Saloma Miller Furlong on Why I Left the Amish

Saloma Miller Furlong was raised Amish in Ohio.  Why I Left the Amish is the story of her childhood and adolescence, and eventual departure from Amish society.

Saloma Furlong MillerI enjoyed meeting Saloma for the first time this summer while in PA, and have always appreciated her comments here on the blog.  I just recently had a chance to read Why I Left the Amish and found her story to be filled with tough moments but quite a page-turner (maybe for that very reason).

Saloma’s story is not a rose-colored version of Amish life but a real look at one person’s experience growing up in difficult circumstances.  Saloma has kindly answered a few questions today about her Amish experience and book.

Why I Left the Amish book giveaway

Saloma has also offered a copy of Why I Left the Amish for a lucky winner.  To enter this book giveaway contest, just leave a comment or question in the comments section.

For an extra entry, share this interview on Facebook (just email amishamerica@gmail.com letting know you did).  We’ll draw and announce the winner next Thursday, Feb. 2.

Saloma Miller Furlong interview

Amish America: Can you share a bit about yourself and your Amish background, and also how this book came about?

Saloma Miller Furlong: I grew up in Geauga County, Ohio, in a family of seven children. My family was a dysfunctional one (mentally ill father, a mother who did not protect us, and an abusive older brother). I often felt that my life was unbearable, and yet I thought there was no help for my family because the people in the community were not inclined (nor were they equipped) to deal with our family problems.

saloma-furlong-why-i-left-the-amishThen I found out that there was indeed help for our family, but we had to reach into the outside world to get it. My mother refused to allow an intervention, which is when I escaped at twenty years old. My book concludes with the first time I left.

The first time I thought about writing a book about my life experiences was the second time I was leaving. The Amish had hired a van driver to bring the bishop and his wife, my uncle, who was also a minister, and his wife, my brother, sister, and a friend to go to Vermont to escort me back to the community. I did not think I had a choice, so I returned and stayed nearly three more years before I left a second and final time. So when I was leaving the second time, an “English” friend urged me to write my story and soon, so that I would remember the details. She was the first, but she was not the last to say, “You need to write your story.”

What I didn’t know when I left the second time is that I could not just turn my back and walk away from my past. There came a time when I had to reckon with the abuse from my past, which led me to therapy. During this healing process, journaling became important. When I finally felt I had come through the hardest part of my healing, I had the urge to write for others. I began that process 17 years before my book made it into print.

How typical or atypical was your experience growing up Amish?

Saloma: I have often been asked this question at my book talks, and I always say, I simply do not know. Wherever there is abuse, there is also a cloak of secrecy. I believe the first step in breaking the cycle of abuse is to break the silence that shrouds it. Because of the insular nature of the Amish community, that cloak is thicker and more impenetrable than ever, which makes it nearly impossible to find out how much abuse exists in their communities.

I believe there are well-adjusted Amish families, from what I saw while I was teaching school for two years. I just have no idea what percentage.

In your book you describe the abuse that you and your sisters experienced, the difficult relationships with your parents and older brother.  But what are your happiest memories from your time at home?

saloma miller amish
Saloma Miller, age 20. Just before leaving the first time

Saloma: I loved what I call “homemade fun.” I remember we used to take a blanket and fold it in half. A small person would lay down on it, and then two bigger people would hold two corners each, making a swinging hammock. We’d swing the child back and forth, and then “land” him or her on the couch.

I loved jumping rope. And I used to love to swing on the rope swing hanging from a tall branch of an oak tree next to the woodshed. My sisters and I played “house” for many hours in the woodshed or the corncrib. In the fall we used to rake together freshly fallen leaves into a big pile, and bury one another. Sometimes our pile was big enough to bury three or four children at once. We also used to try to catch the falling leaves, which were as elusive as butterflies.

Your detail the tribulations of dating in an important section of the book.  How does dating work in your community?

Saloma: Erik, you would have to ask me that. I’m always embarrassed to answer this question. My home community practiced “bed courtship.” It is believed that this practice derived from “bundling” in which a board was placed between the man and the woman during the time our ancestors were being persecuted back in Europe. This allowed young people to hide from the authorities in upstairs bedrooms, which were often cold.

Bundling allowed both people to stay warm under the bedcovers, while ‘visiting.’ Many generations ago, the board disappeared, leaving the bed courtship rituals. Even the Amish who still practice bed courtship (and most communities no longer do) are embarrassed to talk about this practice, because it is hard to explain to outsiders that they are not encouraging their young people to have sex, even though they allow them to go to bed together.

There’s much more about this in my book.

How many youth do you think join church the way you describe your own baptism–uncertain and reluctant? 

saloma miller left amish
Right after leaving. Also age 20

Saloma: I have no idea. Most people’s feelings were well-guarded, so I would not have been privy to how they felt about their baptism. These kinds of things were just not talked about. I sure could not share with anyone Amish how I felt about my own.

What are the good and bad sides of life as an Amish female?

Saloma: This is a very general question. I wouldn’t begin to try to answer this for anyone else. A positive for me was that I didn’t like doing farm work. Though I had to do some, if I had been a male, much more would have fallen on my shoulders. I enjoyed the women’s gatherings, such as quiltings or getting together for the day to take on some project. I think I’ve already mentioned the feeling of having no power, especially as a young girl. This was the down side for me — especially having so few directions that my life path could possibly take if I stayed Amish.

What ties do you still have to your home community?

Saloma: My ties to the community are dwindling. My parents are both deceased, and one family I used to visit when I went back to Ohio, moved to Kentucky. All my sisters have left the community. When my parents were still alive, we visited them regularly, and we attended both of their funerals.

Had you grown up in a healthier family situation, would you still be Amish today?

Saloma: I have often been asked this question at my talks and it’s one I cannot give a definitive answer to. For one thing, I’d have to have been endowed with a different nature — one that does not have fundamental questions boiling up from within. And that begs the “nature versus nurture” question — was it my circumstances that gave me that insatiable desire to ask questions, or was it inherent in me when I was born — who knows?

saloma furlong amish
Age 23 in Vermont, before leaving the Amish the second and final time

But this I do know. Even if I’d had a good Amish childhood, I imagine that I’d still have yearned for more education. And that alone may have been enough for me to face the loss of community that comes of leaving the Amish. Maybe. This is a question I simply cannot answer.

Why I Left the Amish ends when you arrive in Burlington, Vermont, having finally taken the step of leaving home.  Will you continue the story?

Saloma: Yes. I am co-writing the second book with my husband, David. He and I had met during my first stay in Vermont, which was only four months. We had been dating for about seven weeks when the Amish came to take me back. David had to watch this happen, knowing it was not my choice, and also knowing there was nothing he could do about it. He visited me in Ohio (the second time resulting in a thorough rejection) and he kept in touch with me via letters.

Finally, two years after I rejected him, I wrote to him, which started the four-month process of the two of us renewing our relationship. We married a year and a half after I left the second time. David’s voice is important in this story, because he has a perspective of many events that I don’t — I had no idea at the time that I had turned off all my feelings like a faucet at the kitchen sink turns off the flow of water when the Amish came to fetch me back to the community. He claims there was no light in my eyes and no feeling in my voice.

For an excerpt of our book (about our first date), you can visit my blog.

Where can readers buy your book, and find you online?

Saloma: The book can be bought at the following locations:

1. A signed copy directly from me online (Or come to one of my book talks: See my schedule of events.
2. Your local bookstore — most bookstores are happy to order the book if they don’t already carry it.
3. on Amazon
4. On Barnes and Noble

You can visit my blog and website. Also, I will be telling my story in a documentary called “The Amish” that will air on American Experience on February 28, 2012. After that, this documentary can be seen on their website. (They have chapter one of the film available now).

Photo credit: 1st Saloma Miller Furlong photo by Kerstin Martin

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    344 Comments

    1. Tiffany

      Thank you for sharing your story!

      This will definitely be a side to the Amish I’ve not yet read about. Being a Christian Fiction fan as I am, I heard more about the romanticed version of Amish life I guess you could say. (I had read a book by Sue Miller, I believe, about her time with an/some Amish families that was non-fiction.) The important thing to remember is that just like “English” families, everyone is different and no one family is typical, I suppose. I personally couldn’t imagine raising my daughter without hugs and cuddles, though!

      Saloma, I look forward to reading your story! Thank you for being brave enough to share it, even the embarrassing parts.

      1. Tiffany, I have a lot to say about Sue Bender’s book, Plain and Simple. You can read it on my blog: http://aboutamish.blogspot.com/2011/05/plain-and-not-so-simple.html.

        Yes, the lack of show of affection among the Amish is a pretty stark difference from the mainstream culture. I also could not imagine raising my two sons without spontaneous and regular hugs and kisses. Also, I really enjoyed reading them stories at bedtime — something I never got as a child. But then again, I’m sure I made mistakes in parenting. I did my best, and my parents would have claimed the same.

        I hope you enjoy my book.

      2. John A. Powell

        why I left the Amish..

        I am a new convert to the Mennonite way..I have a good lady friend in my church that has shared so much of her experience with the Amish life and her journey from there to her present experience..I find it facinating that abuse, strict leadership control and guilt of thinking non-amish is so prevelant..I appreciate true stories about the “inside” view by these courageous and recovering individuals..on the other side,Man is fallible and dysfunctional..I believe the Amish want to obey the Lord and the danger for all of us is to depend on “works” and “hard work” to get us into the Kingdom…Jesus Made the only way to God and through His “work” on the cross, we are saved! PRAISE THE LORD!
        Blessings to all who read this ..Sincerely, John A. Powell

        1. JOHN POWELL

          have left the mennonites too!

          After looking at the Mennonite “brotherhood” for 13 years I felt I had found where I was supposed to be in Christ’s kingdom. After joining, I was still being “shunned ” for my Marine Corps service and when I was “reported” for wearing a black t-shirt at a revival meeting the night my mother died,I removed my membership.This kind of control about insignificant behaviour is ridiculous and turns prospective adherents away. I became aware of many serious acts by bishops that were made arbitrary and the belief that these “leaders” can make any kind of rules. The real reason for the harassment was that i was friends with an older member who had lost her husband of almost 50 years and that we were calling and visiting and traveling too much together..She is also leaving the membership but because of her Amish background, is seeking another Mennonite church to join.You do not lead by hitting people over the head,that is assault! And the shepard leads and not drives! I am glad you “escaped” and found the expression of your talent and mind.I look forward to hearing more from you in the future!

          1. Dale D.

            Hi John

            I am sorry to hear that you have left the Mennonites! I have appreciated your ministry in our denomination. Your are a blessing!

            Dale D.

    2. Bev Ryder

      I would love the chance to win your book. when i read about others challenges and choices in life i grow as a person.

      1. Bev, that is so true. Thank you for your thoughts.

    3. Stacey B

      I feel that anyone who talks openly about abuse they have suffered is very brave, so I commend you. I have several very close friends who are Old Order Amish. We share many things together and we always compare our lives. My friends always tell me that the Amish did not live in a bubble,nor are they protected from the cruel things that happen in life. Bad things happen everywhere….there are bad people everywhere.Just because someone is Amish doesn’t mean their life is the idealized one that people often think. What we have learned from being friends is that it doesn’t matter where you come from or where you have been, we are all human. Thanks for your story.

      1. Stacey, it’s nice that you have that kind of friendship. I’m sure it’s nice for your Amish friend, too. Sometimes even when the situation doesn’t change, compassion will go a long way. Thank you for your interest in my story.

    4. I am anxious to read this book.. angadair@nwcable.net

    5. Nelson

      Sounds very interesting,,,would love winning it,,,,

    6. I admire your will and strength in doing what you believe would be best thing for you. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

    7. I admire your will and strength in doing what you believed would be the best thing for you. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

    8. Christine Maenza

      Book giveaway

      I would love to read this book. I love anything related to the Amish! Christine at wannabeamish@gmail.com

      1. Christine, I hope you enjoy my book. Happy reading!

    9. Nancye Davis

      "Why I Left the Amish" Book Giveaway

      Wow! This sounds like an incredible book! I would LOVE to win a copy of this book! My question is this: When you cam back the first and second time, how did the community treat you? Why did you decide to return to your community? What made you believe that you had no choice?

      nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

      1. Nancye, I hope you get a chance to read my book. You ask some complicated questions! I didn’t go back twice, I only left twice. The people in the community didn’t ever really trust me — the young men didn’t ask me for dates, because they had the attitude that I left once, I could leave again, and guess what — they were right! I was given a teaching job in the school where I attended. I think that was an attempt to keep me in the community. It worked for two years, but I was being criticized by the bishop for the way I combed my hair, that I was jogging down the road, and rumors kept circulating about me that had no basis in truth, so I became restless again.

        The reason I felt I had no choice about going back is who showed up to take me back… it was as if they brought the Amish community to Vermont with them. The physical distance that had, up to that point, been a source of my resolve to start a new life for myself, had suddenly vanished. Plus, I thought that they had a legal right to take me back. When I left in November of 1977, the legal age in Ohio was 21, and I was twenty. What I didn’t know when they came to get me in March of 1978 is that the legal age in Ohio had changed to 18 on January 1, 1978. The Amish in that van were certainly not going to tell me that. Plus, I did not want to find out if they would physically put me on the van to take me back. I decided if I was going to go back anyway, I may as well go back with my dignity intact. I tried to “make myself Amish” for nearly three years, but I was just not cut out for that life and religion. The fundamental questions just kept boiling up from within… and a person with a questioning nature does not fit into that culture.

        Thanks, Nancye, for your interest in my story. I hope you get a chance to read it.

    10. Angie, Nelson, and Bobbe, thank you for your interest in my story. Happy reading!

    11. I believe Erik, that you will be drawing a name for the giveaway in the morning. Thank you so kindly for starting this wonderful conversation… I’ve found myself absorbed in all that you’ve had to say. I tried to respond to everyone, but I may well have missed some. If I have, feel free to hope over to my blog and ask me there: http://aboutamish.blogspot.com/

      And Erik, when I start spending more time on your blog than I do on my own and I see what a loyal following you have, I think it’s time for me to admit that you write a more engaging blog than I do. (Need that smiley face).

      As I close tonight, I want to share one of my favorite quotes:

      If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. ~ Anne Bradstreet

    12. Nancye Davis

      I posted this giveaway on my Facebook Wall. I’ve sent you an e-mail with the link. Thanks for the giveaway!

      nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

    13. Phyllis Kemp

      Interesting

      I’m sure you have an interesting story to tell. I have always thought the Amish were fascinating people. I would like to read your story.

      1. Phyllis, I hope you get to read my story… maybe your local library has it? Happy reading!

    14. Valerie

      Wonderful

      It’s probably too late for me to enter, I found myself engrossed in the comments both by readers & Saloma & have to “get going” before posting, but this has truly been a blessing to read from all posters and Saloma’s gracious and attentive responses.
      I pray many are not only blessed by reading the book but grow in some way as I’m sure it will somehow touch all of us when we read it, just judging by these responses.

      Have a blessed day, Saloma I even love what you said about winter-
      just got back from Hawaii myself, (daughter & hubby lives there so you know, must go visit!) and returning to mild winter in Ohio not too bad, being a native so. CA I have appreciated what winter offers, even as your comment implies.

      1. Valerie, thank you for your comments… so glad you enjoyed the discussion… so did I! It’s always gratifying to know that my book touches people. I hope you get to read the book!

        Blessings.

    15. Leon A. Hadden

      Why I left the Amish

      This looks to be a book that I would really like to read. I am and have been for a long time, interested in the lifestyle of the Amish. I knew that there had to be other sides of the story of gentle Amish. Many thanks for giving me the chance to possible win the book.

    16. lanore

      would so love to read this book. knowing that things are not always rosey, would love to learn more. Happy that she finally broke away.

    17. Roberta Klooster

      God offers healing

      Hi Saloma,
      I so appreciated your story here and can identify with it. I was not Amish, but grew up in the country in a dysfunctional family. I was the one who absorbed all of the emotional pain in the family, I felt I had no one to talk with about my feelings, and longed for a peaceful, safe place. I was always in church, but kept feeling “there must be more to life and to God”. This led me to keep searching and eventually I found a church community that taught and lived according to God’s word. I have now been married to my husband for 34 years and am amazed that God answered my prayers, for healing of my wounded heart and spirit and a home that is filled with God’s love, peace and security.

      I wish I could write as you have to put my experience in a book too. May God use your story as one of hope. I love the Amish and Mennonite communities becasue of the peace and serenity I see there, but your story reminds me that there is unseen pain in any culture because we are human.

      1. Roberta, thank you for your moving story. I am always gratified to hear when my story touches someone.

        Using this passage as an example of your writing, I would say you can write about your experience for a book. I would encourage you to write it, with the option of keeping it for yourself (and your family, if you want that) or publishing it. Writing down your story can be valuable in many ways, whether or not you decide to publish.

        God bless you.

    18. Robin M.

      Fact vs. Fiction

      Hi Saloma, First of all, I ordered your book the other day and can’t wait to start reading it. I have read a couple other biographical Amish books including “Growing Up Amish” by Ira Wagler and am now re-reading a very old one, “Rosanna of the Amish” by Joseph W. Yoder. I remember reading this one as a teenager 40-some years ago. Are you familiar with it? It takes place in the 19th century and written by Rosanna’s son, published originally in 1940. I have been fascinated with the Amish from a very early age.

    19. Nic

      Thank you for sharing these personal moments with us!

    20. Hi Saloma

      So nice of you to respond to our group. You have such good insight. You say your ties with the Amish are dwindling, but we hope you will stay around and become a permanent part of our family here.

      In the Light, Bob

    21. Ahmad Abdollahzadeh

      Interesting for an Iranian Muslim

      Salaams Saloma,

      It’s really interesting for me as an Iranian Muslim to know about different ways of life, such material as you told about the Amish way of life. Thank you very much for sharing your story.

    22. Lori Grassette

      I understand leaving a strict community religion...

      I became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses at age 20 because I had Bible questions that hadn’t been answered and also because I had many family members that were witnesses. I was married, raised a family and was involved in the community for 24 years. But after 17+ years of complying and doing everything that was expected I was unhappy and ended up so stressed I got Cancer. That was my turning point in my life. I am still ‘finding myself’ now, continuing to go forward and seeking my own beliefs and how I fit in this world! Your experiences have touched me and I am so happy you have found your own path and have shared your extraordinary journey with the world. My friend Teresa shared your link with me, thank you! Warmly yours, LoRi

    23. Looking Forward to Reading Your Book!

      I live in Ohio and many Middlefield Amish contractors helped to build my home. The home took about 3 years to build, so my husband and I have become quite close with the Amish crews. Two Amish men even invited us to their homes (which I heard is not common). They are very sweet and call my father “Dotty.” I have to admit that there are times I wish I was Amish. Many of the “problems” we face day-to-day are non-existent in the Amish community. However, I do wish they could further their education and take photographs.

      I am really looking forward to your “authentic” book. A recent movie I watched had the Amish speaking with a thick Irish accent. 🙂 I couldn’t even understand them! I’m not sure where the Amish speak that way? (hee-hee!)

      I’m glad you have found a supportive husband and happiness.

    24. Nelson

      Saloma,,,how are you relating with your sisters,,,?? Hoping you have really forgiven all who have hurt you,,??,,
      Love reading your comments on here,,,,,praying for you,,

    25. Nelson

      at the end of life....

      When all is said and done,,,,there is just ONE thing that matters,,,,,

    26. Ada Car

      Thank yoou Saloma

      For your comments and answers.I hope to read your book soon. I am reading everything now th I know I will have amish as neighbors at my new place. I hope to be a good neighbor and know little about them. I do know about abuse and any who speek out are brave indeed and evil only continues when we ignor it or throw a cover over it to hide it. Blessings to you!

    27. Michael L

      Saloma....

      Wow. Your experience was AMAZINGLY similar to mine-born Amish into a dysfunctional family. I too struggled for many years coming to terms with my past. Therapy helped me tremendously as well.

      I must say, I will be buying your book.

    28. John A. Powell

      to Saloma Miller Furlong

      thank you for your revealing story..We all can tell of our experiences in other faiths and the disappointments and failures of people,family, friends,and the ungodly..but praise the Lord that He will never forsake us if we are “in” Him.. I am a “convert” to the Mennonite way, and tho not perfect,they have shown me awesome love and acceptance which I never experienced in any other time of my life..I am former military and I am glad our country allows us to choose our faith…may it ever be so…that is what I fought for…FREEDOM and LIBERTY for ALL!
      Blessings to you always,John A. Powell Shenandoah Valley,Virginia

    29. She Bea

      Sounds so much alike

      Dear Saloma, In your first few words… I could read your life story! I am not Amish or Mennonite, but do love what i have seen and read of their lives…. I won’t judge them, but will have a better unbderstanding because of your courage to write… I am 3rd oldest of 10 children, born to an alcoholic father. My mother was kind but to weak to defend us from many abuses. I had an older sister who abused me terribly. She was like my dad and I was much like my mother. Though I had a Christian aunt who taught me about Jesus and His love… I have come thru 2 depressions and anxiety attacks, poverty, and “shunning…” the world has it’s own form of shunning… but Saloma, you and i know that “GOD ID SO GOOD…” You may have left the Amish, but you never left God, and it is very obvious that He hasn’t left you… I am married 38 years now, with 2 grown son and another adopted son of 14 and 1/2 years. God gave him to me when he was 26 days old. Life still brings trils and heartaches… but so much joy and peace also. As God is so good and His presence sustains us. Be sure that if I do not receive a free copy of your book, I will indeed purchase it to read. Thank you for you sacrifice to tell and share your story for the blessings of others. God bless and keep you always. Sister She….

    30. Dale D.

      to Saloma

      I grew up in a Mennonite family which was very dysfunctional, It took me into my mid-thirties to get to a point of some healing. I had to put up boundaries with my parents so I would not be on a roller coaster of emotional whippings.

      I believe that much of this dysfunctional Anabaptist tendencies come from the 300 years of persecution that the Anabaptists endured in Europe. I think our forefathers were not able to forgive the torture and held anger and bitterness in the hearts. this anger and bitterness was passed down from generation to generation to generation. I have noticed that the more conservative the Anabaptist the more abuse there is in the family. But not all conservative Anabaptists are dysfunctional.

      Saloma, I do not know if you are aware of some of the reconciliation movements within Anabaptist family, but there are some amazing things going on in that realm. These forgiveness’s that are happening, I believe will eventually help free many Amish and Mennonite dysfunctional problems. Forgiveness is so important! Here is a link to one of the articles. Others articles on their site. http://www.mennoworld.org/2007/10/8/reconciliation-part-swiss-anabaptist-year/

      Blessings to you Saloma!

    31. Stefano Bacc.

      interesting and sad

      Dear Saloma,

      I am writing from Italy. Here the life is like everywhere but obviously not like in an Amish community, I can understand that if in a society there is Prohibition there is also people who do not want their hands tied. I say Understand but not that I Approve violence or coercion or intimidate or other similar actions. The worst things is when some horrible situations happen inside the family where peoples thinks that they are safety. In this period I understand this: in the world people are never happy on what they have, they search other ways to find the Eden but in the end they know it is impossible and so, frustrated, they unload they emotions in the family. Lucky me that I live in a good family, but also me I am not happy here. For me try to live in a Amish family for a period will be an important thing to do in the next future.
      For a little that I know now about your book I am sad for what you lived in your family, your father and your old brother… I hope are you happy now.
      I think I will read your book soon.

      Good luck for everything Saloma Miller.

    32. Marianne

      Hi Saloma,
      I am so happy to hear about your book. I have looked for books that expose what you and I went through as a child but could not find any.

      I am a new author of a memoir that I did. My book is called, Behind The Scene. Born Amish, Raised Mennonite. It was released a year ago.
      I have had to use an alias name as I have relatives that live in Amish communities that should not bear the shame of what their parents did unknowingly.
      I would love to hear from you.
      Marianne Bontrager
      P.O. Box 145
      Moravian Falls, NC 28654
      805-368-7386