"Out here in the world, you leave the Amish, you are on your own," says Mose Gingerich, an ex-Amish man who left his home in Wisconsin for Columbia, Missouri. Now he helps youth leave their sheltered communities, calling himself an Ex-Amish Underground Railroad. He says the young men and women leave their Amish communities for a variety of reasons, some due to wanting more religious freedom, others wanting to further their education beyond the standard Amish eighth grade level.
Mose supports the youth and cares for them, giving them advice about staying off of drugs and alcohol. Although far from his birth place, he has not left what he's learned from his Amish roots about helping those in need.
Much to his sorrow, Mose is not recognized by his parents in Wisconsin as their son. When he does go home to visit, he's told that he will only be accepted again if he plans to stay. He asks, "How can you turn the love switch on and off just like that?" His family thinks he's doomed for hell due to the decision he made seven years ago to leave his Amish lifestyle.
Mose's story fascinates me. I've seen his National Geographic documentaries on TV and plan to watch the upcoming ones. He is the inspiration for my new novel, Still Life in Shadows, due out August 1 from River North. In my story, Gideon Miller is known as the Getaway Savior, helping escapees leave the Amish lifestyle. Gideon's reason for leaving his own Amish home in Carlisle, Pennsylvania was due to his abusive father. He held questions then and continues to wonder about his faith and yes, feels he's headed to hell. Yet he misses parts of being Amish and is nostalgic, especially during the harvest season.
My hope is that readers will see the struggle Amish face instead of the unrealistic view many choose to hold of the plain people. The Amish are human and deal with suicide, alcohol, abuse, and bigotry, just as the outside world does. And their need for redemption and forgiveness is just as strong as it is for the most evil of men.
Gideon shares what he believes to be true. "Jesus say to love everyone. He even said to think of others more highly than we think of ourselves. I don't see that in the Old Order communities at all."
Of course, Mari, the waitress he is talking to, can't believe this. She believes the Amish are the epitome of perfection and wholesomeness. Much like the rest of America does.
Still Life in Shadows is a novel about the ex-Amish, but it is mostly about yearning to belong, something each of us desires in our own way.
For further understanding of those who leave the Amish life, view the National Geographic videos about the Ex-Amish lifestyles.