Sunday, August 21, 2011

Interview with Dee Yoder with Mission to the Amish

Interview questions (2)

Thank you for being with us today, it’s good to have you.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share about my experiences with the Amish and former Amish.

You mentioned that you work with an Amish mission. What type of work do you do with them?
I work with Mission to Amish People and Joe Keim. I voluntarily write the newsletter for the former Amish, Dee’s News. It’s my job to gather life stories (baby announcements, weddings, baptisms, opening of new businesses, etc.) to share in the bi-monthly newsletter. My husband also hosts a young men’s Bible study for the former Amish each Saturday morning in our home. It is led by Joe Keim. We also have informally “adopted” a former Amish young lady as our daughter. We represented her family last summer when she married because her mother is against her being in the English world and did not attend her wedding. Her father had died previously in a buggy accident. (The English is how the Amish refer to those who are not Amish.) We are also hosting a series of information days for the former Amish which include legal, medical, and dental professionals to help give advice on these issues. Many of the former Amish need doctors, dentists, and legal care once they are in the English world.

What is the most interesting aspect of the Amish culture that you have observed? Hmm…that is a difficult question since under the surface of this outwardly simple lifestyle, there are layers upon layers of complicated decisions each Amish person has to make every day. I guess I would choose the Ordnung and how it is lived out in each church. Since it is up to each church and bishop to interpret the “rules letter”, there can be as many ways to be Amish as there are sects.

Do you find the Amish friendly to the outside world? It depends on where you encounter the Amish. The groups that are most friendly are typically those who engage in commerce with the English, as in the tourist areas of Lancaster, Pa. and in Holmes County, Ohio. The area I live in has some of the most strict and reticent Amish groups. Tourist trade is not encouraged (though a few will sell farm products, baskets, baked goods and hand crafts from their homes). A friendly wave in passing may be all a stranger can expect to receive in these areas.

Are the Amish as calm and serene as we often think they are? In many homes where the patriarchal system is in place (and this can be true in other groups, too!), the home is as serene as the man in charge is. Some are blessed with kindly fathers and bishops, while others are not so blessed. In the less fortunate homes, abuse, in many forms, can often be found…if it is looked for. Wives and children are mostly at the mercy of the head of the home and church.

What is the thing you dislike most about working with the Amish, if anything? I don’t work directly with the Amish, but with the former Amish. I think what often puzzles me most is the dichotomy between the innocence of their lifestyle and the sometimes frank and blunt manner in which they interact with each other. I am sometimes surprised by the “joking” that can seem cruel about physical aspects of each other. For instance, some of my former Amish lady friends can make disparaging jokes about another’s weight problems. The children often are not taught much about being careful not to point out flaws in one another. This always makes me uncomfortable when I hear it! It is almost an “Amish street-smart” that is startling to me, at times.

What do you like the most? I LOVE how they persevere in spite of the most difficult life situations! And when the former Amish receive Christ’s grace for the first time, it is a beautiful and lovely thing to witness! Baby showers, weddings, baptisms with them always make me cry. My heart goes out to them at holidays when they miss their families most. I don’t know—it’s hard to choose one thing. I may not always understand where they’re coming from, but I love their willingness to work hard and start over from scratch. They truly are immigrants born within our borders when they come out of their Amish culture and join the English world.

Are there any difficulties the Amish must overcome when interacting with nonAmish people? The former Amish I am in contact with leave their communities with no social security numbers, driver’s licenses, and often no birth certificates. They have to earn GEDs and learn to understand our government system. Many want better jobs than construction or farming work so they need to learn those skills. Many have 8th grade educations that are really equivalent to an elementary education so they often struggle with GEDs. Many have communication troubles since English is their second language. It really depends on which group of Amish they are brought up in. Those who are in the tourist trade usually fare better at the outset of leaving their Amish homes.

If you read Amish fiction, hat bothers you the most—for example what is misrepresented or what part of their life gets left out? The most misrepresented aspect is the idea of rumspringen. I know it happens within an Amish community, but it is NOT encouraged! The parents would rather the teen join the church with no outside experience in the English world. They may “look the other way” if a teen goes against their wishes, but most Amish do not want their teens to experience rumspringen (or “running around”). The other notion that truly bothers me is the idea that all Amish are Christians. We have to get beyond the cute and entertaining aspect of the Amish community to discover if the truth of Jesus and His shed blood for our sins is really being taught! Wanting the Amish to entertain and fascinate us as Christians can be a sad and tragic mistake for those in the Amish communities we frequent who do not know Christ! We can’t allow the quaint lifestyle to deceive us into not realizing what a mission field we may have right before our eyes. Some Amish DO preach the gospel, but many are merely steeped in ancient Christian tradition and works.

What traditions do they have that 'we' don't for holidays etc? They celebrate 2 Christmases. December 25th is for gift exchanges (gloves, hats, hope chest items) and fun. Old Christmas is celebrated on January 6. This is Epiphany, the fasting and sacred holiday. Some of my former Amish friends also fast on Thanksgiving morning until noon. Weddings are usually set for Thursdays or Fridays and usually in the fall, after the harvest season is over. Some communities plant celery in anticipation of a fall wedding. For some reason, this vegetable is used in dishes, as well as decoration at weddings. I believe it has something to do with old tradition of fertility, but the former Amish I know just told me they did it because they were supposed to and it is tradition. (That is a common answer for many such questions I may ask!) My book, The Miting, includes a chapter with an Amish wedding for one of the characters. I added a lot of detail about that special day.

What are the similarities and differences between your work compared to a non-Amish ministry? I would guess that I have a similar experience with the former Amish that any missionary would, except we live right here in America with them. The same teaching and life-style coaching, as needed, the same support that other’s have to give. But I would guess the differences would lie in the naiveté and innocence of many of the former Amish. Though they can be blunt and lacking of some social skills, most are very trusting of those they should be careful of. It is most difficult for me when I don’t understand what the young ladies, for instance, may perceive as a typical Englisher way of doing something—when, in fact, they have it wrong entirely! I must also be careful not to intrude where it’s not wanted or appear bossy. With all the control they have had in their growing up years, few of them want to feel that “thumb on their necks” ever again.

Can you give us a blurb about your book your agent is marketing? My book, The Miting, is the sum total of the experiences of several of the young ladies I have grown to know and love while working with Mission to Amish People ( I have written their stories, and formed it into a novel about a young lady who becomes a born-again believer and how that decision leads her to having to leave her Amish community and home. The book follows her into the English world and then back again to the Amish. It is quite typical for many former Amish to go home and try once again to live Amish. Some stay, but many, especially those who are considered born-again, do not. It is too hard for them put the yoke of works back on their necks. My book, which I hope is the first of a three book series, follows my main character, Leah, through these changes and decisions. Terry Burns, of Hartline Literary Agency (, is representing me.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know? I would really like to stress how much the Amish and former Amish need our prayers and support. MAP (Mission to Amish People) can help facilitate the prayers and support for those in the Amish community and those who have left, as well. I also have a blog on which I have links to Mission to Amish People and my agent, as well as my writing profile at On my blog I write about my life journey among the former Amish, as well as my family, my work and whatever gets my attention for the day. It is most definitely an eclectic mixture of who I am! I would love to have your readers stop by My Heart’s Dee-Light to say hello.( Thanks again for having me here, Laura!

1 comment:

Julie Arduini said...

I love Dee's mission. This was a great interview. Thanks Laura and Dee!