Give Me the Simple Life: Two-Minute Barn-Raising



Chipotle takes food for thought to the next level with their Cultivating Thought: Author Series. Check out this insightful perspective on the Amish by Malcolm Gladwell.

I grew up in Canada, in an area of Ontario where there is a large community of Old-Order Mennonites. “Old Orders,” as they are known, are a religious group who live as if the 20th century never happened. They avoid electricity, drive horses and buggies, leave school at 16, and bale hay by hand. They dress in plain black and white, with straw hats over clean-shaven faces, and when a neighbor’s barn burns down, they gather as a community to put it back up. When I was little, not long after we moved to Ontario, my father heard about a barn-raising down the road. He decided to join in. If people of different colors and creeds are to get along, we think we need to practice approval and agreement and acceptance.

My father is an Englishman, a mathematician with a long bushy beard. He drove an imported Peugeot station wagon. He wore a tie — always. We were skinny book-worms, in knee-socks and ironed short-sleeved shirts. You can imagine what I thought, on the way to the barn-raising: How on earth would a group of Old Orders accept us? This is what we always worry about, of course. If people of different colors and creeds are to get along, we think we need to practice approval and agreement and acceptance. But my father didn’t accept the Mennonite way of life that day. Nor did the Old Orders come to some kind of epiphany about the virtues of European cars, and electricity and advanced degrees in mathematics. There was a barn to raise, and so long as there was work to be done, it didn’t much matter that reading Narnia books in the car, belonged to one century and the rest of the crew to another.

The world could use more of that attitude, couldn’t it? My father joined the line of men passing lumber to the workers on the roof. Midway through the day, they fed us all bologna sandwiches and mounds of sauerkraut. And in the evening, when the last nail was hammered in, we got into our Peugeot and drove away.

Have you ever been in a situation where a common goal transcended different backgrounds? Share in the comment section for the chance to win a copy of Amish Values for Your Family!

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About Suzanne

Suzanne Woods Fisher writes bestselling, award winning fiction and non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish for Revell Books. Her interest in the Plain People began with her Old Order German Baptist grandfather, raised in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. Suzanne's app, Amish Wisdom, delivers a daily Amish proverb to your phone or iPad. She writes a bi-monthly column for Christian Post and Cooking & Such magazine. She lives with her family in California and raises puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind. To Suzanne's way of thinking, you can't take life too seriously when a puppy is running through your house with someone's underwear in its mouth.


  1. Lisa Cowell says:

    The community spirit is one of the things I admire most about the Amish and Mennonite culture. For all the preaching about caring for widows and orphans in our church, I found the opposite to be true. When my husband died, my daughter had just turned 9, and all he left us was hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt he ran up. I was told in no uncertain terms that no assistance from the church or its members would be forthcoming. Sure, they would mow my grass if I paid them the going rate. Friends and neighbors broke into our garage several time to steal tools and equipment. When I had to work double shifts to cover even the basic expenses (and missed church activities), I was criticized for not having my priorities straight. I was criticized (and ostracized) for being a single woman with a child and not marrying again within a couple of months or actively trying to find a man “to take care of us.” It’s not like I wasn’t an active member of the church, teaching Sunday School, working in the nursery, going on visitation, being very involved in the women’s group, and never missing a service. After he died, I was systematically stripped of all these activities after several people started vicious rumors of me abusing children and having a problem with my “sexual orientation.”