Emma Gingerich: The Woman Who Left The Amish Life To Pursue Her Dream LifeBy Anglina Roberts
It can be hard to get a sense of the culture and day-to-day practices of the Amish. They aren’t typically very forthcoming about their way of life to outsiders, preferring instead to live an isolated life away from modernity. However, thanks to women like Emma Gingerich, who chose to leave the community, we have a better understanding of the Amish way of life.
It is hard for most of us to imagine living a life that we didn’t in some way choose for ourselves. That’s how Gingerich felt growing up, always pondering the possibilities of a life without all the restrictions of her cultural background holding her back—that is, until she finally left the Amish community.
The Most Important Thing Is Happiness
When most people think about the future, they have different ideas about what they’d like to achieve. Some want to be leaders in their chosen fields, so they go to college and put in all the hard work necessary to achieve success. Others want financial stability, so they do what it takes to bring in a high income. But as for Emma Gingerich, her future looked very different.
Emma was unhappy with her current Amish lifestyle, which left her feeling unsatisfied. She knew that it could never help her realize the potential she saw in herself. This led her to want to leave her family and start a new chapter of her life outside their community.
Isolated And Unhappy
The Amish community encourages a completely different way of life than the one led by most Americans. It encourages a lifestyle that is almost antithetical to that of most people across the states. For example, they live without running water or electricity. That’s right—no hot showers or lights after the sun goes down.
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Although Emma grew up in this environment, as she got older, she longed for those luxuries we would just consider simple pleasures today. Here’s another example of how her upbringing differed: she grew up making her own clothes and weaving baskets for her family to sell for money. This left her little time to play with her 13 siblings. This created feelings of isolation and unhappiness.
Living By A Strict Code Left Emma Without A Choice
The Amish way of life has barely changed in the past couple of generations. When children are born, a list of rigid rules is passed down onto them, each one delivering strict guidelines for what a person can and cannot do.
Violating these rules results in punishment and censure from the other members of the community, so families know better than to defy them. While this has kept Amish traditions intact over the years, it also means that modern technology hasn’t been adopted into the community. Emma describes growing up with a great sense of burden, tradition, and conformity.
The Amish’s Philosophy in Life
It is generally believed that Amish people do not use any electricity whatsoever, but that’s not entirely true. They do use it, but only in certain situations, such as in emergencies or when there is no other option. Amish people have a philosophy known as “gelassenheit,” which translates to “letting it be.”
The Amish people believe that life should be lived in accordance with nature’s rules and in harmony with God’s creation. They believe that modern conveniences, such as electricity, aren’t natural creations, and they prefer to keep them out of their lives. The same goes for things like running water, which most people in the global north couldn’t imagine living without.
They Call Outsiders “The English”
Some people might think the way the Amish people live is odd since many of their customs are quite alien from those of most other cultures. Of course, the Amish see everyone else, or outsiders, as odd as well. In fact, they have a term to describe everyone who isn’t Amish: “English.”
This is because hundreds of years ago, when the Amish were setting up their first communities, they didn’t really know who would come wandering through their lands. They decided to call those who did English. Once a tradition is established, it takes on a life of its own and doesn’t go away easily. Given the slow growth of their culture, it’s no surprise that communities still follow this tradition today.
Dolls Without Faces
Amish children are allowed to play with toys, but nothing like the kind you’d find in a toy store. What they do have is a set of dolls with no faces. Amish kids have used them for generations, whereas outsiders might consider these faceless dolls as creepy. Who can blame them?
To the Amish, these faceless dolls are perfectly suitable for children. They believe that faceless dolls help to remind kids that God is the only one capable of creating people and also that everyone is the same from God’s perspective.
“Meidung,” The First Punishment
The rules of the Amish community may seem draconian, but they are not intentionally designed to make peoples’ lives difficult. In fact, they’re designed to help members of the community learn from each other. But as in any other community, these rules must be followed.
Of course, there exist laws designed to punish those who do wrong. One such punishment is called “meidung,” or the shunning of people who have broken community rules. This can be a scary experience, but it helps Amish people learn not to break the rules and follow authority.
Crossing The Line Results In “Bann”
“Meidung” may be unpleasant, but “bann” is even worse. This is what you get if you disobey the rules enough to be excommunicated by the Amish community. Following this, the offender must leave behind everything and everyone they have ever known. It’s rare that people have to go through this, though.
Bann” literally means to be banned from the community. If you really cross the line, you’re permanently excommunicated and left to fend for yourself in a world that seems like a foreign place. It’s basically a permanent “meidung,” which serves as a taste of what rule-breakers may experience if they don’t get their act together.
Unsurprisingly, Dating Wasn’t Great
The Amish do many things differently from the perspectives of outsiders. There are, however, some similarities in the way they live, for example, dating. According to Emma from an ABC News interview, it’s a very different experience from what most people are familiar with.
When she was 16, her parents brought a guy over who they thought was a good match for her. Gingerich didn’t get to go out for dinner or see a movie with the guy. Instead, he visited her in her room, where they got to know each other over a conversation.
An Unusual Way Of Dating
When you’re a teenager, and your parents tell you to spend the night with someone, it can be both a surprising and awkward thing to hear. But an Amish couple’s idea of spending the night together is different from what most people would expect, as their daughter Emma discovered.
Emma and her date spent their “night together,” sitting on the bed, simply talking with one other. Emma later said that she was absolutely horrified by this experience—she just couldn’t figure out how to go about falling in love with him as her parents wished.
The Amish’s Strict Rules in Dating
Dating in the Amish community is a bit different than dating in the outside world. For example, you can’t become involved with someone who hasn’t been baptized by the church. The Amish take their religion very seriously.
What’s more, prospective partners from the outside world have to be officially welcomed into the community before they can begin dating. If you do find someone who fits all of these requirements, you must keep your relationship civil—your partner is not allowed to enter your house or vice versa until you’re married.
Getting Married Is Also A Process
When it comes to getting married, the Amish have a lot of rules. First, you can’t just propose or get married on your own. If you want to marry someone, then you need to seek permission from the church first.
If the church agrees, then the man is expected to ask his partner for her hand in marriage by getting down on one knee. Couples can then plan their special day according to strict Amish guidelines. Everything must be done in accordance with the church’s teachings. The couple’s wedding day must also be announced in the community newsletter.
Amish Marriages Aren’t Always Arranged
Amish marriages aren’t strictly arranged, but parents do play a key role in their children’s romantic lives. For example, if a father believes that his son is a good match for someone else’s daughter, he might talk to the boy and urge him to take an interest in her.
Both parents might also sit down with their kids and suggest they start courting each other. But if things don’t work out between one or the other, if the pair decide they don’t have feelings for each other or wish to become members of the church, for example, then there is no obligation to marry.
Life Beyond Amish Borders
Emma grew up in an Amish community. At some point, she realized that she wanted to leave, but she didn’t spend her childhood wanting to escape. In fact, the thought of leaving the Amish and building a new life elsewhere didn’t even enter her mind until eighth grade, when she left school.
Leaving school meant supporting her family by cleaning houses. After working this job, she realized that the outside world was different and had more opportunities than the one she’d been raised in. That’s when she decided that she wanted to explore life beyond her Amish roots.
A Helping Hand
Emma’s desire to escape the community was a lonely and frightening one. She had to deal with all the anxieties of being discovered or what would happen if she was caught. It was almost impossible to confide in anyone. She decided not to tell anyone about her thoughts of leaving.
Eventually, though, she did confide in someone. A sympathetic family member listened to her plight and promised to help her. In January 2006, after using a cell phone secretly provided to her by another member of the community, Emma left a goodbye note indicating that she’d moved out.
Amish Communities Are Originally From Germany
As Amish people refer to non-Amish as English, you might be led to believe that they consider themselves a different nationality from that of the people of the US. On the contrary, Amish people in the US do identify as American, but they have German origins. The ancestors of these communities came from Germany many years ago.
Although the Amish have mainly adopted English, they also hold onto their native German tongue. This helps to explain why many Amish communities are able to speak the language fairly fluently. It is ingrained through generations of practice. That’s not all—many words and phrases used by the church communities stem from German, like the word “gelassenheit,” which means “calmness” or “serenity.”
Amish People Are Usually Multilingual
The Amish place a lot of value on tradition, which isn’t particularly surprising given how much their lifestyle has stayed the same for so long. However, the languages spoken by different Amish communities change depending on their ancestry. German is a common language in Amish communities in the US. However, many speak English and, in Pennsylvania, Dutch.
For example, in business or education, especially for interacting with people directly outside the community, English is highly useful. As the de facto language of the United States, it is widely spoken, so it makes sense that learning the English language is important. Unfortunately, Emma spoke very little English when she first left for the outside world.
Experiencing The Outside Is Called “Rumspringa”
In the Amish community, many young people leave the village to experience life outside of their community in a period known as “Rumspringa.” This is when the Amish youth can explore the outside world and decide for themselves if they want to stay in the community or not.
With the permission of their parents and to help guide their young people’s decision-making, Amish teenagers are permitted to leave the community for a time to live in the outside world. Those who decide to return to the Amish way of life then undergo a baptism ceremony and become loyal members of the community.
Amish Teenagers All Have Different Rumspringa Experiences
The Amish practice of “Rumspringa” has been well-documented in popular culture. The practice involves teenagers venturing outside their community for a limited time. This gives them a chance to experience life away from their roots so that they can make the decision on whether to return and commit themselves to the Amish way of life or not.
Some teens have a very hard time during Rumspringa because they’re not used to modern living and all its trappings. Usually, one week is enough time to see if the outside world suits them. Most Amish teens choose to return home after this, while others find themselves feeling drawn to the outside with a strong desire to remain in their new surroundings permanently.
Amish Teens Get A Free Pass
Teens often push boundaries at this age. They are still learning about the world and going through puberty, which is quite difficult to handle. In Amish communities, there are a lot of rules in place to follow. However, it seems that teenagers get more of a free pass with “Rumspringa.”
This is probably because the adults hope that if they give the younger generation a bit of freedom, after which they will choose to return to their community later on after having their fun. No matter how much trouble teens get into during their Rumspringa, their parents will still welcome them back with open arms.
Rumspringa Allows Teens To Decide
“Rumspringa” is a time of great uncertainty and excitement for Amish teens, who are exposed to things they usually aren’t allowed to have, such as electronic devices and cars. The decision of whether to return to the Amish community after rumspringa is over can be difficult for many to make.
Some never want to leave since they’ve gotten so used to the old ways. They can’t imagine living in the outside world. Others, however, feel that being able to make choices about their own lives is worth giving up everything they know. But the choice isn’t always permanent. People who leave but later regret their decision may still be welcomed back and baptized by their church.
Emma Adjusted To Her New Life
Away from the Amish community, Emma felt a little overwhelmed as if she didn’t have her family around to guide her or any idea what tomorrow would bring. She was anxious to get to know her new environment while still wary of venturing out too far.
But Emma immediately felt attuned with her new world. She loved college and cooking, and she was neither isolated nor unhappy as some people might have expected her to be. She admitted the adjustment was hard and that she missed home from time to time, but it was also rewarding.
Modern Conveniences Were Not That New
When she left the Amish community, Emma was already familiar with many technologies which are taken for granted in the modern world. The Amish may shun electricity, but Emma was no stranger to it. In a 2015 interview with the Atlantic, she mentioned that she already had a battery-operated radio and had even used a cell phone which was given to her by her friend.
This seems like a small thing for someone in the modern world, but for her and the Amish community, it’s quite a big deal. She had to be careful not to get caught with those forbidden items. If she did, she would be punished. Since Emma didn’t fully understand how to use them, things were even more difficult. She just randomly pressed buttons hoping something would happen. But after some time, she was able to work it out.
The Stress Of Making The Call
Emma must have been extremely anxious while making that phone call. Not only was she breaking the rules, but she was potentially changing the course of her life forever. While on the phone, she was terrified of “not hearing the other person on the line.”
Having no experience using cell phones, Emma worried she would not be able to make out what the other party was saying or that her voice would be too soft for them to hear. Fortunately, upon hearing a woman’s voice, Emma relaxed. She spoke her mind, and a plan was made.
Getting Used To Modern Conveniences
An eighth-grade education and little experience with the modern conveniences in the outside world meant that everything would be new to her, and she would therefore have to face many challenges. But Emma, as a committed learner and a goal setter, was ready to take on anything.
The first thing she needed to learn to do was typing—which she learned easily, by practicing using Microsoft Word. She didn’t understand at first why some letters were big while some were small, but she soon got used to it. Today, Emma can type without having to look at the keyboard!
After growing up in an Amish community, Emma must have been completely amazed to see so much information at her fingertips once she got online. Thanks to the internet, she learned many dark secrets about her community, one of which was that her grandfather had apparently abused his daughters.
Unfortunately, the authorities were never able to do anything about it because he was a respected member of the Amish community. This discovery left Emma shocked and shaken. It certainly put her decision to leave into perspective.
Keeping It A Secret Was Upsetting
When someone you thought you knew turns out to be someone else entirely, it can be difficult to cope with. When this happens in a family, it can tear people apart. After finding an article about him, Emma learned something extremely distressing about her grandfather.
Emma shared what she found about her grandfather’s dark past in an interview. She said that her mom and dad never talked about it. Her mom and dad thought it was better to leave it in the past. With a heavy heart, she revealed that she always “kind of knew” her grandfather was capable of doing such an act.
Maintaining A Connection With Her Family Became Difficult
When you leave the Amish community, you turn your back on much more than just your old life. You leave behind your family, too. For Emma, that meant leaving her parents, siblings, and cousins, which has understandably left a few open wounds in her heart.
Three of Emma’s aunts left the community before her, leaving their father in the process. The revelation that her grandfather had abused them might have shed light on their leaving for Emma, but her father still struggles to accept his daughter’s decision, despite her attempts to see him.
Things Would Have Been Completely Different If She Had Stayed
In her teen years, Emma Gingerich chose from two paths that led in two wildly opposing directions. Had she stayed in the Amish community, she would have led a totally different life from the one she has now.
But Emma Gingerich, born and raised Amish, isn’t one to look back on the past or wish that things were different. She told ABC News that if she had decided to stay with her family and community, she would definitely be married by now—and she would probably have four or five kids of her own.
Emma Found Love Through A Dating App
While Emma’s goal is not to have a big family, she welcomes the idea of settling down with a husband and a couple of kids. In fact, it was through a dating app that she met her current boyfriend, Clay, who is, coincidently, a mud engineer.
She was the one to send the first message after seeing something about mud on his profile. A few days later, they went on their first date. The two continued dating for almost two years before Clay proposed—now Emma can’t wait to be married!
More And More Amish People Started Leaving
Emma, who decidedly left the Amish community behind to live in the modern world, says that she knows many others will follow her example. She told the Atlantic that due to a big division in the church, many have already decided to move away from their community.
They are people who have strong beliefs about what is right and wrong. Once they believe something goes against their values, they don’t need much of a push to leave their way of life behind. When members of the same community see so many others leaving, it makes them reconsider their decision to stay, too.
Her Knowledge Of The Community Has Become Limited
Of course, Emma’s knowledge of the community is not as up-to-date as it might have been if she had stayed. Since she left, she hasn’t been privy to any information from the secretive community that she once intimately knew. She doesn’t have any news about what is going on in her family or in the community at large.
While she doesn’t know much about their day-to-day lives, she’s sure that others want a different lifestyle as she did. This is something Emma can relate to—she got out of the community and built a life that better fits her wants and needs. Although the church might be one reason that people are considering taking that big step, Emma thinks there are many other reasons.
Building Connections And Friendship
While Amish communities appear to be stuck in the past, they are making small advances in some areas. This includes the use of social media. Teenagers, while on “Rumspringa,” quickly become adept at using social media. According to a Buzzfeed article, social media gives Amish teens a feeling of comfort and connection in an otherwise alien world.
But it also allows teens to go to parties and experience an exciting world together. The article also mentions that social media allows Amish teens to establish long-distance relationships—keeping in contact with people they would otherwise never speak to again once they returned. This is likely a big influence on what they choose to do after they finish Rumspringa.
Amish Teenagers Limits Their Posts
Chris, who also decided to leave the Amish way of life for the modern world, recently shared his experiences with Buzzfeed. He said that Amish teenagers are careful what they post on social media and don’t like talking about parties publicly, as they fear they’ll get shut down by the authorities.
After all, many of the things that happen at Rumspringa parties are illegal as participants are still underage. However, some things are acceptable to post. It helps that their parents don’t use the Internet, let alone social media, so they are oblivious to what their children are saying and showing online.
Go Where Your Heart Takes You
Emma left the Amish community behind long ago, but she returned to see her family on occasion. After each visit, she felt less and less of a desire to look back on her former life, apart from documenting it for her book. Now in the outside world, she does well for herself. She is proud of the new life she has built.
Emma Gingerich’s book Runaway Amish Girl: The Great Escape details her decision to leave the Amish community and encourages others to find their own path. ABC News reported that many young women have read the book and wish to follow Gingerich’s lead. Whenever she receives a message from one of these women, she responds with encouragement to pursue their dreams.