Many people of the Amish faith live on the surrounding farmland around Berne. Zachary and Maryann Gilbert are two such Amish and live about 10 miles northeast of town. Maryann grew up in the faith but Zach just joined a couple of years ago. Drawn to the Amish through their emphasis on the faith community, family life, and simplicity, Zach embraced his conversion and hasn’t looked back. Last week I dropped by their house and talked with both of them about Zach’s conversion and what it’s like to be Amish. Oh, and for religious reasons, they respectfully declined to have their picture taken.

When did you become a member of the Amish church?

Zach: 2002. But I attended the church for over two years before I joined.

And how did it come about that you attended an Amish church? One day you just thought you’d try it out?

Zach: No, see, I used to haul an Amish work crew for probably for 5 to 6 years and then another crew for probably two years before that so I’ve been around it for a good 7 to 8 years. It wasn’t like I didn’t know what it was about.

When you made that conscious decision to join, what was the biggest challenge for you?

Zach: The biggest challenge was the language, by far.

What is the language’s official name?

Maryann: It’s a mixture of Swiss, High German, and English. It’s its own dialect.

From a lifestyle standpoint was it much of a change or was it pretty easy?

Zach: Oh, well, a lot of people come up and say, “How could you quit driving?” And all of those things really were nothing. Probably the hardest thing for me to give up was the news. When I worked for the carpenter crew I got the USA Today every morning but now that I work in the cabinet shop I don’t get to keep up on the world events.

Was there anything religiously that was a hard transition?

Zach: I think a better question isn’t what was hard for me to give up but what I received by becoming a member and being accepted into the church. Before I was accepted, I kept thinking, “Man they should let me in, it’s been a year.” And at the time it was hard to accept but I’m glad [the bishop] did it the way he did and took enough time. I’ve got a wonderful bishop. I think a lot of him. The thing I really liked about the Amish was the forgiveness aspect of their faith. The way the Amish, when you do something wrong, you can have an ending to it. You can be forgiven and it’s over. Of all religions, I feel they have the best way of bringing closure to problems when something bothers them. Another thing I really enjoyed was that unlike many churches where you go and for an hour you’ll sit and listen to a minister criticize people of other faiths and other churches but in the Amish church you never hear that. The way they worship; that’s their business. It’s like when someone leaves the Amish, they do a tour to all these other churches and slam the Amish and that’s wrong. I don’t think God looks down and likes that. I don’t see how he can be pleased at any place of worship allowing or inviting someone to come in and criticize someone else’s faith. All churches at one time or other have had their own disagreements and discontent members that leave.

But at a certain point do you feel that you do have to draw a line?

Zach: Do we have the right to make that judgment? Or are we to respect beliefs and their right to have them? That’s why everybody came to this country.

Maryann: I think though that there is a point where you do have to draw the line.

So is Anabaptist, Mennonite, and Amish history talked about within the church or do you just mostly preach about what you believe?

Maryann: Well, we always remember what they did and what they lived through, so that we can live the way we do. I’ve known for as long as I can remember that our forefathers suffered for the faith.

Do you link that to the way you live now? Do you link their persecution with a your experience of being Amish?

Zach: [Being Amish] doesn’t make us any better than what you are. A lot of people think, “Oh, those Amish, they think they’re better Christians. “That’s not true. The rules we have keep us out of trouble. They help keep us from having problems.

Do you see yourself sharing in the Anabaptists’ persecution…maybe not through violence but through discrimination against being Amish?

Maryann: I would say that the way we live is a separation of the world. That’s why we do it; we’re called to not be of this world.

Zach: But there’s a fear that something like [persecution] might happen again. Or that we might get drafted into the military.

Do you see the way you live as a witness to other people?

Maryann: Yes. But more of just an example to others. With the religion we have you have to make sure you are a good example. It looks bad when somebody does something within the community that is obviously not right.

Zach: And you know, there’s good Amish and bad Amish. Just like your church. There’s good Mennonites and bad Mennonites. But we all use the same Bible.

So if you don’t mind me asking, Maryanne, did your relationship begin before or after Zach became Amish?

Maryann: It started before.

Zach: We had known each other for eight years.

Maryann: He had been a driver and he took us [her family] on a trip once. And we had always liked each other but he wasn’t Amish.

Zach: Before I ever approached her, I knew what I had to do. See, my parents were divorced and going through that, not having my family, there was no way I could take that away from someone else. And it wasn’t knowing what I had to do, it was knowing what I was going to do. I didn’t want to take my wife’s family away from her. Before I ever told her how I felt, my mind was made up.

Maryann: And he had thought about it for a year before.

Zach: Oh, for ages. I thought about it and prayed. And really when I had made my mind up that I really liked her, I didn’t see her for almost a year. Didn’t speak to her. I passed her on the road with her brothers but I didn’t speak to her.

Wasn’t that weird? Knowing that you were fairly intent on getting married?

Zach: Well, I didn’t even know if she would accept.

Maryann: We hadn’t talked about it.

Zach: In fact, I went with her older brother to their house for supper one time and I didn’t even talk to her.

Maryann: I thought he was stuck up as a matter of fact.

Zach: But her mom caught me looking at her.

Maryann: And then we took another trip with my brother, his wife, and some of my friends.

Zach: On the last day I just knew I had to say something. And we did do a few things. She worked at Swiss Village [a retirement community in Berne] and I’d go out there and have dinner with her. No dates. And I’d also came over to their house for dinner. And when we finally did come out with it, we talked to her brother first. And the first thing he said was, “Do mom and dad know?” And we said, “No, we thought we’d start where it was easy!” It was quite an experience.

P.S. Lately I've been pretty busy so now I'll be posting new interviews every other week.

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