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A student at Portland State University recently inteviewed Brother Eazy Ezekiel for a research paper she was doing on Rumpspringa. She was kind enough to let us share it here. We have removed her last name and the last name of the professor to respect their privacy.
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The Mennonite/Amish cultures have many traditions that separate them from the normal Christian faith. 400 years ago, many European Christians were killed and tortured for their belief in adult baptism. Adult baptism is referred to as Anabaptism, meaning "re-baptizer." One Anabaptists belief is that members of the church should be baptized during adulthood rather than infancy (Robinson 2002). Amish adult baptism gives members of the church the freedom, and the adult conscious choice to find their faith through a tradition called Rumspringa. Rumspringa means "running around" in the Amish Dutch language. Once a child turns 16, they are free to experience the world from an American standard. This means they are allowed to use electricity, watch television, listen to music of their choice, and wear normal clothes. This also means they are allowed to drink, smoke, and sometimes use drugs and/or experience sexual relationships. Rumspringa can last from a week to several years. A child can make the decision at any time to rejoin, or not to rejoin, the Amish faith and community. If the child rejoins the faith, he must surrender the many pleasures that he was allowed during Rumspringa, and return to the simple lives the Amish lead. If the child decides not to join the Amish faith, he is shunned from the community and his family, and his soul is thought to be lost forever. Surprisingly 90% of the young adults do return to the Amish faith (Pinsker 2002).
Devil's Playground is a documentary on Amish children in the Rumspringa stage. The movie shows the lives of kids who were debating whether or not to rejoin the church. Devil's Playground centers on mainly 2 main characters and their interactions with others in and out of the Amish community. The main character is a boy named Faron Yoder, and 18 year old preacher's son. Faron was heavily involved with drugs and dated an "English" girl in the beginning of the documentary. He was later arrested for drugs and involved in a set up to avoid his jail time. After he was revealed to be involved with the set up, he had to break up with his American girlfriend and move back in with his Amish family. He cleaned up and found an Amish girlfriend, Emma. Emma decided not to rejoin the church and moved to an Amish community in Florida. Faron and Emma broke up at that point because Faron wanted to rejoin the church. Faron, then, gets back into drugs and partying. He later moves to Florida to be with Emma and clean up. The couple's fate is unrevealed.
Another main character was Velda. She felt very depressed during Rumspringa and did end up returning to the Amish church. After returning she decided that the Amish life was not for her and she left. She was shunned from her family which she believes was their last way of showing her that they loved her. She lives on her own, works for herself, and was accepted into a Christian college in Texas. Velda is very involved with the Christian Religion, but claims that the rigid Amish life depressed her. She does not have much contact with her family, but she does not regret leaving the church.
The movie shows many other kids experiencing Rumspringa, and involving themselves in wild parties, drugs, unsupervised relationships, drinking, smoking, and other "American" activities. One girl was baptized back into the church and refused to be interviewed any further. In the deleted scenes of the movie an Amish couple, experiencing Rumspringa, had a big controversy because the boy did not want to return and the girl did. She decided not to return to be with her boyfriend. Some of the kids lived in a trailer away from their parents, while others stayed within the community. Typically boys wore more "American" clothing, while girls stuck to the traditional dress code. Also, the boys had driver's license and cars, while the girls did not. On some occasions Amish adults were interviewed saying that sometimes they missed the freedom that they experienced during Rumspringa, but they do not regret joining the church. The documentary revealed many traditions that the Amish have, including their houses, businesses, and worship rooms, which were located in the basement of the house and built to fit the whole community for worship.
I also read an article from the New York Times, entitled "The Secrets of the Amish." This article was basically an overview of the documentary, Devil's Playground. The article explains the difficulties that the producers encountered trying to make the film. At sometimes the work seemed impossible because the Amish are not supposed to be filmed or reveal much about their traditions. It also included some background information to the Amish religion and community. Additionally the article included an interview with a professor, Donald Kraybill, who is an authority on the Amish and teaches at Messiah College in Grantham.
I also found a website online that explained the history of the start of the religion, the many beliefs, the practices, and the conflict and problems that face the Amish communities. This information was found on the Religious Tolerance website. Much of the information provide on the website was obtained through other websites including the Mennonite Connections on the WWW, The Plain People web site, the Mennonite Information Center, an essay: "Background Dynamics of the Amish Movement," and the National Committee for Amish Religious Freedom website. Other information was taken from such books and videos as 20 Most Asked Questions about the Amish and Mennonites, The Amish and State, Sociology of Canadian Mennonites, Hutterites and Amish: A Bibliography with Annotations, The Amish: Images of Tradition, Amish Enterprise: From Plows to Profits, Amish Roots: A Treasury of History, Wisdom, and Lore, The Amish Struggle with Modernity, A History of the Amish, Old Order Amish: Their Enduring Ways of Life, and The Amish (Multicultural Peoples of the North America Video Series).
The next article was from the Amish Country News. Amish Country News is a periodical that is distributed for seven months of the year. Their goal is to be a broad source of useful and accurate information for visitors and others who are curios about the Pennsylvania Dutch Country. The article it titled Amish Children: Nurturing and Belonging. The article is very informative about the roles of parents in the Amish community and the up bringing of children. It also gives some explanation to why Amish children stay or return after the Rumspringa experience.
I also visited the Amish Outlaw website. The Amish Outlaws are a band whose members did not return to the Amish life. I emailed questions and received very interesting and informative answers from one of the band members, Brother Eazy Ezekiel, which will be explored more in the methodology portion of this paper. The Amish Outlaw website compares the Rumspringa tradition with the Christian Conformation and the Jewish Bar Mitzvah. All the members of the band grew up in the strict Amish lifestyle, but during Rumspringa their love for music, and other pleasures of the modern world were discovered and they did not want to go back to the life of the Amish. Their music combines the modern with the Amish traditions and delights many audiences.
I had a hard time thinking of someone I could interview for my research. Being that I do not know any Amish folk, and I do not live in close proximity with any Amish communities, I attempted to interview the owner of an Amish furniture store in the Peal District of Portland. She was very informed of the Amish culture, but was not certain about the tradition of Rumspringa, so I looked other places. I landed on the Amish Outlaw website and proceeded to contact one of the members, I figured that it would be a long shot, but surprisingly, within three hours of my outgoing email I received a very informative and interesting reply on the Rumspringa tradition. I emailed three questions to Brother Eazy Ezekiel to which he provided me with answers. The first question was: In your own words what is Rumspringa?
"…Rumspringa is, in my words, a test of faith, but not necessarily a test to be failed or passed. Then again, I may feel that way (that it is not to be failed or passed) because in the opinion of most Amish folks, I would have failed that test, but my beliefs are still strong."
The second question was: Why do you think that so many adults return to the Amish way of life?
"The Mennonite/Amish beliefs are very rigid, as I am sure you have discovered in your research, and in light of that, Rumspringa is an anomaly. What I mean is, there are a lot of Amish folk that (though they wouldn't openly say so as they might be wary of admitting they don't agree with tradition) think Rumspringa should be done away with altogether as that time of indulgence is like is a Christian was suddenly told "You can break all 10 commandments for the next 8-12 months and at the end will be welcomed back to the church with open arms." The sins, in the opinions of many, are still there despite the fact that the Yingling (young person) chooses to return. Speaking of which I think most return for three basic reasons:
Finally my last question was: Do you think that this (Rumspringa) is an effective way to find faith?
"…I do not think Rumspringa is an effective way to find faith. I think that it can be an effective way to reinforce Glaawe for those that return because the modern world held no real appeal for them. But I think that most return not because of faith, but rather out of fear or guilt and, in my opinion, fear in not true faith."
Ezekiel's expertise and informative answers really gave light and insight to the reason that many young adults return to the simple Amish life.
Presentation of Research:
During the Reformation in the 16th century, reformers dealt with the idea of a "radical reformation." The Reformation promotes the concepts of individual freedom and acceptance for every participant of faith to seek priesthood. From this reformation evolved the Anabaptists who believed that members of the church should be baptized during adulthood rather than infancy. They also believed in total separation of church and state and they practiced worship services in homes instead of in churches (Robinson 2002). Indeed, each house is built to be able to hold a church service, which usually takes place in the basement. Services are held every other Sunday and rotate from house to house. The typical house will host a service about once a year (Devil's Playground 2002).
During this Radical Reformation the new followers were persecuted harshly. They were almost wiped out in wars organized by other church groups and sometimes by other governments. By the early 18th century some of these radical reformers were migrating to the United States under a group called the Amish. They migrated primarily as an experimental settlement through William Penn's Experiment on religious tolerance. Amish groups settled in parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri. The Amish settled with a set of strict rules pertaining to the outside world, better known as the Amish belief system. They believe in the separation of the Amish culture and the rest of the world. They reject any involvement with the military or warfare. Unlike many Christian groups the Amish do not try and convert anyone to the Amish religion and they live only amongst Amish people and culture. Marriage outside of the Amish faith is not allowed (Robinson 2002). Only about 10% of the Amish populations are converts (Devil's Playground 2002). Usually conversion into the religion is not favored.
Amish communities typically do not use electricity, radios, or automobiles. They wear plain clothes. Women appear in long sleeve dresses with bonnets and aprons. If the woman is married she wears a white apron, otherwise she wears black. Men typically dress in plain suits. Instead of a ring, married men will grow a beard (Devil's Playground 2002). The Amish believe in a self sustaining community. They rely on everyone in the community to help one another out. Unlike other Christian establishments the Amish only give money to the church twice a year. The money given to the church is only used in case of an emergency. Emergencies include sickness of a member, land, crop, or production failures, and other disasters (Robinson 2002).
The Amish believe that their purpose in life is to be faithful to God and to be an example to their children. Amish families spend most of their time together. They eat most meals together, and the only time the children are ever away from the family is when they are at school. Children typically go to school until the eighth grade. After the eighth grade they are expected to drop out and learn a trade. Children have many chores and very structured lives. The boys usually work with their fathers in factories or on farms. The girls will stay home with the mothers and cook, sew, and tend to the younger children. Typically Amish families are large, with an average of seven children to a family. Children have no contact with the outside world until the age of sixteen. At the age of sixteen children practice a ritual called Rumspringa (Igou 2001).
Rumspringa literally means "running around" in the Amish language. It is a time in a child's life when he is allowed to leave home and explore the "English" way of life. During this time, teens are able to wear normal clothes, go to the movies, listen to music, watch TV, drive automobiles, play video games, date, smoke, and drink. This time is also referred to as the Devil's Playground by the Amish people. Rumspringa is not supposed to be discussed out of the Amish community and is thought of as sinful. During Rumspringa, many teens experience with alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, and sex. They are allowed to act as any other American teen would act, and they have no supervision (Pinsker 2002). During Rumspringa young adults are supposed to make the decision whether or not to join the Amish church. Rumspringa can last several years, until the participant is willing to make a decision to either join or reject the Amish faith. If they decide to join the Amish faith they have to give up all their "American" privileges and return to the Amish way of life. They will also be baptized into the church and become a member. More then likely, the young adults who join back into the faith do so once they have found and chosen a mate to marry. Rumspringa puts a lot of pressure on young adults to find a mate to marry because joining the faith of the Amish has a great emphasis on family value. An individual should be ready and willing to devote his life and fate to Amish family and Amish community (Devil's Playground 2002).
If a young adult chooses not to join the Amish faith, he is shunned from the community. They must move away from the community and are excommunicated. They are on their own once they renounce their faith. They do not receive any support, be it moral or financial. Sometime young adults will join the Amish faith and then leave after being baptized. This is looked down upon and very sinful. Leaving the church once one has been baptized is the most sinful thing a member could do. The Amish believe that renouncing your faith will deny your entrance to heaven. If a child dies before he is baptized into the Amish religion then the Amish believe that his soul is lost forever (Devil's Playground 2002).
Rumspringa is a very difficult time in young Amish lives. They are exposed to many temptations that they have never experienced before, and that are forbidden in the Amish culture. Kids throw huge parties on their parent's land. It is said that over 1500 kids may show up at the parties from Amish communities all over the nation. The new Rumspringers usually are shy at the beginning of the party, but after drinking and/or doing drugs the kids loosen up and usually end up leaving with a member of the opposite sex (Devil's Playground). Some of the kids do not live with their parents during Rumspringa; usually it is the boys who live outside of the family. Boys typically act more "American" or "English" during Rumspringa. The boys wear common clothes, buy automobiles, and live outside of the community on their own; while the girls usually stick to their traditional clothing, do not drive automobiles, and live with their families in the community. Some kids date members outside of the Amish community, but if they decide that they want to join the Amish faith they must leave their "American" mates and eventually marry an Amish person.
With all the temptation and freedom that young adults are given, it is hard to believe that the most of the young adults do rejoin the Amish Church. About 90% of young adults end up being baptized back into the religion, and the cultural ways of the Amish life. There are many speculations to why such a large percentage of people go back to the Amish church after being exposed to the pleasures, dangers, temptations, and privileges that Rumspringa offers them. Many Amish folk say that it is the family life, the support, and their faith in God, that directs them back into the faith. Sometimes young adults join back to regain the life and stability they had before Rumspringa. Young adults realize the harshness and dangers of the outside world and know that the simple Amish life is protection to them. Sometimes they rejoin because they want a match with a mate. I believe the biggest reason that Amish kids become baptized into the faith is because it is all they know. For all their lives they grew up knowing only one faith, and the little time that they have away from their faith is not going to break their devotion that had been ingrained into them since birth. The guilt of their families would be too great and, they do not want to disappoint there family and their communities so they do what they believe is right in the eyes of the Amish.
Summarize in Relation to Literature:
The literature and research done around the subject of Rumspringa provides excellent information to the different views about why children return. Looking at the material obtained from Amish based information sites, I found that the reason that young adults returned was because of their faith and their commitment to the community. On the other hand, in my interview with Brother Eazy Ezekiel and the information I received from the documentary, Devil's Playground, young adults return not because of faith, but because the Amish life is all they know. They cannot face the complexity of the modern world and guilt they would feel for not returning and from their families and their communities is too great.
The Amish culture is a very strict culture filled with many rituals and traditions. They have survived the torture of the European Reformation, the move to the Americas, and the survived as a culture separated from their surrounding environment. They are sustained by the return of their young folk who endure a complex adventure filled with temptations and pleasures that are outside of the traditional Amish life. Whether it is fear, guilt, normality, or true faith that leads these young people back to the open arms of the Amish culture, they seem to survive and maintain a simple society.
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