Serving the Amish: Interviews

Though the Amish are known to prefer to stay within their own circles, there are times when they must interact with professionals in a non-Amish context – law enforcement, medical workers, counselors, and others.

Serving the Amish James CatesServing the Amish: A Cultural Guide for Professionals, a new book by James A. Cates, is meant to help those professionals understand Amish beliefs and culture to help those interactions succeed.

Jim is a friend of mine whose private psychology practice helps Amish in northern Indiana. I read a pre-publication version of this book and found that it covers difficult topics with great sensitivity. Jim drew on his experience with the Amish in both a personal and professional setting to write Serving the Amish, which comes out next month.

We’ll have some more on the book at that time. In the meantime, Jim has recorded a series of interviews for the Serving the Amish website which you might appreciate. These are lightly edited, longer video interviews, with both Amish and non-Amish expert voices discussing a wide range of topics.

A Young Adult Amish Male

In this first interview, a young adult Amish male discusses his own life and Amish life in general.

This is part 1 of 3, covering topics including whether he thinks in German or English, the difference between parties and singings, and his mother’s reaction when he asked whether he should join church.

You can find the other parts here.

Tom Fitch, Shipshewana Town Marshall

In the second interview (part 1 of 4), Tom Fitch, Town Marshall of Shipshewana, Indiana, discusses his background with the Amish, dealing with fallout and parental reaction following the Devil’s Playground film, and drug issues.

The rest of the Tom Fitch interview is here.

Senior Amish Bishop

In Part 1 of this third interview, a senior Amish bishop reflects on service, why being Amish is a “passion”, and how living a simpler life is different today than 60 years ago.

It is a bit harder to hear this soft-spoken man. You will also hear some chimes of a clock in the background, including a tune I wasn’t expecting. Part 2 is here.

You can view the rest of the videos at the Serving the Amish website.

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    1. Very interesting. Thanks for introducing us to the book (as well as the video clips).

      I’m particularly curious about the book at the moment. How in depth is it? With a title like that, it could be anything from “Amish Culture 101” to the level of a doctoral dissertation (no criticism intended).

      Also, where will it be available for purchase?

      1. Serving the Amish

        It’s meant to be a practical guide to understanding some of the trickier issues encountered when dealing with the Amish in those various contexts. So I’d say it’s quite a bit more than Amish Culture 101 but I’m guessing more accessible than your average dissertation. Jim knows his stuff and there’s a lot of meat to it.

        Not being in one of the professional groups listed I’m not really the primary target audience for this book, but I found it one of the more enlightening books I’ve read on the Amish, just being someone who appreciates learning about the Amish. There are necessarily some difficult issues addressed here but Jim handles them with grace and tact.

        Hopefully this is going to be a good resource that benefits both the Amish and the people working with them, some of whom may have had little or no contact with the Amish and are in need of something like this to be able to do their job more effectively and to mutual benefit.

        I just received the publication version, but don’t have it in front of me right now (working today in Bruegger’s!), and “look inside” is not enabled on Amazon so I can’t check that to tell you. But the version I read had a dozen-plus chapters covering topics including mental health, death and loss, women’s issues, law enforcement and judicial issues, and more.

        1. Thanks....

          Thanks for the clarification, Erik. Sounds like an interesting read — and stuff you’re not likely to get on the 3 hour tour through Amish country.

          1. You’re right, it’s not really tour material!

    2. Mark - Holmes Co.

      I’d be interested in the book, too. The interview with the town marshal just about gives me chills. (I did not see all of it, but enough to have my opinion renewed that I’d think twice before moving to northern Ind.! I know there are a lot of decent young folk there, but that kind of partying would scare me as a parent. It makes me feel like going home and telling my children I’ve been over-reacting to some of their weekend doings!

      1. Amish parental concern

        Mark I guess it puts things in perspective 🙂 I wonder how much of northern Indiana’s rep has been painted by the Devil’s Playground film and how much of it is deserved. Probably some of both. I am sure there are plenty of parents there who are troubled by it.

        I believe Tom Fitch made a comment in that video that parents in N. Indiana were more proactive about their youth after the film came out. Another sign of this concern is the Amish Youth Vision Project addressing alcohol and drug issues, and which is run with Amish input and with classes jointly taught by Amish and English.

      2. ShipshewanaIndiana

        I know there is great diversity within the Holmes County community, but to what degree would you say there is a drug / alcohol problem in the greater Holmes County Amish community?

    3. How Complex is Serving the Amish?

      Hi – I’m the author of “Serving the Amish.” First, my heartfelt thanks for Erik for profiling the book and the website this way. It is scheduled to be released October 2nd. At least one reader has asked about the “level” of the book. For an overview, Google Books has the Preface and part of the first chapter available – just Google “Serving the Amish” and look under googlebooks for it. It gives a sense of the reading level of the book.

      It assumes a basic understanding of the Amish, so someone with no understanding of Amish culture would likely be lost. On the other hand, it does not assume that the reader has a thorough understanding of all things Amish.

      1. Thank you!

        I appreciate that you gave us the information about Google Books. I have read what is there, and I am very interested in reading the rest of the book. You have struck a good tone in this book, and you are providing very useful and important information for those who serve the Amish. Thank you very much!

        1. Thanks Saloma

          Thanks for your kind words Saloma – from someone who has been there, they mean so much. Also – in regard to viewing the videos – their only platform at the moment is Vimeo. The “tekkie” type who guided me in setting up the website earnestly discussed with me the value of different ways of approaching it until I had no idea what he was talking about. However, I do recall that one of the issues with the set-up is that a few computers will have difficulty playing the videos correctly. (There is a positive trade-off to that, but please don’t ask me what it is!) It may be possible to still view them at a library or other source. Thanks again!

    4. Anita

      Leave the Amish alone, and stop profiting by exposing their personal lives to the public.

    5. Anita

      and s. Stop airing the dirty laundry of the Amish and stop shoving photos into their faces when they do not want them.

      1. ?

        Anita, I am confused why you’d unleash this here, or really, who you are directing this towards. If meant for the author of the book, there are a lot more effective ways to “profit” from the Amish than spending countless hours researching and writing a niche book.

        Having read this book, it is going to help Amish families if applied by the people who deal with them in these professional contexts. Whether people like it or not the Amish are human and have issues like any other community of people; issues which are compounded when there is a lack of understanding between them and the non-Amish people whose job it is to work with them in these sensitive situations. Your upset seems misdirected in a world of Amish reality TV where “dirty laundry” is aired with little concern for the community.

        1. Mark - Holmes Co.

          Opps… I must have been writing my comment while you were posting yours, Eric. They crossed or whatever. Good point about the reality shows, Eric.

        2. Well said, Erik.

          I have not been able to view the videos… neither of my servers will play them. And I really want to!

          1. Hmm, try clearing your browser’s cache/history. Can you view any other VIMEO videos? I don’t see that Jim has these on another platform like Youtube, unless I’m just not able to find them. You might also try direct from the Serving the Amish website but it sounds like it is probably something on your computer preventing the videos from playing, hopefully that cache clear will get it working.

            1. Clearing browser cache/history

              Just in case anyone else has this issue and not sure how to clear cache/history, here is a link explaining how to do it for different browsers:


              When I find something isn’t working as it should, clearing the cache/history is usually the first thing I try, and often works.

            2. Problem Solved

              Thanks, Erik. I found I had too many controls in one browser, and I don’t know what the other one is about. So I’ve been watching them. They are very interesting.

              This comment is for Jim Cates. Thank you so much for doing this work… letting people know what the issues are around serving the Amish. Very important, and you are obviously very knowledgeable about what the issues are.

              I hadn’t heard of synthetic heroin, but it sure sounds scary. Especially so for a vulnerable population. What an understanding man the police chief is… and someone who understands the Amish and yet won’t “let them off the hook” just because they are Amish. It is important to understand the cultural differences, but I think it is equally important to hold the Amish people responsible for their own actions when they abuse substances or one another in the same ways the “English” are held responsible.

              Many thanks, Erik and James for bringing these issues to the attention of others.

              1. Mark - Holmes Co.

                Saloma, all I can say is “right on.” Anyone who breaks a law or gets involved in drug/ alcohol/ or any other kind of illegal business should be treated the same.

              2. Glad you could watch it Saloma. Also I wanted to say it’s been really nice to see all the comments here.

                With all that’s been going on in the personal life lately, I haven’t been as active as I’d like to be here, but have gradually been cranking up again. I have also been working on a new resource for the site that I’ll be publishing in the next week or two.

                But it’s nice to see people are finding reasons to hang around even if posting has been a little spotty the past month 🙂 Not surprising though since readers here bring a ton of value with their contributions. Anyway, just a little excuse to say “I appreciate you” 🙂

    6. Mark - Holmes Co.

      Amish people are getting used to having our lives exposed or published or broadcast or exploited. There is not a lot we can do about it without taking some kind of legal action. All these tourist brochures & magazines, post cards, picture books, etc. are almost ALL taken without the private Amish person’s permission or approval. Some of us find our pictures in places we don’t expect or like and some will be hurt or embarrassed, some offended, some will smile or roll their eyes.
      It’s like a DVD sold in many stores of an Amish barn raising. All the non-Amish faces in the DVD are made foggy so they can’t be identified. Why? Because a non-Amish person might take action at being filmed for a production like that without permission but Amish people will not. So we are stuck putting up with it. Sometimes a concerned and sincere non-Amish person like yourself will speak up. I once heard a famous lady from TV who visited our community say she knows why people are focusing on her, but she ASKED for it. The Amish people here did not ask for the attention and most would prefer to be unnoticed. Who wants to be treated like the polar bear in the zoo?
      BUT a book like this is being put out to help people who might come in to contact with Amish people in business or law. I think this puts it in a different box than the usual Amish exploitation. I’d rather see it distributed privately myself, but I don’t really know how that works.
      Sometimes I wonder how this would sound if we substitute Amish for Jehovah Witness, Jewish, Asian, autistic, gay, Muslim, Southern Baptist, Scottish, Texan, or any other group singled out for attention. What would happen then?
      Years ago I was asked to talk at a high-school outside of our area about Amish history & lifestyle. In the glass case inside the front door were pictures of Amish ??? gangsters? This was done by the art class after the song “Amish Paradise” was put out. I was surprised and offended and before I could think it through I asked if that was supposed to make me feel welcome or what. When I left the building two hours later the case was bare and I asked my “host” if they would have made a project like that about any other “minority” group. He had no answer.
      So your concern is noticed and appreciated and it is a good topic to look at. One final word: so many of these researchers don’t get ALL the details. 🙂 As a close friend said after I asked him if he had talked about this-and-that in an interview for a book: “No. He doesn’t need to know about that.”
      Blessings to you, Anita, and thank you for your concern.

    7. Dirty Laundry

      Anita – I appreciate the concern behind our comments. And I have to agree. Amish “dirty laundry” has been aired again and again on television, in “tell-all” books, and online. If you read the book when it is available and feel it is another version of that, all I can say is that I am truly sorry you feel that way. In an effort to make sure that it carries as much respect as possible on very sensitive topics, across the past five years (the time it has taken to complete it) I have remained in contact with several Old Order Amish friends who helped guide the project. A number of Amish friends also read a copy of the manuscript before it went to press to guide me in the final stages. I know your words speak the fears of a number of people who choose not to write. I have tried as best I can not to make those fears a reality.

      1. Mark - Holmes Co.

        Jim, I hope you read my comment that at least one Amish person recognizes your intent to educate those who interact with Amish people professionally.
        I guess if I’d waited 15 minutes to write, I could have let you & Eric comment and stayed silent.

    8. Thanks Mark

      Thanks for your kind words Mark. Still, I appreciate that Anita is willing to say that she has concerns. If I were Amish, given all the things that are being said and written these days – I would be cautious too. Sad to say, it’s a natural response.

    9. Mark - Holmes Co.

      You are welcome, Jim. And I agree it’s good Anita is willing to speak up.

    10. Osiah Horst

      Serving the Amish

      At one point, I said I would like to have a copy of every book written ay and about the Amish. I have since changed my mind somewhat. I understand what Anita is referring to, although I think the point has been adequately made that Jim’s project should be beneficial to all relevant parties. I currently have my eBay page set up to pull up all things Amish and Mennonite, so every day I get to see what is offered for sale, with a reference to Amish and Mennonite. It is quite disturbing to see what all is marketed as being Amish.

      Having said all that I think this is one book I would like to read.

      I would also like to say “Hi, Mark”; we met in June 2013 at the conference in Elizabethtown.

      1. Mark - Holmes Co.

        Hi Osiah… but you have someone else in mind because I’ve never been to Elizabethtown.

    11. Emily from Iowa

      Erik: thanks so much for this post, which is a great introduction to the “Serving the Amish” website.

      Jim: So excited about your book!! What a wonderful resource it’s going to be for those of us who either already do or hope to work with the Amish in the future. If you ever have a need for another English counselor for Amish folk in the Elkhart/LaGrange area, just call me up–I’m working on my German and everything. 🙂

    12. Katie Troyer

      I am finding this very interesting, both the book and the comments.

    13. Carol

      Our library system permits us to suggest a purchase. I suggested this one and the response was that it was a book advertised are “professional” and might be more likely to be purchased by the University.

    14. Naomi Wilson

      Sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

      I heard the unexpected tune. Should I name it?

      A small distraction from an otherwise interesting conversation.

      1. Slightly-Handled-Order-Man

        Naomi Wilson; I heard the song too. I was kind of expecting something a little different than that, but, certain popular songs can be taken within a religious lining, when I think of this I think of Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed”, originally a song of love to his wife, but when a Christian artist did it several years ago, it was geared toward God and Jesus and was a very different song, with the same lyrics pretty much and the same melody (I used to work in radio for a spell, and the cluster of radio stations I worked at had a Christian outlet, the reworking of “Maybe I’m Amazed” marked the end of my shift frequently, not by my own choice, but I enjoyed hearing it).

      2. Clock tunes

        I thought I heard…Celine Dion?? Anyway, I’ve noticed that these clocks often have popular tunes installed, not sure how many of their owners know or care, since it is just the musical notes and not any of the lyrical content.

        Since I’m on a tangent (as noted by others, we don’t mind tangents here 🙂 ) I’ll throw in a link to this post from last year about musical clocks in Amish homes, with a shot of a clock in Mark Curtis’ home

        Mark’s clock has the inscription from Psalm 90: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” I really appreciate that one, or at least what I think it means.

    15. Jessica Kim

      I’m glad that this book has been written. My parents are both in the helping profession, and we believe that understanding cultural differences is crucial for being able to help someone, whether you’re a psychologist, therapist, or someone who works at a rehab facility or hospice. Without an understanding of cultural differences, you can end up doing more harm than good!

      For example, there are problems that have different solutions depending on what culture you’re in. There is also a different set of taboos vs things people don’t mind talking about, so it’s good to know which subjects are delicate.

      I remember reading a true story in my one of my father’s textbooks a few years back, about a boy who was taken away by Child Protective Services due to some cultural misunderstandings. He and his parents had immigrated from somewhere in southeastern Asia (sorry, I don’t remember which country). Below is this cautionary tale:

      The boy got sick, so his parents had him stay home from school for a few days. When he came back, his teacher found bruise marks on the boy’s torso and asked him about them. The boy felt very uncomfortable talking about them, so he didn’t say much about it — but he did say that his parents had made those marks. Understandably, the teacher took him to the school councilor, who ended up calling Child Protective Services.

      It turned out that the “bruises” were from a common medicinal technique from their native country, and their parents had used it on him. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but it was not violent at all. (I think it involved putting bamboo on certain places on the body.) However, sometimes blood gets drawn close to the skin in the process, leaving bruise marks for a few days. His parents had been trying to help with his illness.

      In addition, in their culture, it was taboo to talk about stuff like that outside the family, kind of like how some Amish don’t talk about pregnancy (especially to people they don’t know very well). It wasn’t considered anyone else’s business. But none of the professionals knew any of these things.

      Thus, the boy’s teacher, the school councilor, and CPS all concluded that the boy’s parents had been harshly beating him and that he was too scared to talk about it openly. They also guessed that he’d had to stay home from school because his parents had gone overboard (and that he had to recuperate before going back to school).

      Thankfully, the truth eventually came out — but not before the child was taken from what were probably good parents, because nobody understood their culture. Perhaps it’s understandable that the teacher wouldn’t know these things, but it would be good for the school councilor to educate himself/herself about the culture of any immigrant students in the school (i.e. potential clients). And surely the CPS workers would want to know about the culture of the people they were working with.

      Long story short, understanding your client’s culture is a very important thing. I hope the book is helpful for those in the helping professions who have Amish clients.

      1. Jessica Kim

        Hmm, I hope my comment wasn’t too negative… cultural misunderstandings usually have much milder results than the story I shared, although things like that do happen. I’m sorry if anyone was hurt by what I wrote.

        1. Good example

          Jessica, not at all. I thought it was an excellent contribution and example illustrating the point of taking culture into account.

          I wouldn’t say all cultural practices are equally “good” or worthy (ie, say if my culture justifies violence or restrictions on the freedom of weaker members, then that practice is not worthy of praise or respect just because it gets labeled a “cultural value”), but this was a good example of when a misunderstanding is exacerbated by a practice of not sharing openly with outsiders. Other examples might not be so extreme but this one makes the point well.

    16. ShipshewanaIndiana

      We have lived in Northern Indiana for four years, having previously lived in Arthur, Illinois. Drug and alcohol use was frowned on by the community in Arthur, while I feel substance abuse in this community is more acceptable. I have heard statements from church members that they used drugs while they were running around and “I turned out okay” (ie. I joined church and don’t abuse alcohol or do drugs anymore). I work in an RV factory with many Amish youth and believe much of our problem is related to affluence. Our community is full of 18 to 21 year old boys who are making 50-70k a year in the factories. Cash, vehicles, social media and unfettered social freedom has created a “perfect storm” in my opinion. The local youth even created a Facebook page for their traveling beer bong. There are daily parties here and youth will travel to other communities to party. Much depends on which group a youth chooses to associate with, but for the more wild groups drug use and alcohol is the norm.

    17. ShipshewanaIndiana

      Wonderful website

      I really enjoyed your serving the Amish website. Thank you for making the video content available!

    18. Jim Cates

      What It Really Takes to Write a Book Like This...

      One of the fun things about putting the website together and having the videos available is the opportunity to showcase some of the incredible resources that made this book possible. When you read Erik’s “Success Made Simple,” you are largely reading the incredible hard work of one man pounding the pavement across so many states, and sitting with so many people doing interviews and analyzing information to create the rich resource that he did. In my case, so many experts were willing to share from their professional backgrounds – information that otherwise was foreign to me. These are just a few of those gifted persons, but it’s nice to give at least some the spotlight they are due. And of course, the Amish who continue to be so very supportive. I just wish I could name them too!

    19. Alice Mary

      all of us r on camera

      first day since my Wed. surgery i felt up to the internet. i watched/listened to one video -found it interesting. will listen to more tomorrow and days ahead.

      Regarding taking unwanted photos of Amish or anyone—impossible to avoid being photographed! Think about cameras all over–Google Earth, Walmart, Banks, red light cameras, schools, pharmacies, libraries (like where I work). You’d have to literally live in a galaxy far, far away NOT to be photographed unwillingly!

      The book sounds useful. It may even save a life someday, regarding Amish + medical professions. I’d be interested to read a bit of it.

      Thank you Mr. Cates & Erik.

      1. Mark - Holmes Co.

        I hope you are soon feeling “back to normal,” Alice Mary, and your strength & health improve daily.

        Good point on all of us are on camera. Just not all of us end up on postcards or in coffee table books. 🙂

        1. Alice Mary

          Thank you, Mark! It’s now a week & a day since surgery, and I am feeling stronger, daily.

          You never know, though, who of us might end up on a postcard or in a coffee table book—if there’s money to be made, we’re all at risk! 🙂

          Alice Mary

          1. Mark - Holmes Co.

            Glad to hear you’re feeling better, Mary Alice. Good point on post cards, etc., but on the other hand, I have not ever seen “English Country” postcards. 🙂 Maybe there’s money to made there? 🙂

    20. Jessie Cochran

      Great article! I listened to the videos you posted, and shall listen to the others when I have time. Thanks for posting. That book sounds great, I’m actually surprised a bit that something like it hasn’t come out sooner.

      Gott segne sie! (God bless y’all!) 🙂

      – Jess

    21. Nancy Kirk-Barkman

      Walls in Amish House for Church - moveable

      I read a lot of Amish Novels and info. on the Amish, and get your blog – love it. I have never seen a picture or video of a Amish House and how they take the walls down for Church Service. I checked You Tube – didn’t see anything.
      I keep up with your info. – a great help. We have our local Amish Community in Unity Maine. I’ve been there – lovely folks.



      Greene, ME,