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Leaving the Amish Life Behind

Kevin Niedermier.
By Kevin Niedermier     Jul 25, 2003 in Lifestyle
Apple Creek, Ohio, USA - (voa) - The choice between living the rustic Amish lifestyle, or joining the fast-paced, convenient modern world, has always been an option for Amish teens. Many continue to embrace the security of their strict communities, where a horse and buggy is the mode of transportation, an 8th grade education is the norm, and a simple life is the road to salvation. But, as we hear from Kevin Niedermier, there are still young Amish who look for more in their lives, and choose the challenges of the outside world.
Matthew Gingrich enjoys the simple pleasure of playing a guitar, something frowned upon in Amish communities. It is one of the reasons the 19-year- old left Amish life behind. He is part of a group of young former Amish in north-central Ohio who get together Friday nights to go bowling or skating. Tonight, they are just hanging out at Matthew's apartment, sharing their strong religious beliefs, providing each other with support.
"...That's about, I learned this, I learned to play guitar basically on my own. I never took a lesson in my life. It's all just by ear," Mr. Gingrich said. "And, my dad could play, before he joined the Amish church he played, but it was kinda behind the scenes, the other people of the church didn't know he did it."
Like many of the estimated five to 15 percent of Amish who abandon their rustic lifestyle, Matthew says he also rejected the strict rules, and embraced drinking, partying, and driving a car. All Amish children are given the chance to experience these things when they turn 16, but their parents hope they will get it out of their systems and live the rest of their lives as Amish.
This non-alcoholic Friday night gathering is organized by William Keim, one of four brothers who left their Amish family. Now he and his oldest brother help other former Amish get their new lives on track.
"Because when they come out they have no money, no clothes, no nothing, and no home to live in. Ya know, I'm not out there trying to get the Amish to leave, I'm trying to help them if they do decide to leave," Mr. Keim said.
William Keim, who is now 25, first left the Amish when he was 17.
He said, "I left because I was tired of being Amish, just tired of everybody ruling me and my life, telling me what to do. Like the preachers would come up and tell you that you got to do this. For an example, one time I was, this it probably the stupidest thing I heard, but it happened to me. I was driving down the road opposite from where the sun was and I had sunglasses on. And they [the preachers] came to me and said that I had sunglasses on driving the wrong way, and they wanted to punish me for it."
After a year and half on the 'outside', he returned home and was baptized. But two years later, with 50 dollars in his pocket, William Keim left for good late one night. Recently, he has been joined by his 18-year old brother Perry.
"The reason I left, I got in trouble, I drove a car without a drivers license and wrecked it," Mr. Keim said. "And it was just, really ruined my life, and then I left, and it's just something that I have to go through now, what I did wrong. And I'm working right now, I'm working down at Fredrick Door Furiture Factory. And, I wrote a letter to my dad before I left, and I said that I'm going to come out here and pay my bills what I did wrong. 'Cause I owed the court like $630 for court costs and everything."
The transition from Amish to modern life is difficult. It's made even harder, William Keim says, because it means breaking off normal family relationships with those who stay.
He said, "After I left, Dad didn't want me to come out to see them, because he doesn't want me to be a bad influence to the rest of the brothers and stuff so. I said well, hey, if that's what you want than you make your life the way you want it. And if that's what you want than I won't come out there cause I don't want to do anything that you don't want me to do. So I didn't go out for awhile, but finally he did come in and see me because he felt really bad for it, cause I knew it was hard for him to say that. But, he felt like he had to because that's what the preachers wanted him to do and everything else. So, we see each other about once a year, if that, and if we do see each other it's very hard because a lot of times they do cry, all they do is cry and want me to come back."
But not all of the people gathered here tonight have strained relationships with their parents. Matthew Gingrich and his sister Miriam will soon be joined by their mom and dad, who are also leaving the community. Miriam says she appreciates what her family's Amish values brought to her new life.
"They taught us how to work, they taught us a lot of responsibilities, and I want my kids to grow up like that," she said. "That's the one thing I would miss from the Amish. I mean there's a certain amount of work expected from you as an Amish family, and, a bunch of girls, non-Amish friends, like the girlfriends whatever, most of them can't cook, they don't clean the house, their house is like dirty all the time and, I can't stand that. I love to cook and I need a clean house."
Miriam now works at a nearby pizza parlor. William Keim works in construction, but hopes to someday find a job training horses, like he did when he was Amish. And Matthew Gingrich does masonry work, though if possible, he says he'd like to play guitar for a living.
Despite the conflicts these former Amish experienced in their original communities, none of them hold grudges against the lifestyle. And they all say the Amish work ethic is something they'll honor throughout their lives.
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