Really great book… especially if you’re interested in understanding the Amish way of life; how they think, how they live, why they do some of the things they do… This book invites the reader into the lives of two people, Ora Jay and Irene Eash (and their family), whose loss of their two young daughters in a terrible accident, moved them to a deeper searching out of their faith and a yearning to know God.
Though the Amish way of life is centered moralistically around the ideal of Christianity, Ora Jay and Irene share their story of how far the presumption of faith is from that which is, more often than not, merely conformation to legalism and religious tradition. The rule of the “church” is essentially higher than Scripture, though most Amish do not appear to realize this is what’s happening since most believe they are within Scriptural bounds.
The book contains long sections of letters written by Irene Eash to Amish friends and family to show context for their journey toward a full faith in Jesus Christ, which eventually led them out of Amish legalism. Through the letters and the testimony of Irene and Ora Jay shared in-between, the reader is introduced the increasing joy of their newfound and growing relationship with the Lord as well as the heartache of trying to convey their love and hope and faith to their family and friends, who did not understand.
It would be a mistake for the reader to absorb this testimony as merely a treaties against the Amish and their misunderstandings of and unique approaches to biblical Christianity, for the reality of religious legalism touches many people in virtually all denominational affiliations… even those who believe they are among the freest and most spiritual. In reading this book I was reminded of my own exodus from the legalism and bondage of status-quo “churchianity” and was moved with compassion for both the Amish people as well as my fellow brothers and sisters in many mainline denominations that are no-less bound in the deception that religious affiliation and subservience to church dogma is somehow equally important as or equivalent to biblical Christianity (i.e. relationship with Jesus Christ). I found myself inspired, sometimes convicted, and absolutely encouraged by Ora Jay and Irene’s journey of faith, their humility, their transparency, their desperation to know God, and their love for those that had not yet seemed to comprehend the joy they were discovering in Jesus.
There were a few moments, early on, in the book that I was wondering a little bit where it was going and reacted a bit impatiently; as there was a lot of reference to the letters sent to family and friends, much of which discussed details of Amish daily life (not related especially to their faith – things like the daily washing and sewing and labor in the field). I confess that I was eager to get to the “faith details” of their story and where that ultimately led them and cost them, but upon completion of the book I am glad that the broader context of Amish life was included, because it provide a more clear picture to help understand the way the Amish folks live and think and interact with each other.
Many times I found myself deeply admiring elements of their perspective on life and community. The Amish people – indeed – are a community that behave very much like close family. While they may not enjoy many of the conveniences of life that most Americans take for granted (and thus by their own choice) and while many of the convictions about such things are derived predominantly from religious legalism rather than the effect of a life-changing relationship with Christ, some of the principles that guide their behavior reflect noble sensibilities that many of us may find entirely admirable such as the ethics of treating one another with respect, dignity, demonstrating the value and ethic of hard work (and not just hard work but skilled work), consideration for others among the community (helping those suffering in their time of need and struggle).
I was impressed in some regard with how the Amish approached matters such as how they choose a preacher for their congregational gatherings. The community would choose a number of men and then cast lots to determine which would serve in the way of preaching and performing typical “church” duties. That’s not exactly the part that impressed me. What impressed me was that he was merely a brother among the community; no special or lofty credentials or experience required… but also his service as a preacher did not allow him the opportunity to quit his job and collect some kind of salary off parishioners, but instead required him to continue in everything expected of a man who labors to care for his family and do good in his community. He was expected to continue all of his daily work (and means of acquiring his living) just like every other member of the community. His responsibility to study the Bible and preach and serve in whatever capacity preachers normal entertain was merely in addition to his regular daily activities. In truth, the typical Amish preacher’s work ethic puts most most modern pastors to shame and allows for no excuse of “full time ministry” to remove them from such responsibilities in the name of “serving the church”. Ironic too, considering that “serving the church” is the staple of Amish religion. But as I considered how diligently they commit themselves to such endeavors and maintain the task of caring for their families and community, it made me think of the apostle Paul who mentioned that he also labored night and day to make his ministry without charge to those he served. What is sad is that, for all of these incredibly admirable qualities of Amish diligence and responsibility, so many do these things void of a close relationship with God and merely out of religious duty to the church.
In closing the book greatly inspired me and encouraged me. The loss suffered, the struggle ensued, the emotions exhausted all along this journey of a family who so desperately desired to know what it means to have a real and close relationship with Jesus Christ, even though it cost them so much.
The book probably deserves five stars; however, I gave it four only because I think some of the content might be a challenge for some readers who may not be especially interested in all the little details of Amish life and perspective. As mentioned earlier, the book takes its time presenting a somewhat detailed image of Amish life, which could strike some as slow-paced and sometimes uneventful. Since I was personally already familiar with some of these details (because I’ve studied a bit about Amish faith and lifestyle before), this dragged ever so slightly for me as well… I personally preferred the elements of direct commentary and testimony shared by the authors apart from the perhaps all-too-frequent reliance on quoting from their letters to family and friends. Still, I must remain entirely positive here because those letters served their purpose and I became more engaged with hearing them as the story continued.
The testimony in the book is told by both Ora Jay and Irene; Both share alternately their unique perspective on their journey together. I found this enjoyable and interesting and felt like I knew them the more the book went on. Though the story centered on one family’s exodus from the Amish church, there is considerable material to reflect on for anyone who has been a part of an organized and/or institutional religious group (i.e. church). Many church groups get hung up on various kinds of legalism, heavy traditional influences (that are not necessarily biblically-motivated), and misunderstandings about Christianity. There is much here to glean challenge, conviction, compassion and great encouragement from. Most of all this book presents a call to the freedom and joy that is only found in Christ Jesus! Excellent!!!
Great book! I thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it entirely.