Thursday, August 21, 2008
Amish Communities Now in 28 States
A funeral procession for two Amish sisters who were murdered in their school in September 2006 by a gunman who killed three other girls in the school and then turned the gun on himself.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that the Amish population in America has nearly doubled in the last 16 years and that Amish communities have spread to 28 states from their original base in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio in search of inexpensive farmland. I think this is good news. I am not Amish myself, but spent my first four years in Pennsylvania Dutch country. I remember on country roads behind Amish carriages and my fascination with them. I also loved seeing the beautiful colors of their clothes on clotheslines and the sweet innocence of their children--girls in their little bonnets and the boys in their straw hats. For all these reasons, I adored the book by Marguerite de Angeli, Henner's Lydia, about the Amish girl and her adventures in making a hooked rug and taking it to market.
These are all the familiar images of the Amish, a shy people who do not appreciate being photographed.
Grief-stricken Amish outside the schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where the girls were killed.
But when a gunman broke into a small Amish schoolhouse in September 2006 and murdered five little Amish girls in cold blood and seriously injured five others, the country got a measure of the depth of the religion that has held this community together. Instead of mounting bitter protests against this violent intrusion into their community, the neighboring Amish and the families of the dead girls expressed their feelings of grief not only for themselves but for the perpetrator and for his family. "We forgive"--without conditions--was their uniform message to the world.
"Dozens of Amish neighbors came out Saturday to mourn the quiet milkman who killed five of their young girls and wounded five more in a brief, unfathomable rampage," reported Yahoo news October 7, 2006. In another news report, Dwight Lefever, spokesman for the family of the man who killed the girls and then himself, told a prayer service that an Amish neighbor came to comfort the [Roberts] family. "He stood there for an hour, and he held that man in his arms, and he said, 'We will forgive you,'" Lefever said. "He extended the hope of forgiveness that we all need these days."
"We have to forgive. We have to forgive him in order for God to forgive us," an Amish woman told CBS News Early Show on the condition that her name and face not be shown.
Girls looking out the buggy back window.
The Amish do not evangelize but seek to preserve their way of life. A book I read on the Amish a year ago discussed their relationship to technology: They do not oppose technology per se, but they will not adopt technologies they believe will introduce centrifugal forces that disperse their community.
In all areas that they live, the Amish are known as hard-working good neighbors and gentle people, whose craftsmanship in all endeavors is unsurpassed.
The Amish are growing. I find that to be good news.
The Amish are plain people with a highly cultivated sense of beauty: home-dyed clothes on the line.