“Amish Out of Order”: Losing Everything to Find God

CNS photo/Jason Reed, Reuters

Mose Gingerich is a thirtysomething with a wife and kids. He lives in a tidy brick house in Columbia, Missouri. He sells Toyotas. On the surface, his life seems utterly unremarkable. But it’s not. Mose Gingerich spent the first half of his life as a member of an Old Order Amish community.

National Geographic Channel recently ran a series examining the lives of young adult Amish who have left their communities and their faith (which, one could easily argue, are one and the same). The series, “Amish: Out of Order,” details the lives of these individuals as they struggle to come to grips with the strange, fast-paced “English” world and the heartbreaking, often irreversible separation from their families that leaving their Amish past entails. At the center of these stories is Mose Gingerich. He left the Amish at age 22 and settled in Columbia, Missouri, a city that has become a beacon for ex-Amish seeking to start a new life outside the restrictive communities of their upbringing. Mose has devoted himself to helping other ex-Amish. He provides support, friendship, advice and, when he can, financial help. He is both mentor and friend. Those who cross his threshold looking for help generally range in age from their mid-teens to late 20s. They have no money, no possessions, no family willing to help, and an education that culminated with the eighth grade. The community takes them in, and strong bonds are formed among those who intimately understand each others’ struggles and longing.

The ex-Amish featured in this series have left their church, community and families for freedom — freedom to pursue their dreams, freedom to go to high school and college, freedom to untangle God from the trappings of culture and religion. These individuals are engaged in the work of parsing out the cultural norms of their society from what is essential Christianity. And, I would suggest, all seekers of God do that work. Ex-Amish risk everything to do it. Many have lost everything.

This is not meant to be an indictment of the Amish. As someone who spent a good chunk of her growing up years in the heart of Amish country, I have a deep respect for the simple life to which they commit themselves and the profound (and downright biblical) sense of community they practice. What struck me about this series was the intensity with which the young adults featured where seeking to discover themselves, and, in so doing, seeking to discover a God too big to be bound by rules, regulations, culture, and tradition. The great I AM. The One whose ways are too wonderful for us to comprehend. That takes courage. It takes courage to set out into the world in search of truth. You might just find it.

In the end, what started off being a few hours of guilty pleasure grown-up television whilst the little people at our house were too sick to protest and yours truly was too tired and burnt-out to likely give much credence to such protestations anyway, ended up being surprisingly fruitful. It reminded me that religion — my religion, which I at the same time find beautiful, powerful, troublesome, and holy — is a place where I can find God … but it cannot contain God. God is most certainly good, but God is not tame. God will not be restrained. The courage to seek God, the courage to look beyond everything you have ever known in pursuit of what is true and beautiful, the courage to risk losing everything safe and comfortable and familiar to find it … this is at the heart of a life of faith. This show brings it to light in all of its triumph and tragedy. Not too shabby for reality television.