Jun 26, 2016

Emma Gingerich left her Amish community in search of a better life

Emma Gingerich left her Amish community in search of a better life

New Zealand Herald

By Olivia Lambert

Saturday Jun 25, 2016


Emma Gingerich grew up with no electricity or hot water.

She didn't know what a car was until she reached her teens and was too afraid to flick on a light switch.

Ms Gingerich lived in Eagleville, Missouri, in one of the most conservative Amish communities in the world.

She belonged to the Swartzentruber Amish, a group that speaks mainly German and Ms Gingerich said they were the least modern and most uneducated Amish people on the planet.

They are referred to as dirt rollers because they only take a bath on Saturday and Ms Gingerich said sometimes it wasn't even that often.

When she was about 15, Ms Gingerich realised she was missing something in her life.

Nobody could answer her questions about Amish life, about why they wore long dresses and bonnets and did everything by hand.

She couldn't understand why they did not have flowing water or electricity and she never had fun with her friends.

When she turned 18, Ms Gingerich decided it was time to flee the community.

Only one of her 13 siblings knew what she was planning.

It was a bold move, it was not that common for Amish people to escape and she has now been rejected by her family.

Ms Gingerich didn't even pack a bag the day she left and she didn't say goodbye to her parents, she just scribbled them a note.

"I'm not happy here, don't worry about me," it said.

She walked out the door with nothing but the clothes on her back and a piece of paper in her hand.

She walked 6km to the next town and used a phone to call a number written on the piece of paper.

A woman answered. Ms Gingerich had never met her before but got her details from her father's friend.

She confided in the friend and said she wanted to leave and after threatening to tell her parents, he eventually decided to keep quiet and gave Ms Gingerich the number.

The woman who was a complete stranger to Ms Gingerich drove an hour to pick the Amish girl up from the town and took her home.

For a couple of weeks Ms Gingerich stayed with her family but ended up settling in Texas.

It has now been 10 years since Ms Gingerich escaped the Amish and she's barely spoken to her parents or visited her old village.

She's learning how to live a modern life and even wrote a book, Runaway Amish Girl: The Great Escape, about what unfolded when she left the community.

"It's difficult to plan where to go and you wonder how you're going to get money and start your life," Ms Gingerich told news.com.au.

"People in Texas gave me an apartment to stay at and I worked at a place where they built houses and sold them. I basically cleaned houses right before people moved into them.

"While I was doing that I got my birth certificate and social security number - it took me a while to get that stuff together so I could go to school.

"I didn't have a high school education so I had to get that first and then I got into college."

Ms Gingerich is studying a business degree.

Despite leaving the Amish, it wasn't easy making a new life for herself and Ms Gingerich spiralled into depression.

"It was a culture shock and it was also the fact my family rejected me and I had a really hard time getting over it," she said.

"It caused a lot of stress in my life just thinking about how I'm not there with my family but when I'm there I'm not happy.

"Some things happened after I left ... I was attacked by a man.

"Getting over that stuff took a toll on my life and I went through a period of depression for several years."

Ms Gingerich has left her Amish life behind, but said she still likes to go barefoot.

She used to run through the fields without shoes back in Eagleville and that's the only part of the Amish lifestyle she wishes to continue.

While Ms Gingerich doesn't have much interaction with her parents, she sometimes speaks to her siblings, but they are too scared to ask her questions.

"They still think it's wrong what I'm doing," she said.

She hasn't gone to visit her family in a long time and says she doesn't feel welcome, but Ms Gingerich hopes some day her family will accept her again.

Ms Gingerich said in her book being Amish was like getting two feet of snow.

"It looks very pretty when you are in your warm house looking out at it, but if you really need to go out in it, it's not so pretty anymore."



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