The Plain People

, Simple, sincere, fun- loving, devoted to family, generous, faithful, loyal, hard-working – these are the Amish! Many are unaware that they have a lovely community is tucked away in a valley and within plain view of the majestic Cabinet Mountains ten miles outside of Libby, Montana. Last month, Robert and I had the privilege of presenting an Elijah House Seminar at their Amish Community Church. It was our very first visit and we didn’t know quite what to expect! People tend to judge what they don’t understand, so the Amish have been the brunt of jokes, ridicule, rejection and persecution for many generations. Just to give you a short history lesson, I found this on Google at “The Plain People trace their origin back to the Protestant Reformation in Europe, where there was an emphasis on returning to the purity of the New Testament church. In 1536, a young Catholic priest from Holland named Menno Simons joined the Anabaptist movement. His writings and leadership united many of the Anabaptist groups, who later became known as “Mennonites.” One of the teachings of the Amish faith is called the ban or shunning. This is based on the New Testament command not to associate with a church member who does not repent of his sinful conduct. The purpose of this discipline is to help the member realize the error of his ways and to encourage his repentance, after which he would be restored to church fellowship. This excommunication was at first only applied at the communion table. However, the followers of Jacob Amman felt the unrepentant individual should be completely shunned or avoided by all church members. This belief, along with other differences, led to Amman’s split with the Mennonites in 1693. His followers were later called Amish. These Anabaptist groups were severely persecuted throughout Europe. Thousands were put to death as heretics by both Catholics and Protestants. To avoid this persecution many fled to the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany. Here began the Amish tradition of farming and holding their worship services in homes rather than churches. Many Amish and Mennonites accepted William Penn’s offer of religious freedom as part of Penn’s “holy experiment” of religious tolerance. They settled in what later became known as Pennsylvania. The first sizable group of Amish arrived in Lancaster County in the 1720’s or 1730’s. Today, the Amish can be found in 23 states here and in one Canadian province. Their settlement in and around Lancaster County is their second largest. Because of their large families, the total Amish population has more than doubled since 1960 to over 85,000. Very few of their children leave the church. Old Order Amish women and girls wear modest dresses made from solid-colored fabric with long sleeves and a full skirt (not shorter than half-way between knee and floor). These dresses are covered with a cape and apron and are fastened with straight pins or snaps. They never cut their hair, which they wear in a bun on the back of the head. On their heads they wear a white prayer covering if they are married and a black one if they are single. Amish women do not wear jewelry. Men and boys wear dark- colored suits, straight- cut coats without lapels, broadfall trousers, suspenders, solid-colored shirts, black socks and shoes, and black or straw broad- brimmed hats. Their shirts fasten with conventional buttons, but their suit coats and vests fasten with hooks and eyes. They do not have mustaches, but they grow beards after they marry.” The Amish feel these distinctive clothes encourage humility and separation from the world. Their clothing is not a costume; it is an expression of their faith. Lloyd and Mary Etta Miller are the pastors of this group which has grown to 20 households plus other local families. The Millers roots are from the farmland of northern Indiana. In 1975 they moved from there to Montana. Then in 1992 they, along with another family, decided to make their home on 800 acres near Libby. They are log home builders and the beauty of their skill and creativity can be seen in all of their homes, barns, outbuildings and the Meeting Hall, where they worship on Sundays. The warm welcome we received made us feel right at home. When we arrived, there was a delicious smell of freshly baked whole-wheat bread from the oven. Three of the Miller’s nine children played happily in the next room. They eyed us cautiously with shy grins, but we easily made friends with them before sitting down with the whole family to enjoy a delicious home cooked meal. In January, the Millers had come to Elijah House to meet Mark Sandford and us and to plan the seminar. They said, “We need help!” Their “spiritual father” in Switzerland knew John Sandford, and had encouraged them to connect with us to receive healing in their community. In 1995 the Libby community began to experience the Holy Spirit’s ministry. Many members began to realize that God wants them to have a deeper experience of the faith. Relationship with God should be more than just obeying rules and traditions—it should be a living, vital, personal fellowship with a loving Father who longs to set us free to joyfully love and obey Him! They longed for this kind of freedom in Christ. Four years ago they made the decision to go from horse and buggy to motorized vehicles. Their whole identity as an Amish Community was in jeopardy as they struggled to find the balance between maintaining the good aspects of their traditions while embracing the new. Sometimes the old and the new are in direct opposition to each other. At times, there have been clashes between those who felt committed to their old traditions and those who, like the Millers and others, wanted to walk in more spiritual freedom in the areas of dress, music and creativity. At the seminar in February, the people soaked up the teaching like sponges. We taught them about bitter roots and how they defile us and others, how to be healed from shame, how shame, fear and control can be an enemy stronghold to keep us in bondage, how to be healed from wounds of rejection, and the importance of honoring the Holy Spirit. We confirmed to them something that others have prophesied to them as well, that God has called them to be a healing community. In talking with several of the individuals, we sensed their hearts of love and compassion. One morning, our host family told us about a call she had received the previous night. A young woman phoned her from a motel in Libby. She had randomly chosen the church’s phone number out of the phone book. This stranger was calling out of desperation for prayer and proceeded to pour out her hurting heart to our precious Amish sister on the other end of the line! We all felt the incident was further confirmation that their community will be a place of “refuge” for those looking for help and healing. The seminar ended on Sunday, but one of our Elijah House Prayer Ministers arrived that afternoon and stayed until the following Saturday to counsel and pray for anyone who wanted personal ministry. She took 30 appointments that week! Healing is happening in the Amish Community! On March 10-14 Elijah House along with Restoring the Foundations sponsored a free “Turning Point” Retreat for wounded and burned out pastors and leaders. Thirty-two pastors and leaders from various backgrounds and cultures attended the retreat at Ross Point Bible Camp, including three from the Libby Amish Community. More healing happened, and they are being equipped with tools to help others. An added bonus was how warmly they were welcomed by pastors from many different denominations. We are so blessed by our relationship with the Amish community in Libby. They are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are family.