By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
I had the opportunity to meet Mark and Sara Bontrager earlier this month at their home in rural East Pleasant Plain, as they had recently purchased and moved the old East Pleasant Plain Catholic rectory to their farm. I was nervous beforehand; although I had grown up near the Hazleton Amish settlement in northeast Iowa, I had never actually spoken to Amish persons before. I was afraid I might offend them.
Their neighbor, Leonard Drish, who helped arrange the meeting since the Bontragers do not own a telephone, reassured me. “You don’t have to worry about offending them.” They are just people who choose to live simply.
As I approached the Bontrager farm, ducks seemed to greet me, as did the family’s dog and several kittens. I noticed handmade solid-colored dresses, pants and shirts drying on a clothesline nearby.
Just then, one of the teenage sons galloped in on horseback. The dog ran to him as he put the horse in the stable. Nearby, the family’s turkeys gobbled at the excitement. It was such an idyllic scene, but commonplace for them. Mark told me they like to utilize horses as much as possible. They might have someone drive the family on a long trip, but otherwise, the Bontragers travel by horse when it’s too far to walk — either horseback or by buggy.
They invited me into their new home, where they were in the process of removing carpeting. Since they don’t use electricity – no vacuum cleaners —- carpet is impractical. The wood flooring underneath was in so-so condition, but it would do just fine, they said. Sara thought the built-in cabinetry and wood detailing, original to the early 1900s home, was beautiful. The leaded glass windows, on the other hand, were a bit too “fancy” for them, Mark said. He hoped to find a new home for those windows in the future.
As they are still in the process of moving from the smaller home on their property to the former rectory, there are only a few pieces of furniture: a well-worn green couch and a wooden dinette set, which on this day supported a half-eaten bowl of popcorn and a jigsaw puzzle.
We walked upstairs past one of their sons’ bedrooms. The two older sons have been living in the former rectory since the day it came to the property, even though Mark and Sara haven’t installed a wood-burning heating stove in the home yet. There was a Bible verse on the wall and on a shelf was a wood craft with the name of one of the sons carved inside. It seemed unusual to see a teenager’s room without a laptop computer, tablet or smart phone.
Portrait photographs were also noticeably absent from the home, and not just because of its half-moved-in state. While the Bontragers love their family and friends, and enjoyed hosting about 50 of them for Thanksgiving, most Amish are uncomfortable with the idea of posing for photographs and bringing attention to themselves.
The Bontragers were very gracious for allowing me to visit their home. While initially I felt a little sorry that they choose not to utilize many of the modern conveniences that we “English” take for granted, I left their farm seeing how blessed a simpler lifestyle can be.
And I told Mark so. He simply shrugged from under his blue work suit. “We’re just people.”
(Editor’s note: Lindsay Steele is a reporter for The Catholic Messenger. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (563) 888-4248.)