Monday, August 1, 2016

What the Amish can teach us

Produced and edited by Patrick Matbob

As our Honda SUV shot up the smooth paved road, the sight before us was like nothing we had ever seen before except maybe in books and western movies.

A shiny black buggy drawn by a horse plodded along with some children in the back and their parents up front. As we slowed down to pass them, the children smile and wave at us, equally curious to see our strange faces and dresses from 19 different countries around the world.
We represented India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, China, Mongolia, Africa, Russia, Estonia, South America and Oceania. We were scholars from universities around the world and were participating in the Study of the United States (SUSI) program at Ohio University.
This was our first encounter with members of the Amish community whom we were going to learn about in the next couple of days as we stayed at Sugarcreek.
An Amish farm
To see the Amish riding around on horse-drawn buggies and bicycles on well paved roads in one of the most advanced countries in the world sparked our curiosity. Why would a group of people shun the American dream to persist in the old ways of living? Do they not want to embrace the technological advancements that had eased the modern ways of living? To put it bluntly – what is their problem with the world today?
We were privileged next day to meet up with Lester Beachy, a middle-aged Amish man wearing a brown beard minus a moustache, which is the typical demeanor of an Amish man of his age. Lester and Mary Beachy, a warm motherly figure, gave us a short but detailed introduction to the Amish way of life.
The Amish way of life can be described as life on the slow lane, and is based on their Christian beliefs.
“We believe the bible has all the answers in life,” says Lester.
He says they seem slow in embracing changes because their decisions are based on three things – faith, family and land. What they accept or reject is based on whether it will help to nourish their faith, benefit their family and land. Anything else is rejected.
However, both were quick to point out that it does not mean they reject all modern technology and ways of doing things.
Education for the young Amish children usually ends at Grade 8 then the girls work with their mothers, and boys with their fathers in the fields to learn their trade. The training is basically to teach values to their children, which the Amish believe is the most important thing that a person should have. For instance, their option to use buggies and horses for transportation does not mean they reject modern transportation, and some Amish people use modern technology and equipment on their farms because it is profitable.
“I see people walking around with cell phones all the time,” says Mary. “To me it is such a burden”.
“You don’t miss what you don’t have”.
An Amish buggy
But she admits that today they have gas to warm their homes and run the fridge and iceboxes unlike before. And they have milking machines to help them milk cows because, she says that unlike before, today you have to milk 42 cows to make a decent living.
“We believe that the bible is God’s words to men. We believe that’s how God reached everyone” says Lester.
Their hope of heaven does not depend on works, but on faith.
“That’s why we choose to live the way we do".
He says the Amish vote and decide what they will have and what they will not have. For instance, he said when they could not milk enough cows by hand to make a profit, they decided to buy and use milking machines.
He says on gender roles, men and women perform different roles which have the same value in God’s eyes.
Listening to Lester and Mary, it dawned on me that what the Amish experienced was not unique. What was unique was their culture of deciding what to accept and reject. All traditional cultures in my country Papua New Guinea experience what the Amish are going through. The introduction of modern technology, equipment, values and ways of doing things are challenging and at times conflicting with the traditional cultures.
The Amish are strong and closed knit communities, and they decide through votes whether to accept or reject what the world offers if they do not see the need. That is the difference.
I am convinced that the Amish have something to teach the people of PNG, and rest of the world, who are bombarded by what the modern world offers. Like them, we should be disciplined in deciding what is good for us, and to reject what is unnecessary.

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