Book Review – Amish Voices by Brad Igou

Reflections on Life from an Old Order Amish Magazine

LNP 2/26/23

“The Scribbler” by Jack Brubaker

In the summer of 2016, Robert Alexander wrote two brief essays for the Amish monthly magazine Family Life. He wondered how Amish farmers could continue to thrive as land prices rise and commodity prices fall. “Unless we make some changes in our attitude, we may be seeing the sun setting on our culture,” Alexander wrote. With Amish population doubling every 18 to 20 years and if the number of Amish farms remains the same, he explained, the percentage of Amish farmers will be halved in two decades.

“At that rate, it will take only another fifty years in some communities until only 2 percent of us will be farmers,” he estimated. “That is the same as in the American population as a whole. If that isn’t where we want to go, we will have to very consciously do something about it. And soon.” 

The Amish purchase nearly every available farm in many of their settlements, including Lancaster County. They migrate to newer settlements. They are spreading out across the country. But will that be enough? Alexander posed but did not answer his question. No one can answer it definitively. But it is instructive that a problem that plagues society in general — increasing population, diminishing agricultural land — concerns an Amish writer looking half a century into the future.

Family Life is filled with such musings about farming, marriage, aging and other essential subjects. Since 1968, Pathways Publishers in Ontario, Canada, has printed thousands of essays by in–house Old Order Amish editors, as well as letters from subscribers throughout North America, including the Lancaster settlement.

In 2000, Brad Igou, then vice president and general manager of the Amish Experience in Bird–in–Hand, assembled selected passages from the first 25 years of Family Life and made them into a book, “The Amish in Their Own Words.” Now retired, Igou has assembled a second book of selections titled “Amish Voices (Volume 2): In Their Own Words, 1993–2020.” Herald Press published both books. Igou has selected writings he believes best represent the magazine, its subscribers and the Old Order Amish Church. The Scribbler has space for two…

Mark and Dora Stoll observed a young man on a long bus trip repeatedly taking his smartphone from his pocket and consulting it. The Stolls decided he was addicted to the device. “We had to think of people who feel sorry for us Amish, convinced that we are ‘bound by traditions’ while they in the world are ‘free,’” they wrote in January 2013. “To us this addiction to the cell phone appeared as being bound in the true sense of the word.”

In the second writing, S.J. Lehman said he loves lakes and ponds because the clarity of the water so vividly reflects sunsets. Puddles, on the other hand, he wrote, are muddy, an “overflow of clogged ground.”

The writer said he knows people who are as “beautifully useful” as a lake and as “calmly necessary” as a pond. Others are like puddles: “obscure, seemingly worthless. A tiny border and murky water.”

He always thought of those people as having a “colorless existence.” But then, Lehman wrote, “in a muddy puddle in the middle of our rutted driveway, I saw the sunset.”

Igou’s second book of selections from Family Life is another breath of fresh air — yes, from the barnyard, but also from the sweeter scent of a community toiling and worshiping together. 

 Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes “The Scribbler” column every Sunday. He welcomes comments and contributions at [email protected]