When in Missouri do as the Amish do

The writer is the 16-year-old daughter of Paul and Sandy Syltie of Big Sandy.

By Abigail Syltie

BIG SANDY, Texas--This past July my 13-year-old sister, Ruth, and I visited an Amish family for a week. After reading the book Amish Life: A Portrait of Plain Living, by John Wasilchick, we were curious to see what it would be like to live as "the plain folk" do.

My father, Paul Syltie, who has contact with a man who works with Amish farmers in Missouri, thought it would be a great opportunity for us to experience the Amish way of life.

In "modest" dresses Mom had made specifically for traveling to northern Missouri, we met the Waglers: Roman, 44, Ruth, 42, Jared, 21, Leona, 18, Jonas, 17, Calvin, 12, Dorcas, 9, Marlene, 5, and Nelson, 3. Most Amish people have lots of children so they will have plenty of help with farm responsibilities.

The Waglers support themselves by selling the fruits, vegetables and flowers they raise on their 183-acre farm. They produce muskmelons, tomatoes, sweet corn, squash and so forth.

While my sister, Ruth, and I were there, we helped pick green beans and wild blackberries that were then loaded into a buggy and sold from a streetside stand in the nearby town of Windsor. We also picked up quite a few chiggers, which made us miserable for a few days afterward.

The Amishes' belief in God was evident in the Waglers' lifestyle. They tried sincerely to center their lives around the beliefs in God that have guided the Amish since the 16th-century Anabaptist ("twice-baptized") reformation movement.

Meeting other Sabbath-keepers

Throughout our visit the Waglers couldn't have been friendlier. When Roman discovered that my dad and the two of us kept the Sabbath, he immediately set out to contact two families he knew nearby who likewise keep the day and even invited them over Friday night to get acquainted.

That led to our attending a home fellowship the next day with several area families that included a considerable number of children, many in Ruth's and my age-group. Most of them were fairly new Sabbath-keepers and were struggling to put away their old ways, like doing business on the Sabbath and raising hogs.

Each morning the Wagler family started the day with a silent prayer. After they had breakfast they read a prayer aloud while everyone knelt. They sang songs, then read a chapter of the Bible.

When my dad spent two mornings with the family, he was asked to read his choice of scriptures.

On Sundays the Amish in the district take turns having church in their homes. This particular district in Missouri had about 40 families, with 20 meeting together at a time.

On the Sunday we left the Waglers, the group was meeting at their place. It was exciting to see the many buggies with smiling children arriving in our new friends' yard.

After the services the families had a potluck meal together. During the meal and the church service, the men and women are separated.

Questions about dating

Ruth and I asked 18-year-old Leona many questions during our visit. We were especially curious about the way they date in such a closed society. She told us that the boy asks the girl if she would like to go on a carriage ride. If she accepts, the next Sunday after services they ride to his house to play games and talk.

Leona mentioned that the girl usually stays until midnight. The parents are at the house only to make sure the girl doesn't sit on the boy's lap! Leona had not had any dates yet.

Members of the Wagler family eat much like anyone else. They buy cheese, cereal, white bread, toothpaste and other needs. I was surprised to see they didn't make cheese or butter because they do have a milk cow. The entire family found the homemade cheese and whole-wheat bread we brought from Texas a real treat. The family was fond of desserts, and the Waglers finished each dinner meal with a sweet cake or cookie drenched with milk.

The Waglers live in a large, eight-bedroom house they had recently remodeled to accommodate their big family. The house was equipped with running water from a gravity-flow system, a propane refrigerator and washing machine that ran on gasoline. They cooked on a propane stove.

Because the Amish traditionally have no electricity, they use kerosene lamps. No portraits hang on the walls because the Amish feel it is worshiping graven images to hang pictures of themselves on the wall. We were not able to take pictures of the family. They decorate their walls only with a few plaques.

One horsepower at a time

All the Amish in the colony we visited use only horsepower in their fields and for transportation. Stationary engines are permissible as long as they are not pulled across the field. Thus a conventional John Deere baler had been rigged to transfer power from a large metal, cleated drive wheel to the power-takeoff shaft. This was pulled by six horses and worked quite well.

Various Amish colonies have their own styles of transportation, energy use, dress and limits of associating with the "English" (anyone not Amish). This Missouri colony was quite conservative.

One of the most difficult adjustments for Ruth and me was to wear dresses or long skirts all of the time. We helped mow the large lawn, and wearing a dress while mowing isn't a pleasant experience. Not having the luxury of being cool at night with fans or air conditioning was also something that was difficult for us.

We both thought it was great fun to drive the horse and buggy all by ourselves to the neighbor's house to use the telephone.

Ruth and I learned some valuable lessons while we visited the Wagler family. What is truly important is centering your life around God and His Word--as well as you understand it--in every aspect of your life. Material goods just aren't so important.

The family is content to live without stylish clothing or a television set. The Waglers never fought among themselves, which is rare occurrence in this world. When harder times come to this country, all of us would do well to learn to live more as these Amish people live.

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