Several years back I traveled to Missouri in response to an ad for 75 acres of land for sale for $300,000. This property had a huge house, several barns, and 35 acres under cultivation. Owned by a Mennonite family, they were moving to the Northeast and were anxious to have all the details resolved about the property before they left.
What drew me to investigate the property was: 1) I was contemplating moving from Maui and thinking maybe this property would be a good place to start over; and 2) it was owned by Mennonites and I couldn’t help thinking about the interesting photos that could come from such a visit. I knew very little about the Mennonite way of life and was very interested in learning more.
Upon arriving that first day, in my black Charger and leather jacket and blonde hair and cute shoes, the father of this family must have immediately realized I wasn’t a good fit. However, he and his family spent four hours showing me around, taking me out in the horse drawn wagon to see all the acres and explaining their farming and water supply systems. They even invited us to lunch, served by the mother and two gracious older daughters. Impressed doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt about this family.
There are many different formats to the Mennonite faith. Some drive cars, others don’t; some have electricity in their homes, others don’t. This family did not have electricity or plumbing or drive cars. Their farming was done with horses, and even the father’s furniture building business was powered by horses that walked around and around generating the energy needed to run the power tools.
Before visiting them I read the book “Better Off, Flipping the Switch on Technology” by Eric Brende. The story was of a man and his wife who decided to spend a year “off the grid” with the Mennonites to decide if the lifestyle was indeed “better off” than what they had experienced in their life so far. The part that impressed me the most was how accepting the community was of this couple, taking them in and teaching them how to plant crops and how to live without the support system that was familiar to them.
What this book did not prepare me for was finding out why these folks were moving from their Missouri farm. Having been ostracized for two very small “infractions”, they had decided to leave their community and move to an Amish community in the Northeast. As a person who had experienced this kind of ostracizing from a religious community of my youth, I had great sympathy for them. They were determined that their choice in religious belief was their own and no amount of judgment from their community would sway them.
I visited them in their new home in the Northeast, and learned so much more about why they moved and the conditions imposed by the new group. They moved into a home with utilities and plumbing and they had one year to retrofit it to not have these features. The work ahead of them would have proven to be daunting for most folks, but this family was joyful in the anticipation of projects that needed to be completed to meet the new requirements.
Experiencing religious intolerance in my early life has opened my eyes to the many different ways of living life for God and enjoying his bounty and grace. Having no idea what their religion actually is about (the services are in Pennsylvania German or “Dutch” so I did not understand any of it) I cannot testify as to how they believe. That doesn’t matter to me. What matters is the freedom to worship in the way they choose, and witnessing the courage it takes to live the simple life even if it means moving across the country to be free to do so.
A simple life filled with the intricacies of a life not so simple. Choosing simple, in this family’s case, does not translate as leading a simple life. Just different and very much their own.