Living Among the Old Order Mennonites: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  Twenty-seven years ago when I married and moved to Old Order Mennonite Country, I knew very little about these people.  Sometimes, I saw them in their buggies on Rt. 104 when I went to the Harrisburg area, but that was about the extent of my contact.  I guess I should have known that there were clusters of homes in this area surrounding Rt. 104, but I never really gave it much thought.
  In case you are unfamiliar with this sect, let me give you a brief synopsis of their ways.  They drive horses and buggies instead of cars and plow their fields using animals instead of tractors.  They don't have electricity in their homes and they wear plain clothing without buttons or zippers.  Men wear straw hats and the ladies always have their heads covered with a cloth bonnet.
  They are heavily involved with farming, but many also own other businesses:  bike shops, feed stores, buggy or harness shops, and cabinet making, to name a few.
  Old Order Mennonites are known for their hard work.  People hire them for that very reason.  Their education is limited, but their know- how and resourcefulness isn't.  There is much they could teach the rest of us, I'm sure, in this regard.
   In regard to family solidarity, they put the rest of us to shame.  They don't pay Social Security because they take care of their own.  Many of these people have handicapped and retarded people within their families due to so much intermarriage, and in spite of this addition to their workload, I have never seen one mistreated.
   When women have babies, their sisters come to help.  (Most times, their mothers are too busy taking care of children still at home.)  They don't use birth control and so they generally have very large families.
    They are good with names.  Many know who I am and where I live long before I have any hint of who they are.  In part, I think this is because they have a keen interest in "outsiders".  This irritates my kids, as they have a habit of staring.  Also, they have a very "small" world.  No tv, no radios, no internet, and very little travel ouside of their neighborhoods. When you are in a horse and buggy, what constitutes a short jaunt for us, is considerably longer for them.  Besides all of this, since they all dress "alike", it is harder for us to distinguish them one from another than it is for them to distinguish us from each other.
  They are generally friendly and trusting.  When we first moved here and someone would wave, I was surprised.  Unlike us, they don't need to know someone in order to acknowledge them.  We are now accustomed to this and behave in like manner. It's rather nice, really.
   Initially, I was mesmorized by these people.  I would have given anything for a horse and buggy ride.  Now, I find their mode of transportation irritating.  There is nothing more frustrating than getting stuck behind them on a narrow, curvy road.  Also, I am disturbed by the double standard they live in this regard.  They will get in our cars and pay us to take them somewhere.  Really?  If it is a sin for them to drive and own a car, is it any less of one to climb into our cars and let us take them somewhere?  And if not, aren't they causing us to sin?
    Phones are a similar story.  They don't have them, but they use ours, or sometimes have one in a shack outback.  Ridiculous! 
    I would not trade my neighborhood for another.  Economically, it is the way to go!  I can get homegrown cantaloupes and watermelons for a good price.  I get shoes fixed by a neighbor instead of buying new.  Nearby stores sell everything from cereal to greeting cards, to kites, all at reduced prices. 
   Our neighbors are peace loving.  It's a big part of their religion.  They're taught to turn the other cheek.  A few times we have called upon them for help and they have always been available. 
   A few years ago, an elderly couple died and their house was bought by Mennonites.  I was suprised to find that my one neighbor who is not Mennonite was disturbed by the fact that they would tear off the shutters and rip out the electricity.  She has also complained to me about their visits to use the phone.  Another neighbor complained to me when a Mennonite home was built directly across from him.  I was surpised by both.  One of them suggested that they don't want "us" in the neighborhood.  I honestly don't know if that is true, but it would be pretty stupid if it were.  Who else would take them to the midwife in the middle of a freezing winter night to have a baby, or to the hospital, which is 45 minutes away by car, to see a relative? 
   I have adopted these people as my mission field.  No, many are not believers.  Rather, they live by the traditions of men.  Their church has such a strong influence in their lives, that they even tell them such things as whether or not they may go on a honeymoon. 
   A former Amish family (very close in beliefs and practice)that I know, were told by their elders to put their Bibles away when they went to them with questions about their beliefs and how they lined up with the Bible. These people, by and large, do not know their Bibles or the God of the Bible.  They are trusting in their own righteousness.  They are open to Christian literature, but by and large don't really see themselves in need of a Saviour.
    I have always felt "safe" in this neighborhood until my daughter looked out her bedroom window on a moonlit night and found a young Mennonite man staring back at her.  Theoretically, I knew they were capable of the same sins as any of the rest of us, but this brought it home in a powerful way.  All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, even the Old Order Mennonites.


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