Q: How did you decide to become Amish?
You can find out all the details by reading my book, Called to be Amish because I can’t summarize God’s work in my life in a few paragraphs! But in short: I got married to Johnny, who had grown up Amish. I wasn’t raised a Christian. But after Johnny and I were married, we had a child, and only then did I accept Christ. Once I accepted Christ, I knew that I wanted to become Amish. It was the love of my husband, who had grown up Amish, which made me want to join after I had accepted Christ.
Yesterday, I spoke to some people in a nearby town about becoming Amish. They asked me, “What did your husband have to do to make you be Amish? Did he talk you into it?” I said, “No, no, he didn’t. I accepted Christ while I was washing my dishes. And then I was enlightened with the thought, ‘You have to be Amish.’ It was as plain as could be.” I just felt I had to be Amish to be a Christian. I’m not saying that when a person is converted to Christ he or she has to become Amish. Not at all. But for me it was the natural choice.
Q: Did you ever think of leaving after you had joined?
Yes. Sometimes I was overwhelmed with the enormity of the work of the household, raising ten kids, and the chores on the farm. Some afternoons I would walk out to our pond just to get away from the house and think about what my life would be like if I hadn’t made this choice. I’d sit at the picnic table with my head in my hands and talk to God like he was my friend. I’d ask God in those times, “Are you for sure with me? Are you going to continue standing by me?” (I don’t ask those questions anymore; I know He is!) At that time, maybe I was kind of like the Israelites, asking for a sign. I’d ask for a sign, and God would always give me one. One time, when I was sitting at the pond, I asked God to show me a sign of His presence, like a swan or a duck. Lo and behold, when I lifted my head from the table, there was a duck where none had been before! It was like Christ was urging me on. It’s like my hand was in his. Without Christ’s help, I never could have done it.
Q: What was the hardest thing for you about joining the Amish?
Understanding the languages, Pennsylvania Dutch and German, was the very hardest thing. At the beginning I didn’t understand what Amish people were saying to me. But my husband, Johnny, and my sister-in-law, Lizzie, would explain to me what people were saying. She would sit beside me in church services and interpret for me by whispering the English words in my ear. Because church services are mostly in High German, but people speak Pennsylvania Dutch in daily life, it was almost like learning two languages. As our children were growing up, I spoke English to them and Johnny spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. Today Johnny still speaks English to me. I understand Dutch just fine now, but I still don’t like to speak it. I do speak Pennsylvania Dutch to little children sometimes because I know they won’t start laughing at me!
Q: What would be the first step you’d recommend to someone who wants to become Amish?
First, you have to be born again. There’s no way around it. You can’t do this without Christ’s urging.
It’s recommended that you live the Amish way for at least two years before you decide whether or not you actually want to join the church. Some people try it and figure out that it isn’t for them. When I say the “Amish way,” I mean totally living Amish. If you’re married, your partner has to also want to become Amish. If you’re single, you need to live with an Amish family. You need to dress Amish, go to Amish services. And of course you have to believe in Amish doctrine. I’ve heard so many people say, “Oh, I could do without electricity.” I say, “It’s not just that.” We go by the Dordrecht confession. We have to believe in that and act it out. So it’s not just giving up electricity or modern conveniences. It’s learning to live the faith.
I have a lot of people who come to me or write to me and ask me how they can become Amish. This is something that almost can’t be done when you’re old, like I am now. For example, a married woman, a grandmother in her sixties from New York, came to find me and said she wanted to become Amish. Her husband didn’t. I said to her, “I think you are where you are supposed to be. You are in a Christ-believing church. Maybe you can be satisfied there.” Maybe people can have some of the peace and calm that we experience without becoming Amish. For example, if you say, “The computer has been controlling my life too much. Or the phone. Or Facebook.” Do without it, then. Those things shouldn’t control you; you should control them. Some of my grandchildren who aren’t Amish anymore can’t let go of their cell phones even to take a shower! They say, “Oh, I get tired of my phone ringing all the time.” I say, “Then shut it off!” How easy is that?
Sometimes I still ask myself, “Is this really my life?” I still can’t believe it! But with God, all things are possible. We have to remember that God loves us and Jesus died for us. Whether we’re Amish or not, we have to remember those truths—God loves us and Jesus died for us—constantly.
Marlene C. Miller is pictured to the left as a senior in high school, not long before she became Amish. Marlene tells her story of joining the Old Order Amish in the book Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to the Old Order, which released February 9th. In this rare memoir, Marlene recounts her unhappy and abusive childhood, and how she fell in love with Johnny, the gentle young Amish man who helped her lace her ice skates one day. Follow her on this unusual journey to find out how God’s love called her out of bitterness and into the warm embrace of her new Amish community.