Get Ready to Chase the Amish Dream

In case you hadn’t noticed, a long line of people stands ready to tell you Amish stories. They include:

  • Producers of Amish-themed reality TV shows.
Scene from current season of Breaking Amish on TLC.

Scene from current season of Breaking Amish on TLC.

  • Tourist-venue operators.
Signs to Amish tourist sites in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Signs to Amish tourist sites in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

  • Writers of Amish fiction.
Beverly Lewis, one of the top-selling authors of Amish fiction.

Beverly Lewis, one of the top-selling authors of Amish fiction.

  • Writers of Amish nonfiction.
Mindy Starns Clark is author of A Pocket Guide to Amish Life.

Mindy Starns Clark, author of A Pocket Guide to Amish Life.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with non-Amish people telling Amish stories. In fact, I’ve done it myself, in a book that I wrote about Amish-themed fiction (Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels). And we at Herald Press tell Amish stories as well, through series like Ellie’s People: An Amish Family Saga by Mary Christner Borntrager, a series of young-adult Amish novels that we are re-releasing, and Return to Northkill, a series of historical Amish novels by Ervin R. Stutzman.

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Those of us who have told Amish stories have a variety of motives. Herald Press produces Amish-related books because we see it as part of our mission as a Mennonite publisher. We believe that we have a responsibility to produce books that correct misconceptions and offer authentic portrayals of the Amish, a community that is close to us historically and theologically (and sometimes genealogically!). But even those of us who are motivated by goodwill and careful about our representational work can’t escape the reality that we’re telling someone else’s story and that we’re telling it from our own angle.

Isn’t it time that Amish writers have a chance to tell their own stories?

A new series from Herald Press gives Amish and other plain Anabaptist writers the chance to do just that. Plainspoken: Real-Life Stories of Amish and Mennonites, which features books on daily life and faith written by Amish and other plain Anabaptist writers, launches this coming Tuesday with Old Order Amish writer Loren Beachy’s Chasing the Amish Dream: My Life as a Young Amish Bachelor.

I am thrilled that this series is kicking off with the work of such a talented and hilarious writer. People might pick up Loren’s book because it’s written by an Amish writer, but they’ll keep reading because it is some of the best humor writing around. Loren, a beloved columnist for the Goshen News, is a schoolteacher and an auctioneer, and his chapters teem with the pranks and foibles and routines of the folks in his Old Order Amish community in northern Indiana. When I was editing Loren’s writing, I’d often read parts to my sons and husband because, well, I couldn’t not read them out loud. And if the cover makes you at all curious—why is that man chasing that buggy?—let me just say that there are actually two accounts of two different buggy chases in the book. You won’t want to miss either one.

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New York Times–bestselling author Cindy Woodsmall says readers won’t want to miss any of these firsthand accounts of Amish life. “Anyone with an interest in the Amish or in humor will love this unusual rendering by a young and very spirited Amish man,” Woodsmall says. And Philip Gulley, author of the Harmony and Hope series, says this about the book: “For years I have harbored a secret desire to join the Amish. Now I can chase my Amish dream through this wonderful book by Loren Beachy. This treasure of a book has taken me into their homes, and them into my heart.” And here’s one more endorsement, this one from Lorilee Craker, bestselling author of Money Secrets of the Amish: “Loren Beachy is such a charmer! Reading through these delightful stories of life as an Amish bachelor, I felt like I was with Loren at an old-fashioned box social, a farm auction, and all the places and spaces he occupies in his plain community. Jump in the buggy with Loren Beachy and you’ll take to this book like a rabbit to a carrot patch.”

I told Lorilee this, and I can tell you: Loren is as charming in person as he is in writing. He stopped by my house in central Pennsylvania a few months ago, on the way to an auction, to hand off the final manuscript. My sons loved meeting him in person, and he did some of his “auction calling” for them. He almost had us bidding on a pair of sneakers sitting in the middle of the living room.

The Amish have been writing about their lives for a long time. In periodicals like Die Botschaft and The Budget, Amish writers across Canada and the United States connect with each other, and Amish printing presses and publishing houses bring books by Amish authors to Amish readers. But such magazines and books are read mostly by other Amish and Mennonites and rarely by the larger reading public. What is new about the Plainspoken series is that it makes Amish first-person writing accessible to readers outside Anabaptist circles.

We all know that interest in all things Amish is rampant right now, and Loren knows it too. I think he’s a little ambivalent. Given his faith’s emphasis on humility, he’s not comfortable being in the limelight, and we at Herald Press are respecting his wishes in a variety of ways: no author photo, of course, and marketing plans tailored to the parameters of what he can offer as an Amish author. But Loren still has hopes for his first book and its potential to reach readers. He tells me that his three wishes for readers of this book are: “that they will be inspired by how joyful the Christian life can be; that they will realize how absurdly normal the Amish are; and that they will relate to how much we can enjoy a good joke.”

Chasing the Amish Dream launches on Tuesday. Keep your eyes open for the next two books in the Plainspoken series. In Called to Be Amish: My Journey from Head Majorette to Old Order, which will release in February 2015, Old Order Amish writer Marlene C. Miller tells her rare story of growing up non-Amish and joining the Amish as an adult. Then in May 2015, Hutterite writer Linda Maendel will invite readers into her experiences as a lifelong Hutterite living in a colony on the plains of Manitoba in Hutterite Diaries: Life in My Prairie Community.

So you can tune in to the latest season of Breaking Amish, if you’d like, or visit the Amish-themed tourist attraction nearest you. Then again, you could pick up a copy of Loren’s book and listen to an Amish writer tell his own story for a change.

You can order Chasing the Amish Dream for $9.75 U.S. until the end of the day on Monday, October 20. 

ValerieWeaverZercherValerie Weaver-Zercher is managing editor of Herald Press trade books.

A Dispatch from Frankfurt

What do you get when you put together 7,000 exhibitors, spread over 5 buildings, with over 100 acres of space, and over 250,000 visitors? You have the Frankfurter Buchmesse the world’s largest book fair, which took place last week in Frankfurt, Germany.

Besides showcasing their best work, the Fair is THE place to go if you want to sell foreign translation rights for your works. With that in mind, I went. And being a great lover of books, this was a part of my job that I was more than glad to do.

The Fair buildings are so vast that it takes nearly 15 minutes to walk from the front to back–nearly a kilometer.

IMG_6055There are signs showing the way, but it seems that you never seem to get there. We were located in Hall 8, the largest, which is English Language. Fortunately for me, there was also an S-Bahn (train) stop in the middle of the Fair Grounds. That saved my feet and lots of time.

 

IMG_6071Besides the thousands of small publishers, the big publishers were there, too. While Herald Press shared half of a 4 square booth, some, like Harper Collins, had one hundred times as much space, staffed with an army of rights negotiators.

 

IMG_6128Not to be intimidated, I enjoyed spending about 1/4 to 1/3 of my time walking the floor, seeing publishers from Asia, Europe and South America. The rest of the time I had meetings in our booth, with prospective publishers.

 

 

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There were massages to relieve the long and stressful hours of walking the exhibit hall floors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Germans had their own hall (it’s their fair, after all) and so there were many uniquely German sites there, like a painted Trabant, the icon of the former East Germany. Their hall was the most densely packed of all.

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I had lots of good contacts, lots of good leads, and made lots of new friends. While there may be some out there who worry about the future of publishing or the book industry, there wasn’t a hint of that this past week. We see a bright future ahead. And in the next year, we look forward to seeing a lot of new Herald Press titles published around the world!

~Russ Eanes

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Russ, from the Frankfurt book fair

As Current as the Latest News: David Shenk’s “Christian. Muslim. Friend.”

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Reading/skimming things coming through my Facebook feed, if there was ever a helpful and timely book, David Shenk’s new small volume, Christian. Muslim. Friend. seems to be it. This book will be published Nov. 1 and is on pre-publication discount right now, see below. But that’s not why I’m writing about it.

While news rumbles on TV, Twitter and Facebook, deep fears and misunderstandings about people of the Islamic faith are stoked for many of our friends, neighbors and relatives.

Richard Kauffman, editor at Christian Century (and former editor at Mennonite Publishing House) shared a link to this Washington Post article on Facebook this week: “Even if we defeat the Islamic state, we’ll still lose the bigger war.”  Dick’s cogent comment to this was: “My fear: sooner or later, there will be boots on the ground.”

The major news networks this week also told about how and why young U.S. citizens are joining ISIS or other Islamist groups fighting the Syrian government. Not that that is new, either.

The good news of this week was that Malala Yousafzai, (the young Pakistani teen previously shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls’ education, and Indian children’s rights advocate), was announced as a Nobel Peace Prize winner. One of my friends on Facebook proclaimed, “If you ever need to recall a moment when a purely right good thing happened in the world, remember this event and this day.”

Recently our staff learned of powerful affirmation for David Shenk’s Christian. Muslim. Friend. Twelve Paths to Real Relationshipfrom an organization called World Concern. It is a Christian mission organization that since 1955 has been working on global relief and development and “extending opportunity and hope to people facing extreme poverty.”

David Shenk spoke at a public event for World Concern recently in a session titled, “Christians in Lively Engagement with Muslims.” Sounds like a great topic.

David’s newest book is actually the fourth in a series of eye-opening, helpful books working at relationships across these age-old faith groups, as a seasoned Christian living and working many years in Muslim settings. World Concern distributed a flier that characterized David’s books in helpful, impassioned language. We have permission to share it here; see below. If you haven’t discovered these books yet, check them out and note that currently Christian. Muslim. Friend. is on 25 percent discount until the publication date of November 1.

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Christians Meeting Muslims Series
Learning and Witness through Dialogue
A Muslim and A Christian in Dialogue – Badru A Kateregga and David W. Shenk

MuslimAndAChristianInDialogue

In this book a devout Muslim and a devout Christian witness to their faiths, listen respectfully and respond as friends but also true believers. Badru D. Kateregga and David Shenk open up the basic questions of the human situation and confront the areas of convergence and divergence between Islam and Christianity. This book opens doors because both men present their beliefs forthrightly and with conviction and deep respect. It often serves as the entry point for sensitive and respectful witness.

Teatime InMogadishu

Making and Finding Peace:
Teatime in Mogadishu – Ahmed Ali Haile as told to David W. Shenk

Ahmed Ali Haile, a courageous and bold follower of Christ, tells his life story of growing up in Somalia, his decision to follow Jesus the Messiah, his biblical grounding for witness and his return to Somalia to mediate between warring clans. This book, now in many languages including Somali, tells Haile’s bold faith and his joy in suffering for the love of his own people and of Jesus his Lord and Savior.

JourneysOfTheMuslimNationAndTheChristianChurch

Witnessing to Muslims with Power and Love:
Journeys of the Muslim Nation and the Christian Church: Exploring the Mission of Two Communities – David W. Shenk

We know that Muslims will eventually ask some questions of Christians. Why do you believe in three gods? How can you say that Jesus the Messiah is God’s son? The Gospel of Jesus, a sacred book to Islam, must be corrupted—how can God speak through many authors? What do you think of Muhammed? What do we say? This book prepares us to respect Islamic world views while proclaiming the truth of the cross—of God who came down and opened the way to peace, reconciliation and adaption into the his family. Learn to respond wisely and without fear of offense.

ChristianMuslimFriend

Building Lasting Relationships to Muslims as Friends:
Christian. Muslim. Friend. – 12 Paths to Real Relationship – David Shenk

In this soon to be released book, David, who has proclaimed the gospel of Jesus in mosques around the world as a friend and respected guest, lays out 12 ways Christians can form authentic relationships with Muslims—relationships characterized by respect, hospitality, and candid dialogue, allowing Christians to bearing witness to the Christ-centered commitments of their faith. In a world where we sometimes respond to Muslims with fear, we are emboldened to become friends.

One member of our staff, Angela Burkholder, had opportunity to travel as a teenager to the Middle East with a group from her church. Angela wishes she would have had the book before that encounter. After reading the book, she wrote,

“The whole way through, I alternated between wanting to continue reading and wanting to delve into my Bible. It gave me such an appreciation and deeper love for the Word of God.

 

I wish I could have a read this book way back when I was a teenager preparing to go on a REACH team to Israel.  My team worked with the Muslims and I wanted to connect somehow on a spiritual level with the Muslim friends I had made, but I didn’t have a foundational understanding of Islam. So, our conversations were fraught with all kinds of misconceptions (on both sides). I suspect, then and now as I relate to other Muslims, I have been guilty of fostering those ongoing misconceptions simply because I lacked proper knowledge about Islam.

 

I think this should be required reading for anyone preparing for the mission field, any young adult attending a secular college, any Christian who lives in or near a multicultural community, and anyone who travels.”

As Angela notes, many of us live, work, or volunteer among those of the Muslim faith in our neighborhoods, institutions and schools here in North America—without even traveling to another country. I work with several Muslim volunteers at our church clothes closet, for instance. In the Waging Peace documentary Mennonite Media produced several years ago, Mennonites in Ontario had frequent shared meals and comforter-making connections together. They have all benefited as they share food, conversation, and friendship.

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How well do you know your Muslim neighbor, co-worker, or friend? Perhaps David Shenk’s book can be a step in a good direction for many of us.

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Shenk’s series of four books would make a powerful, yearlong study for any church or small group which wants to take on a great challenge. All books used for study purposes are eligible anytime for our 25 percent off discount (5 copies or more of one title) from the Study Shelf.

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For a radio interview with David Shenk, which aired originally by Paul Ridgeway of KKMC Christian Talk radio, Twin Cities, Minn. listen here:

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Melodie Davis
Managing editor and Mennobytes coordinator