Leaving The Amish: 3 Stories

Below are three stories of people who were born and raised Amish – but ended up leaving the church under widely differing circumstances.

First a note: when we speak about “leaving the Amish”, this can mean more than one thing:

  1. One case are those born into the Amish, but who never choose baptism. These people are sometimes said to have “left the Amish” even though they were never technically members of the church.
  2. Then there are those who are baptized Amish, but later decide to leave the church. These are the ones who are excommunicated and face social shunning (to varying degrees).

I would even include another category considering one of today’s stories – those individuals whose families left the Amish when they were young children, so they essentially had no say in the matter.

Each of these stories illustrates a different pathway that Amish-raised people have taken when moving outside of the church and into an English life. Some stories are fairly common, following a similar pattern. One which fits the latter category is that of Malinda Dennison, who grew up Amish in northwest Pennsylvania.

Born Amish, Now Army (Spartansburg, PA)

This first story has an unusual angle – Malinda Dennison left the Amish, then later joined the army. It’s unusual because the Amish are a people of nonresistance, which precludes service in military or law enforcement positions. Here’s Malinda in her army gear:

Malinda comes from the Amish community at Spartansburg, PA. It’s a little unclear what her situation was when she left the community ten years ago (i.e., whether she was baptized or not). Malinda later got her GED and her CNA certification, and met her future husband, a sergeant in the army, while in college. It was he who inspired her to become a soldier, as detailed in the article on the Army website.

Image: Erie News Now

Ironically it seems Malinda’s Amish background transferred well to Army life:

“We were taught to get up early in the morning and work, and that is what we do here,” she said.

Ross agreed that her Amish background has its advantages when adapting to new situations like initial entry training.

“I think it gives her a mental advantage over the culture shock most experience when they first join. Malinda grew up with a strong work ethic, and a great desire to succeed. She doesn’t like the idea of giving up,” he said. “Her upbringing gave her the ability to adapt and excel in everything she does.”

It would be interesting to know more about what motivated Malinda to go in a direction in such contrast to the mores of her religious upbringing, or how her relationship with her family is now.

That said, the Amish relationship to military and law enforcement is in my view rather complicated, as national defense is what safeguards liberties many of us take for granted today, like freedom of religion (one thing that made this land such an attractive place for the Amish to settle in the 1700s and 1800s).

And Amish for their part seem to really appreciate contributions of law enforcement and cooperate with law enforcement on multiple levels (for instance, on drug and substance abuse issues, bike safety education, or even helping with an undercover sting to catch a predator).

And of course, the Lancaster community greatly valued the response of law enforcement following the Nickel Mines shooting incident in 2006. One of the officers who later passed away was hailed as a “hero” to the families involved.

17-year-old leaves behind family of 14 (Wisconsin)

John Shrock’s story is one which seems familiar to many seen in the media – someone raised in a traditional community who leaves after feeling oppressed by the lifestyle and expectations. It reminds me of some of the stories in the film The Amish: Shunned or that of Emma Gingerich, who left her Swartzentruber community.

John, who has 11 brothers and sisters, left at the age of just 17. He relates a strange story of an incident with his father which appeared to be the breaking point:

Shrock grew up on a dairy farm in an Amish community in Wisconsin, where he says he was constantly trying to live up to perfection.

“If you want to go to heaven, you have to be a good Amish kid. So I tried to be the best,” Shrock said.

His best never seemed to cut it especially with his father.

“He was offended because I called him prideful. He just walked away but later that day, he was like well, since you know everything now, you have to punish me. So I had to spank him with a whip,” Shrock said.

That made him realize feeling emotionally tortured just wasn’t worth it anymore.

“I was like, ok, I for sure have to leave,” Shrock said.

John subsequently left a note behind with just two words: “I left”. He found refuge in what is described as his “adoptive” family, that of another formerly Amish man who left his community 15 years earlier.

The video in a report from KVRR shows John appearing in some happy scenes with his new family. He seems like a sharp and likable young man, and seems content being where he is now.

Amish-born Cousins to Graduate from High School (Sullivan, Ohio)

Benjamin Miller and Ella Yoder are about to graduate from high school in Sullivan, Ohio. The cousins were raised Amish and are the first in their families to attend public school (or at least in Benjamin Miller’s case).

Both of their families left when these two were young children. As described in the report for Fox8, “It’s a decision their families made to give them a better education.” I would suspect there was more to it than just that.

Image: Don Burke

Ella notes that her grandparents remain Amish. She sounds hopeful that they would approve:

“I think that no matter all of the troubles that have been in my family with us leaving the Amish, I think they would still be very proud of us as their grandchildren,” said Yoder.

By the sound of that quote I’d guess they might not be in close contact. Benjamin will study and aeronautical engineering and Ella will go into nursing. Ella’s mother sounds proud:

“I’m very proud of you and everything you have accomplished,” said Ella’s mother, Lisa, trying not to cry. “It kind of all comes together. All the years, everything we’ve went through, it comes together here. It’s very, it’s been an emotional week leading up to it.”

These three stories illustrate that “leaving the Amish” can lead to many different scenarios. In the film “The Amish: Shunned“, or in Emma Gingerich‘s accounts, you can often sense the negative emotions that remain.

In all three of these cases, the people involved seem positive about their current circumstances and futures, though their relationships with the communities they’ve left behind are not explored in great depth.

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    21 Comments

    1. Ron Barrett

      I live in South Dakota and would like to find an Amish women to be my wife. I’m English but always thought the women are nice. It this possible. Thank you.

    2. Bill Rushby

      Emma Gingerich

      Emma Gingerich’s account of growing up in an Amish church and subsequently leaving it is one of the best such stories I have ever read. Even after leaving, she tried to be kind and understanding toward her family, and she tried to be a better human being rather than a wilder one. May the Lord bless and keep her!

      1. Bill Rushby

        Clarification on Emma Gingerich

        Let it be noted that Emma had never joined the Amish church although she was raised in an Amish family.

    3. Keith M Lucy

      Additional Reasons for leaving

      Another reason some former Amish left their communities, is because they become born again Christians, and this generally, is not compatible with OOA churches.

      1. Glenn Linder

        Are you saying Amish can not be Born again Christian?

        1. Keith M Lucy

          Ofcourse they can!

        2. KimH

          Born again

          The Amish church doesn’t teach being “Born Again”.. there are some who hide it but it almost certainly will cause problems of one sort it another eventually. It’s a shame that you can’t have it all.

          1. Keith M Lucy

            Additional Reasons for leaving

            I know of several Christian Amish who have chosen to keep the Amish culture (lifestyle, to a degree) but have parted from the Amish Church, which is generally not Christian.

            1. Yoder in Ohio

              Lydia, I am so glad to see your comments on here! I was sad to see some of the comments on here by people who seem to be lumping ALL Amish churches or groups together. I am Amish. Old Order. A Christian, and Born Again. We most certainly do hear about the importance of the New Birth, repentance, and Accepting Christ. Please, please, please stop putting us all into one big pot and calling it black!

              1. KimH

                Sorry, Yoder in Ohio, I don’t think any of us meant any offense in our comments.. I know I didn’t.
                What I said has been my experience of Born Again within the few Amish communities I know. It’s great that it’s not been your experience.
                I think most of us who read Amish America know that no two settlements are identical.

    4. Me

      Amish leaving their communities

      I applaud those Amish that leave (for whatever reason and in whatever circumstance). The fact that Emma still was willing to treat her family in a loving way proves she has a kind heart. Blessings to her.
      Their work ethic is one of the finest traits that English people see. Another is their family orientated lifestyle. When English people’s children grow up, they are encouraged to make a life for themselves right away. Amish don’t see it that way, which is sad. Until an Amish child is married, they basically live for their Birth and extended family. It is sad that when they LEAVE, they are most often shunned for doing so and then considered to be living in sin. (This seems to me that they think that ALL English are terrible sinners and could not be doing anything in God’s Will. How can THEY be so Perfect and everyone else NOT so….unless we are catering to their needs.) Doesn’t seem fair when an English person makes a statement that they have done something unethical or wrong (against English Laws) that all of a sudden the ENGLISH person is terrible. God sees what anyone is doing behind another’s back. So Judge not or you will be judged. I believe we can learn a lot from the Amish but it goes both ways. They can learn a lot from us too.

    5. Lydia Good

      Just my two cents..

      I was born and raised Amish. I had 5 brothers and one sister. I was the baby of the family. My sister is 8 years older than I am. She was my hero. Got her GED and then went to collage. It took a lot of physical hard labor to get that accomplished. My brothers all left the Amish when I was just a child. By the time it was my turn, to either join the Amish or leave, there was no hesitation on my part on what I wanted to do. I left. BUT I did not have to leave my birth home. I don’t care if anyone joins the Amish church or not, you were still Amish. The day after I got my license, I was my father’s chauffeur. Our parents would have liked for all of us to remain Amish, but we were NOT harassed to do so. I would not change a thing. We all loved our parents and they loved us. And told us they loved us. I was also accepted in the Amish community. Aunts, uncles and cousins who remained Amish always accepted me for who I was, not for who they thought I should be. Dad’s horse died, so instead of getting another horse, they relied on the free chauffeurs in the family. That was OK too. After mother died, I would often take dad to church. He couldn’t walk very well, so I had to accompany him into the house. Me, with my cut hair and English clothes. Everyone knew that I LOVED snitz pie and there was almost always a snitz pie waiting for me when I came back after services to pick him up. And YES, Amish can be Born Again Christians. And many are. They just don’t shout it from the rooftops. I am forever grateful for the privilege of being born into my Amish family.

    6. Penny Barlett

      English Perspective

      We have the great honor and blessing of many friendships with Amish and Mennonites. Many are Ministers and Bishops. Our common faith in Jesus Christ is an unmistakable bond. Although we may define the “born again” experience differently, those who have fully submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ are fundamentally connected and we walk in agreement. We have much to gain from our friends’ simple lives and their dedication to what they have traditionally believed and practised. The diligence of their approach to life, work, family and faith is remarkable. Not all who say they are “Christians” actually live a life of dedication to the Lord. English, Amish, Mennonite, or any other association does not ensure faith in Jesus Christ. All who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are members of the Body of Christ. We know one another. We need one another. We love one another. This has been our personal experience.

      1. Bill Rushby

        Resonse to Penny Bartlett

        Well put!

      2. Dollie deaton

        Well put. I guess everyone has a different idea sometimes on what being born again means. I belong to an intermediate na Christian Church. We believe in total emersion and that Jesus was born a virgin. Died for out sins and rose again and is sitting at the Father right hand. We welcome anyone that believes that to become a member.

        I have a daughter who lives in Litiz. She is always talking about how nice the Amish are.

    7. Annette

      Most interesting Amish-leaving story

      When I lived in Wisconsin, I read a fascinating story in a legitimate local newspaper or magazine, I can’t remember which–but I can’t find it online.
      Young man who had grown up Amish realized he was gay in his teens (this was late 2000 or early 2010s), told his family, was kicked out of the house and moved in with an ex-Amish friend. He actually got a DANCE scholarship to a university. There he met the Mormons and wound up joining the LDS church. At the time of the article, he was a dancer and a celibate gay Mormon. He had no contact with his family based on what I gathered from the article.

      1. Keith M Lucy

        LDS/Gay

        It saddens me to hear stories like this- still living in bondage.

        1. Annette

          I think we may not be sharing the same grief, but I, too am sad, but about gay people who are suffering because of the way most religions shame and oppress them. That’s the type of bondage I thought of when I read the story.

    8. Me

      Amish Religion

      When Amish moved into our Town, a local Church set up right away to teach the community and church members how to minister to the Amish because they were not Christians and needed to be saved. I attended a class given by an Ex Amish from the community where these families came from. We had a book with all kinds of information on what is wrong with their Amish beliefs.
      Later there was an incident where an Amish man did some Criminal activity on an English man’s farm and it went to Town Court in front of a Judge that was an attendee of that church and the class. The facts were evident that the property owned by the English person were deliberately damaged by the Amish man, yet the Judge decided to deem him not guilty. It was evident that the property was not owned by the Amish man, nor did he find it his responsibility to contact his neighbor about what he was planning on doing.

      Now I don’t think this is the way to minister to the Amish when they do wrong. What a slap in the Face for the English Family that has been on and maintained their families farm for generations….just to be KIND to an Amish man who did Wrong in order to minister to them. I thought that the Bible said not to steal or be in WANT of what someone else had. It sounded Greedy and Arrogant to me. Certainly NOT what a good Christian should do.

      I don’t know what kind of religion would allow or encourage this to happen. I suspect the Judge that was trying to Minister to the Amish was also in the wrong. What one does behind another’s back, GOD sees. Judgement day will come, I am sure. I pray that All parties would see what God sees in this and that they can all see the GOOD in each other and settle the differences so that ALL can live in PEACE.

    9. Sammy

      Amish Needed

      I am looking for an Amish person to manage an work a small farm in South Carolina.

    10. Andrea Roberts

      Looking beyond the form

      We weren’t always in plain churches. First Eastern Mennonites,then Amish .What a nightmare!When we left the Amish our 14 year old son and 16 year old daughter wouldn’t come. After two weeks our son finally ran out to us. And he has stories to tell. We were not allowed to see them for 9 months. Our daughter is still there.She got baptized and they say she can not leave with us. Once we went public they said she may go but she doesn’t want to. They totally brainwashed our children.My other 18 year old can testify they did this to her as well.They are a bunch of liars and have turned everthing around on us.The police are no help.They tell us they can’t do anything.We are currently obtaining a lawyer. I am sure not all Amish are like this, but this has been our experience and an awful one. I can’t sleep, thinking about my daughter all night. There is more to this story,that i can’t fit.But I think it’s time we all look beyond the form.