Tom: Well, this is part 2 of a conversation that I’m having with Joe Keim. The program is about Amish. Joe grew up Amish, as we learned last week, and he’s now a leader in MAP. And MAP is the Mission to the Amish People. Joe, welcome back to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Joe: I appreciate it, Tom. It’s good to be back and to be able to share some of the things that we’ve shared so far.
Tom: And it’s been really good…as I mentioned last week, Joe, many people – I’m sure many of our listeners – we’re fascinated by the Amish. We see the buggies – I mean, not so much out here on the West Coast, but certainly, as I grew up in Ohio and Pennsylvania, my wife’s from Lancaster County, with many Amish there, and so on – so, we’re fascinated by it. But at the same time, we don’t know that much about it. So that’s why I greatly appreciate this interview with you and what we can learn about the Amish, and what we need to do. Christ died for everyone…
Tom: The Amish included, obviously, and we want to know how we can be a part of ministering to them, maybe not personally but certainly through people like yourself and the organization that you represent.
Joe, what I’d like you to do – you’ve given us some really good information – but how about some historic background about the Amish, and I’d like you to include the Mennonites, and, if you’d like, also the Hutterites.
Joe: Well, it started in the 1500s over in Switzerland, and it pretty much came out of a disagreement with infant baptism. And some adults began to read their Bibles and understand it, and realized that baptism follows salvation and should only be done after a person understands and is born again.
And so, of course, that led to persecution – some very heavy, heavy persecution. Out of that persecution came three main groups: the Hutterites, the Mennonites, and the Quakers. And for many years, they were persecuted for their faith and eventually…
Tom: By the Catholic Church, by the way…
Joe: Yeah, by the Catholic Church, very much so. And many of them…as a matter of fact, the Amish have a book – it’s about three inches thick, and it’s a fairly good size, that shares a lot of the stories about what the forefathers went through. Many of them were burned at the stake and thrown into rivers, and so forth…
Tom: Was that Martyrs Mirror?
Joe: That’s the Martyrs Mirror. Yes. The Amish almost hold that right up to the Bible as – looking back on their forefathers, there’s this sense that “We’re just a little bit better than others.” Sort of a prideful feeling that came out of that movement.
But as time went on, persecution settled down, and it wasn’t until 1690, a guy by the name of Jakob Ammann was a leader in the Mennonite Church, and he felt like the Mennonite Church had been drifting away, and particularly in the area of excommunication and shunning and a few other things that he felt needed to be changed. So there was a division between him and another leader, Hans Reist, and because of that division, Jakob Ammann left the Mennonite Church and had a following that followed him – I guess at some point they became known as the Amish people because of Jakob Ammann’s last name.
It wasn’t until the early 1700s about thirty years later, or forty years after this division, that a guy in America by the name of William Penn, a Quaker, had some property in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and he was sending word back to the other Anabaptists that if they wanted to come over, there would be freedom to worship God however they desired. And many – I guess in 1727, the very first Amish people came over to America and settled in Pennsylvania. For many years, Pennsylvania was the biggest, most populated state. Today, however, Ohio has gone around Pennsylvania slightly, with about 308,000 Amish people right now. They double in size every 20 years. On average, a brand new Amish community springs up in America every 3½ weeks.
Joe: So, they’re just populating like crazy all across the United States.
Tom: And we talked last week – obviously that’s the community itself. They consider anybody outside, as we talked about, the Amish community, as the English, because that’s really – English is their second language, and it’s the language of, obviously, this country. So, Joe one of the things you touched upon that I want to underscore a bit: this really all came out of the Anabaptists, didn’t it? The Anabaptists wanted to be baptized – they wanted believers’ baptism, which you touched upon. But then, as you described last week, the Amish got away from believers’ baptism, didn’t they?
Joe: They came full circle. It is absolutely amazing. If you go back to the 1500s, the Bible was written in Latin, which was not the common language to the people, and yet the people continued to go to the state church, and they trusted the leaders that they would teach them correctly. And today, we’re in the same boat. As Amish people, we trust the leaders. We have a Bible in our hand that the common man doesn’t understand, and we’re just full cycle.
Tom: Now, explain again, for those, maybe, who missed our program last week, which is available, by the way. You can go to our website and listen to it. But the Bible is in German, but it’s high German, which few can speak and very few understand. Now, I want to underscore that because the Bible is where the Word of God is. It’s where the gospel is, and so on. So not to have that available is more than restrictive – it keeps people in bondage.
So, Joe, tell us about…they hear the Bible – I assume it’s either read by the elders or at a Sunday service – tell us what takes place during a Sunday service.
Joe: Well, a service normally lasts about three hours, and in that time period there’s about an hour and a half of preaching. These preachers have an eighth-grade education; they’re farmers or business owners, and they come in there – they preach just from their heart. There’s no outline. They don’t hold a Bible in their hand or preach from a Bible. You just get up and you preach for 35-40 minutes. Many of the stories that we heard in church services were from the Old Testament, and the consequences that many of Abraham and Moses and the children of Israel and Samson and all of those – what the consequences were of not obeying God.
So we knew a lot about God, and we knew the God of the Old Testament very well. Not so much about Jesus, although “Jesus” was thrown in there, and very little about the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t that they didn’t quote from the New Testament, but we have those pet verses that the ministers memorized and would quote during their sermons, but they would be some of the verses we talked about earlier: “Be separate.” “Come out from among them,” or “Be not conformed to this world,” or the Sermon on the Mount. So…
Tom: And, Joe, as you mentioned, the Book of Ordinances. These were rules and regulations that…it would have to be that the community had their own set of rules and regulations; they may be different from another community in terms of adjustments, and so on. But how serious was…you have the Bible, you have the Old Testament stories, and they’re given as stories – when push comes to shove, in terms of what’s going to get you to heaven, it really falls back on the Book of Ordinances, doesn’t it?
Joe: It does, yeah. And every community has one of those Ordinance Letters – of course, it varies. From the outside – outsiders really don’t see the big variation, but when you’re in the community, it’s the little details that are huge! For instance, in one community, they could have a chain saw. In my community, we weren’t allowed the chain saw. We had to hire somebody to cut the tree down from the outside. And then we had the cross cut, we had the buzz saw, but no chain saw. And this difference really separated us from that other community.
Tom: Now, Joe, comment on this. This is fascinating, but also, well…I’ll let you address it. The brim of the straw hat that a male would wear – the distance of the brim itself, whether it be 4 inches or 3¼ inches – that could split a church or a community!
Joe: It did!
Tom: Is that right?
Joe: Yeah, even the brim of a hat, even the triangle – one community says, “Okay, absolutely no “slow-moving vehicle” triangles on your buggy. Another one of them said, “Okay, you can have them, but they have to be homemade and have to painted black,” and they put reflector tape around the edges. And then another community says, “It doesn’t matter to us. We’ll have the orange ones.” Yeah, there’s all kinds of differences in that way.
Tom: And the sad part of it is, as we talked before going on the air, there’s something very…for those who don’t know the Amish in terms of details, but they recognize the quaintness, the simplicity, of their lives. And that’s kind of attractive, and so on. But with what we’re describing here, there’s a bondage, and the bondage has to do with where you’re going to spend eternity – in the Lake of Fire? So there’s a fear that can come up from abusing the rules or not going exactly by the rules. Isn’t that the case?
Joe: It is. And, really, what it boils down to is you have to separate the culture from their spiritual beliefs, because it’s the culture that all of these books are written on – the documentaries. Outsiders look in. We get calls on a regular basis, and they’re always referring to the culture. “We love the culture.” And, to be honest with you, Tom, I’m thankful I was born raised in that culture, because of the family values, the hard work ethics, the honesty… Man, we helped each other! We were a community. That is the beautiful part about the Amish.
But when it comes to religious beliefs, I had to go to an outsider to find out how to get to heaven and have assurance.
Tom: Well, Joe, let’s pursue that a little bit more. As I said, from the outside, and from your experience – as I mentioned, I grew up Roman Catholic, pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic. I was kind of raised by nuns and priests and so on before a lot of the issues had come out. It never affected my life, but it was … the people were wonderful, and they had a sense of morality that we were taught, even though it was strict, that I look back on with a fondness – on the one hand.
On the other hand, with regard to the Amish community, weren’t there problems based on the legalism that they had, even though some, you would say, well, it was morally this…or it had integrity that… But basically, what was the consequence of that legalism? Were there suicides? Were there family relationships broken up because of the laws and all of that? What do you say?
Joe: Well, that’s a very, very interesting question. The goal was to be unified – all looked the same in outward appearance; all lived the same. And this was supposed to bring us together, unify us, just like Jesus said, “You be one as I and the Father are one.” But what that does, and it does it to everyone who follows a set of rules, it doesn’t take away the hypocrisy. Because you can’t put another person in a box and say, “Now, you live and look and act just like me (or as the forefathers).” It creates hypocrisy.
I often looked at the Pharisees as horrible people. I mean, Jesus himself called them snakes and dead men’s bones and hypocrites and all of that. I think they were just like what you described in our upbringing! We loved those people around us. They were good people. But that didn’t change their heart, and there was always a lot of hypocrisy. Legalism also creates a life of greed and selfishness and division – disunity. As much as we looked unified on the outside, there was a lot of disunity. Communities were splitting all the time and starting new communities. There’s jealousy, favoritism, dishonesty, abuse, and you mentioned the word “suicide.” There’s quite a number of suicides that take place every year. Just the other day, a mother of six or seven children took her life.
Joe: And of course, unused talents. I always think of the people – the Amish have so much talent, but if it doesn’t line up with the Ordinance Letter, it goes unused.
Tom: Now, Joe, you mentioned last week about this young man – Paul, I believe his name was – who was an evangelist, basically, among the Amish as an Amish person. But then they shut him down, or moved him out. So, how did he affect your life, and give us your testimony. I guess that’s what I’m getting at.
Joe: Well, at age 15, Paul began to share the gospel with us at our house, and it didn’t take Dad very long to tell us we couldn’t hang around with him. But we would go behind Dad’s back and we would get with Paul on a Sunday. And somebody had given him a cassette player, and he had a bunch of preaching tapes. We’d get together and we’d listen to those, but I was very cautious, because I didn’t – at this point – believe that you could be saved on the spot and know it.
It took me three years. I went through time of rebellion. I left the church and went out and lived like the world. And it was during this time that I had a car, living in town, working at an English shop, that Paul came by, and he started to share the gospel with me. At first I didn’t really want to know a lot about it, but in time, he got his pastor involved, and they used to come. And one Sunday afternoon, he says, “Hey, Joe…” He’d just come home from church. He said, “Can I just have a few minutes with you?”
That was on July 28, 1985. I was 18 years old, and he opened the Bible up and started to talk about how that we’re all sinners. I said, “Whoa, wait a minute, Paul. I realize that I’m a sinner. But I have never murdered anybody. I have never been in prison. I might be a sinner, and I believe that I am, but I’m not one of those bad ones. I’m a good sinner. I’m good enough that God will probably overlook my sins.”
And he turned back to the Bible, and he said, “Well, right here in Romans:3:23 it says, ‘For all have sinned and we’ve come short of God’s glory.’”
And looking back now, I realize that it takes the Holy Spirit of God to do a work in your heart. You cannot get saved on your own. It is a birth of God. And on that particular day, the Holy Spirit took that verse, and He took Ephesians:2:8-9. When I understood that salvation was a gift that was paid for and all I had to do was receive it – accept what Jesus Christ did on that cross for me, and all my sins could be washed away… As I called out to God to save me, the tears just came down my face, and I had an encounter with the living God. It was real, and I know on that day I was born into God’s family.
Tom: And that’s what we want for all the Amish people. It’s there, but you came to a point where you had to accept it. You had to receive it. And you did, and God changed your life.
And that’s why we do these programs, folks. That’s why…lots of things going on in the church – some things that we can be encouraged by, but many, many things that are discouraging. But God doesn’t change. The Holy Spirit doesn’t change. And He wants – it’s His desire that all should come to salvation. And so, I really appreciate that, Joe.
Joe, you gave us your testimony and how the Lord worked in you, but what would you say is the biggest hurdle that an Amish person has, because you have to deal with that as a missionary to the Amish. What’s the greatest hurdle, in your view?
Joe: Just sharing the gospel, you mean?
Tom: Yeah, right.
Joe: Well, I think probably one of the biggest ones – for me, anyway – I’m an excommunicated member. So as soon as they find out that I was Amish and left, then they just kind of cut me off. So that’s a big hurdle in witnessing to Amish people.
Tom: Except they know that you know what it’s about. Wow, that’s interesting. But go ahead.
Joe: Of course, another one for me is: “You mean you were Amish? You believed in wearing the head covering? Where there’s no divorce and remarriage? We don’t go to war, we don’t have prisons. You left all of that? And you went out into the world where they have all the divorce and remarriage and go to war, and they have police officers. Why would you walk away from a community that God really specially set aside?”
So, again, someone like you would witness to them, they would think in their mind, “Well, it’s too bad you’re not Amish, because you could really be close to God. But you weren’t born that way, so…” They don’t hold that against you.
Tom: I see. But tell us how MAP (Mission to the Amish People) – you’re a leader there – what do you guys do? How do you go about your mission?
Joe: It was in 1999 that God called me very clearly to this ministry, and at the time there was no ministry to the Amish, but I was sure that God was calling me, so by 2001, my family and I went full time into this ministry, not knowing for sure what it was going to be like. But we realized early on that even though they don’t have a radio, a TV, or the Internet, everybody has a mailbox, and so we began to send out mailings. We have Bible lessons that we send out – about 80,000-90,000 lessons every year…okay, I should say, these Bible lessons are correspondence, so… and very evangelistic. Every year, we see between 200-300 salvations that come back to us. We have a publication called The Amish Voice that goes out to about 8,000 Amish people right now, and, of course, we provide…we really have a ministry to the ones that have left the Amish. We don’t try to get them to leave, but when they do, we provide housing and jobs and help them get their social security numbers. We provide GED classes, encourage them to go on to college if they want to do more than what they normally are capable of doing outside of an education.
Tom: Joe, that was my next question. We just have a few minutes here, but first of all, you mentioned some of the immediate difficulties when an Amish person comes to Christ. Can you think of a couple more? And then what I’d like you to do is tell me, tell our listeners, how we can help MAP. We know, prayer, certainly, but are there other things that we can do to encourage you, to help you in your missionary work to the Amish?
Joe: Yeah, I’d like to just touch a little bit on what it is like when someone comes to Christ, and of course, we have seen some of the worst, to the point of extreme emotional and mental abuse. What often happens is when it leaks out that you have this new belief, it’s not uncommon for family members and ministers to come in, in van loads, and try to talk you out of it, even to the point where Amish people have lain in front of their doorways and kept outsiders from coming in and having Bible studies, and they pretty much live there day and night to “protect” them. It’s very common for parents to come and weep and wail, almost like a funeral. So it’s not easy for a lot of them.
But as far as our ministry goes, obviously we run on…we’re faith based. And people can support the ministry by going to our website, which is mapministry.org, and there are various ways that people can give. Right now, we’re trying to raise about $250,000-300,000 to put up apartment housing to help the ones that are leaving the Amish, because oftentimes when they get saved, they’re given the choice: Leave or stop talking about it. When they leave, they leave everything. They have nothing except for the clothes on their back. And we provide housing for them, so…
But of course, the mailing. We’ve spent probably around $150,000-plus a year, just for postage and mailing, so we’re always depending upon other people to help us get the word out that way.
Tom: And at what price, eternal life? At what price? You can’t put a price on it, because we’re talking eternity with Jesus – wow! – as opposed to the thing that many people live in fear of, and that’s the Lake of Fire. And why not? But it’s separation from God, and I know, Joe, that’s your heart’s cry, that’s our heart’s cry here in this ministry, to offer people this free gift that we’ve received – the free gift of eternal life, which only comes through Christ.
So, Joe, this has been hopefully an eye-opener for those who find the Amish to be a unique body of people but have no idea of what goes on. As you said, [there were] some wonderful things in your growing up Amish because of the morality, integrity – at least superficially. Certainly hypocrisy involved when you have legalism. But nevertheless, we want them saved, and, Joe, that’s why I appreciate you so much being on the program.
Joe: Thank you, Tom. It’s been a real pleasure to have been part of your program.