Why are we fascinated by stories of people both joining – and leaving – the Amish?

Over the ten years I’ve run this website, stories on those topics have consistently gotten a lot of attention here.

We could point to several reasons. For one, I believe entering or exiting a community with firm boundaries contains its own built-in potential for drama.

Amish-born writers like Ira Wagler and Saloma Furlong have penned memoirs revealing the pain and struggles experienced by some drawn to a life beyond the Amish fence.


Lorina Mast. Photo: Rose Nemunaitis/KMG

Amish-raised Lorina Mast recently told her own story at an event detailed in this Geauga County Maple Leaf article.

Like Saloma, Lorina hails from the Geauga County, Ohio settlement, a large Amish community with a reputation for challenges among its youth.

Across Amish society, only a relatively small percentage chooses not to be Amish. At the young age of 20, Lorina opted for that path.

Today, Lorina is a chair yoga instructor, and mother to a seven-year-old son. Below, you’ll find main points of her story, and my comments (read it in full at the link above).

A Relationship with an Outsider

Lorina’s story has shades of Amish fiction novel drama – the allure of a forbidden romance outside the community:

It was February 2010. His name was Josh. He drove a truck and wasn’t Amish.

“We were young,” Mast said, with hints of her Pennsylvania Dutch accent still evident. “I was 19 and he was 18.”

It was her Rumspringa — a period when some Amish youth experience greater freedoms before they choose whether or not to remain in the Amish community — and she liked to listen to Lady Antebellum’s “I Run to You.”

“Sometimes when I think about it, I don’t necessarily feel guilty, but maybe more sympathetic for my family because of the judgment that may be cast on them because of my decision,” said Mast.

On some level most Amish parents want their children to also join the faith. One reason (I suspect most would say this is not the most important reason) is that having all or most of your children choose an Amish path reflects well on you in the community.

It sounds like her parents may have felt negative social effects of her leaving. It probably didn’t help that it was to be with a non-Amish person.

Unconditional Love

Though her family may have felt backlash, Lorina’s picture of her parents is glowing:

She didn’t leave because of her family or the Amish. She left because of her.

Her parents taught her and her two brothers unconditional love.

“My parents would always find time for us,” Mast said. “I’m sure there a lot of people that think their parents are one in a million and to me, yes, absolutely my parents are. They are my heroes. They never made me doubt their love for me. I can’t think of better role models for my son.”

Sounds like Lorina has a truly great mother and father.

The Drama of Departure

In some of the most publicized cases, leaving the Amish is done in dramatic fashion. Likewise, Lorina crept away under darkness:

I left in the middle of the night so that I wouldn’t have to see the disappointment on my parents’ faces and possibly breakdown and decide not to leave.

It was 2 a.m., wearing the dress her mom had sewn, she left with life’s necessities, as she rehearsed in her mind what she would do.

At the time, she was pregnant and age 20. Josh had turned 19.

Josh was killed tragically, and never met his son. But Lorina shares that her son sees his grandparents daily. I assume by this, that Lorina sees them often as well.

On the other hand, some stories of leaving end with the leaver ostracized, having little contact with loved ones.

Those dramatic stories understandably get the most attention. For example, see the NatGeo Amish: Out of Order series of a few years ago, along with the example of the Columbia, Missouri ex-Amish community.

Lorina’s story seems to have had a happier resolution:

“I know that I did, in fact, disappoint my parents in every way possible with my decision, but I also know that their love for me never once faltered. Yes, I felt guilty at first. I was taught that this is wrong and that I am killing my family by leaving. But I also knew that I had a voice and the right to choose the life I wanted to make for myself.”

Fulfillment Outside the Amish

So what drove Lorina to leave, when the large majority of her peers opt for the life they were born into?

“I knew I had to. I knew I would never be truly happy living the rest of my life without fulfilling everything that was possible outside the Amish life.”

Lorina is an Amish-born person who felt that life outside the Amish would be a better option. Actually achieving this life is easier for some than for others.

Besides the difficulty of the actual departure, relationships can be damaged. And when you’re not in the Amish community any longer, even if your family has only good feelings for you, you still miss out on all that comes with being a member of the church community.

We don’t have a book full of details here on Lorina’s story.  But from what she shares, Lorina’s tale seems to have had a positive outcome – with the unconditional love of her parents being an enormous part of that.

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