim is her 1st cousin once removed. Of course she knew all about Ephraim, didn’t have anything bad to say about him or anything. I believe the number she quoted as to families that had left was also in the 50 range.
I noticed that this is a different Jesse in “Leaving Amish Paradise.” Jesse Miller, rather than Jesse K. Stoltzfus and his wife Lillian. Did that couple return to the Amish or did they just not want to be filmed again?
I wondered that too Adrian.
Enjoyed the documentary and reading about the Amish,I admire their lifestyle…. I travel to Lancaster once ayear for honey, a quilt or to visit!!! I love their love for the lord !!!!
The psychology of breaking out from a powerfully exclusive parent group is fascinating. It’s a big scale version of what happens to many teenagers and young adults when they consider leaving home for the first time. Some stay, some go and don’t look back, but most go into a kind of orbit around the parent group while trying to find a new group to join and belong to.
In a case like the Amish, you probably need a strong faith group, like the Evangelical Christian group mentioned in the second documentary, to give you the thrust necessary to escape the original group’s gravity.
But this is not the end of the story, only the beginning. Those who continue to grow often become dissatisfied with the new group too. There can follow a lengthy and painful period of uncertainty and isolation before a new level of integration is reached. This occurs when the people concerned discover that the group they truly belong to is the whole of humanity, undivided by race, religion, culture or any other parameter.
I’ve been thinking too about the children of families who leave the parent group. Like first generation immigrant children, they span two cultures, the new and the old – and this can bring another set of problems. I hope Andrew will continue to follow Ephraim and his family (and they will let him) for many years. I suspect that their Christian faith and the innate discipline of the Amish people will stand them all in good stead and carry them through. It may well turn out to be highly inspiring to watch. I wish them well.
See my blog:’Spiritual Wisdom for Secular Times’, and you can view it at:
@Larry – I’d be delighted to get a copy of your book – it sounds as though you’ve really delved into the psychological and social aspects of this aspect of Amish life. I’m glad you got in touch with Ephraim, and thanks very much for the mention!
@Adrian – Jesse Stotlzfus and his family are still living according to the rules of the Amish church, and have no plans to change… they remain fully committed to their evangelical faith, but have chosen to remain in the Amish culture. When I started filming hte secodn documentary, Jesse’s wife Lillian was still a full member of the Amish church – only he had been excommunicated – and so was not at liberty to be filmed again.
@Katie – Elsie is doing well; she has a lot of support from her new church, and she is very strong. Thank you for your concern!
And thanks Erik for this excellent blog!
That’s great! Just let me have your address and I’ll send a copy. You can email me privately at email@example.com or write to me at PO Box 2567 Henfield, BN5 0BR, UK.
Andrew, thanks for taking the time to share with us and answer some of the questions people had here. Looks like it has gotten quite a response.
"leaving Amish Paradis" documentary
I think it’s a sad thing for these couples. They’re not only dealing with leaving everything they’ve ever known. But then they are engulfed in a society where a majority of the people will take advantage of them. It’s no wonder the Amish Community wants nothing to do with “Englishers”. Too bad because there are some of us who would like to get to know them and learn the importance of their culture and beliefs.
Debbi, actually many Amish do have quite a bit to do with English. Some groups have less interaction, but with the businesses Amish run nowadays, ties with English are closer. A lot of Amish have English friends and neighbors as well. And I don’t know if it is always so bad for those that leave.
Regards to Jesse and Family
I was wondering if you could tell me how Jesse and his family are doing, after seeing the programme I was left with the feeling that Jesse was finding it difficult to adjust to his new way of life, also could you pass on my regards to him and his family and let them know that they are in my thoughts and I wish them well for the future.
Saw two other British shows on the Amish called ‘The World’s Squarest Teenagers’ and ‘Living with the Amish’. Nat.Geo condensed the former and re-named it ‘Amish on Break’.
Unfortunately US viewers can’t watch the shows online on the shows’ websites, but you could find clips on youtube or just google the shows for more info.
moving on into missionary work
i was so impressed with the programme i do hope they(those who leave the amish) do transition into the wider evangelical world, they ( because of their skills with their hands)would make such good cross cultural misssionaries especially in the central asian countires! do pass on my blessings to them all. & my email address should they ever consider doing so? former missionary (to the 2 thirds world)
Chris, some of them leave and totally leave the Amish lifestyle and values behind. Some leave and hold on to parts of it. Ephraim Stoltzfus, for example, was just at my place today (he lives a few miles from here). He is currently hauling goats and small livestock into NYC twice a week with a Ford dually crew cab and a livestock trailer. He takes these animals from the New Holland auction to the Muslim community in the city, where they are butchered according to Muslim standards (blessed by Allah before killed). But he tells them, he is only doing the hauling so he can tell them of Jesus. They still want him to bring them the animals. 🙂
So although he has obviously left Amish culture in that way, he would still hold strongly to teachings like the head covering for women, modest apparel, non-resistance, non-involvement in politics, etc.
Ephraim told me once that he wished there would have been a group that would have held more to the Amish culture, yet have an evangelistic zeal (like he has :-)) when he left the Amish. His heart is not to run down the Amish culture, although he obviously does not feel it is absolutely necessary. He simply wanted a more zealous approach to evangelism, prayer, etc than what he could find in the Amish churches he knew at the time he left.
Not to eavesdrop on this conversation but I appreciate what you shared about Ephraim sharing with Muslims. Who would have thought, someday, former Amish that adhere to their scriptural reasons for dress, would someday be used to reach the Muslims, here?
My sister has tried because she is a teacher at a University in So. Calif. teaching English as a second language-yet, she doesn’t feel she can invite Muslims to her church because of the way women dress because one of the comments made by the Muslims she’s spoken with is that they cannot believe how Christian men let their wives and daughters dress! So-the door is open for the conservative Anabaptist groups. Praise the Lord for this opportunity! It’s dangerous to go share in Muslim countries so there’s news of Jesus appearing to Muslims in dreams, here in America, the Plain groups can have a way in to share with Muslims.
more then dreams.org
hi valerie, have a look at this dvd on u-tube 5 muslims have direct visions from the Lord!
i even got to meet one of them
working with muslims
that’s great so pleased he’s doing well & connecting with the muslims in NYC ( there a needy bunch) we worked for 15yrs with muslims! living amongst them, ask Ephraim to write so i can help him in his quest to share the gospel!
US Version Aired on Cable TV
I thought you’d like to know that this documentary recently aired on the Destination America television (cable) station under the title “Amish Outcasts.” The US version of the “Leaving Amish Paradise” documentary, about 50 minutes in length, was narrated by Mark Morettini. Other ending credits in this aired version included:
Music Composed by Adrian Williams;
Assistant Producer & Sound: David Cornman;
Production Executive: Val Turner;
Production Coordinators: Gavin Chapelle, Katie Hollowood, Rhia Lloyd;
Production Manager: Louise Binding;
Dubbing: Peter Jeffreys;
Editor: John Parker;
Colorist: Jon Everett;
Executive Producer: Tim Green
Produced, Directed, & Filmed by Andrew Tait
A BBC Whales Production
I think this might be...
I think this might be the most friendly, peaceful and respectful comment-conversation I have ever encountered on a serious issue online. I stand amazed and with warm feeling.
I am very glad to read Marie Stoltzfus is OK – I hope that is still the case now, a few years later (and I kind of assume so, God bless). That’s how I got on here.
That’s all really – some wonderful things I found here.
More info on Documentary
I was wondering if I could send you a quick email? I was looking for some more information on documentary subjects, specifically Jessie and his conflicts with the religious aspects of his Amish community.
Is there a follow up to Leaving Amish Paradise
I’m curious to know what happened to the two families. In the 4th Leaving Amish Paradise Ephraim has just got a job, but it didn’t seem his family had stability yet. Is there a follow up to Leaving Amish Paradise?