The Mennonites are best described as being like Amish who use more technology.
Women in long dresses and bonnets, men in slacks and suspenders–they have cars, digital cameras, and even computers. But they use such tools for their single person in life: to do God’s work. And to stay on task, they resist exposure to their broad definition of that which is “ungodly” or “worldly.”
Here’s how I met the Shrock family of Western Montana, returned to spend a night with them, and learned all about their way of life.
On my drive out to Portland July 3, I enjoyed the idyllic Montana scenery between Butte and Missoula.
One particular scene was too much to pass up.
As I drove along the freeway, I looked to my left to see the valley below and cutting through it, a windy, slow moving river. Beyond the valley in the distance were green hills–beyond them, snow-capped mountains.
As I continued ahead, I saw a frontage dirt road between my freeway and that windy river. And along this road were a couple of old homesteads. I wanted to ask these residents about life here, about what it felt like to call this place home, about how people here think and see things. So I exited the freeway.
The first two homes had no one answer. The third door was the charm.
After a knock and a step back on the wooden planks of the deck on this modest, one-level house, Katie answered the door (along with her two daughters and two baby boys.) Katie and the girls wore long dresses and bonnets. The toddler boy had on his miniature suspenders. Katie had their infant wrapped in her arms.
After telling her why I arrived, she invited me in.
She and husband Jethro raise their family here, “where God was leading us,” she said. (Katie and Jethro have known one another since children at the same church-school in Indiana.)
“Is there a strong Mennonite presence here?” I asked.
“Yes, there are 18 families,” Katie answered.
She then answered other questions I had about their way of life: They have internet for email, research, and ordering things, but they have a filter blocking many sites including Facebook and YouTube. They don’t vote, but they pray for the country. They celebrate the Christian holidays; they don’t celebrate Halloween. They are against smartphones.
In addition to the negative material out there this family wishes to avoid, they also moderate their technology so their kids minimize their screen time and get outside and play.
With a backyard like this, I’m guessing the kids aren’t complaining.
“You know,” I said just before saying goodbye, “I’ll coming back through here on my way home in a couple of weeks.” I asked if she and Jethro would be open to me coming back to record their way of life.
Katie handed me her husband’s card. A couple of days later, I called him from Portland. He welcomed the idea for me to return, experience their life, ask them any questions I had, and capture it all on camera.
July 18, 2017
On this Tuesday evening, I returned. I wasn’t the only guest.
To better expose me to this culture, Jethro and Katie had invited an older couple Titus and Gladys, who brought their adult children. After introductions, we enjoyed a hearty meal of meat, potatoes, corn, and sweet rolls.
After cleanup, the two families reconvened for entertainment. Board games? Cards? A movie?
In the end, there remained my host couple (Katie and Jethro) and the older couple (Titus and Gladys) for a discussion about their particular histories and the Mennonite way of life.
Their clothing is a resistance to fashion and fads, explained Jethro, something he said can be a “bondage” restricting one’s closeness to God.
Many forms of art can distract from one’s relationship with God, they said, thus their life without TV, radio, and access to many popular websites. They do have computer, internet, digital cameras, and cell phones (but no smart phones). They listen to their hymns on compact disc. They only go to a movie if it’s something educational–a nature film on IMAX for example.
Yet when asking about orchestral music, I discovered none there had heard of Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart.
I asked about missing out on such joys as a symphony. Titus responded with a smile, saying that he lacks the need for such things in order to be happy and that the source of his happiness–his connectedness to God–might be disrupted by them.
They explained their belief in pacifism, keeping any Mennonites from enlisting in the army or even joining law enforcement. I challenged that they live a lifestyle and have a religion, then, that is necessary for some people not to join.
Titus came back, “If everyone was Mennonite, we wouldn’t need an army or police.”
We even discussed facial hair and body hair. Why do men have beards? Do Mennonite women shave their legs?
Theirs is a whole other way of life, an approach that I saw and felt provides rich and unique benefits. I very much look forward to delivering the video of my evening and conversation with these Mennonites from western Montana. Look for it on The Periphery YouTube channel.
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