Monday, July 27, 2015

MEET BRENDA NIXON ~Author of Beyond Buggies and Bonnets

by Marcie Bridges, @Marcie_Bridges

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. James 1:5 

My guest today, Brenda Nixon,  has written a memoir of her experiences taking in ex-Amish. I think her stories will fascinate you just as they have me. So, please, grab yourself a cup of tea and join us as we get to know her, her life, and learning about this distinct group of people.

Welcome to Heart Thoughts, Brenda! It’s a pleasure to have you with us. First, please tell us a little about yourself. 

We live in Ohio – home to the largest number of Amish settlements nationwide. My husband and I have raised two daughters but, along the way, God has asked me to temporarily “parent” other children. For a year, we took in a homeless twelve-year-old and helped her feel safe and secure, while tending to her formal education and medical care until she was able to join her father. Another summer I felt God asking me to take in a French exchange student.

Today, our older daughter is married to a wonderful young man who was raised and left the Amish. He’s hard-working, determined, and resourceful. Our younger daughter is dating a pharmacist. My husband is a university library director and I’m a writer with an education degree so I love to transfer information in my books and when speaking at public and private venues.

It takes a lot of courage, wisdom, patience, and love to be a parent to others like that. I can see why your Scripture verse (above) is so comforting to you. Please, tell us a little bit about your book. What made you decide to write it? 

My impetus for writing a book about “mothering” and mentoring Amish runaways came from the constant curiosity and encouragement from others. Many of my author and church friends asked so many questions, showed genuine love for the former Amish I met, and urged me to pen my experiences for others.

The book title is a double-entendre Beyond Buggies and Bonnets. I want readers to think of Amish as more than buggies and bonnets, and the stories of about those who went beyond their buggy and bonnet. 

So I’m curious, why did you take in or house former Amish? How did this come about?

It fell in my lap. I neither looked for this ministry nor prepared for it. God brought several “ex-Men” – as my daughters teasingly called them – into my life. I guess my instincts took over because they weren’t wanted by their parents for leaving the Amish. They needed unconditional love, home-cooked meals, a place to call home, clothes, and mentoring in adjusting to our “Englisch” world – a world they’d been warned to avoid.

The first to move in with us was Moses, he goes by Mosie. Following a horrific car wreck where he had a concussion and staples in his head, we invited Mosie to recover in our home. That recovery evolved into a year where Mosie became like a son to us. We helped him find a job, get proper dental care, a car, learn about insurance, how to play softball, and included him in family vacations, etc. Mosie is chapter one of my book.

Then our older daughter started dating Harvey, who left his strict Swartzentruber order where his dad is the settlement’s bishop. Through Mosie and Harvey I began a cultural learning curve. Throughout the years, Rudy, Levi, Dan, Andy, Uriah, Ura, and more have come through our home either for a meal, a place to belong, or a “mom” hug. Harvey is chapter two of my book.

Then a brother/sister team – Sarah and Monroe – left their Amish settlement one night. I got a phone call from their former-Amish cousin asking if I could give them a place to stay. Word gets out – I don’t look for nor advertise, I don’t have an organization – I take each instance as God alerting me so I can respond in responsible love. 

This had to have impacted your life on both a personal and spiritual level. Tell us about that? 

I’ve learned volumes about their upbringing and parenting, the discipline, school days, farm chores, foods, rules, behaviors and beliefs of the strictest Amish orders. I learned there are about 40 different orders, each with its own Ordnung (rules), bishop, beliefs and behaviors. I started a blog – Beyond Buggies and Bonnets – to share my unusual stories, their stories, what they’ve taught me, and pictures. My blog has more than 110 thousand readers!

On a personal level, I’ve often felt inadequate but responded like a “mom” with rules and relationship. On a spiritual level, I’ve seen how the Holy Spirit prompts people to respond. I simply share about the guys or gals I’ve met and the people from our church or my author friends give clothing, money, and other materials needs. I’ve never had to remind or nag people to help.

My spirit is pricked because I’ve learned that many Amish put rules over relationship with God. The uber strict Swartzentruber and conservative Old Order Amish rely on obedience to the Ordnung as their “hope” for God’s favor and heaven. Sadly, they never have assurance of salvation as taught in the scriptures. In fact, they teach that to say you’re saved is arrogant or prideful.  

My heart breaks for those who don’t know God’s grace, love, and forgiveness. When I see an Amish person, I whisper a prayer for their eternal soul. I’ve learned that driving a buggy, living simply, and wearing plain clothes do not guarantee the people are Christians. They may be living a lifestyle with a hunger to know our Heavenly Father. Only God knows if that person has a personal relationship with Him or is in false bondage to rules. 

That is so, so true. It certainly does break my heart. Why do some Amish leave?

In my experiences with former and current Amish, I’ve learned there are three main reasons they leave:
(1) it’s just not a lifestyle they wish to live, they want to live as English,
(2) religious freedom – to grow in their personal knowledge of God, and
(3) they want to work and live beyond the boundaries the Amish allow.

To explain (1), I know an Ohio lady who just wanted to live English. She maintains a relationship with her Amish family, likewise a Florida man left Amish and is still accepted by his birth family, (2) most Amish orders prohibit reading the Bible in English or outside the church. Some are prohibited from independent Bible studies. When an Amish person breaks the rules to read an English language Bible or discovers that salvation is free and not based on works, he/she is persecuted or asked to leave; and (3) a young Swartzentruber man in KY wanted to work beyond the physical boundaries of his settlement and to use power tools – both verboten – so he left and is now shunned. 

This is obviously “culture shock” for them when they do leave! What are some things they had to learn about the non-Amish life? 

It’s interesting, we outsiders look at the Amish with our own perception, thinking we understand them. Amish look at us in the English world and think they understand us. Those who leave the Amish life quickly learn about our insurances, rules of the road, April income tax, health care, education beyond their 8th grade Amish school, modern conveniences, technology, freedom to decisions, and more. They experiment with different haircuts and clothing. Because they’ve always been told precisely what to do, wear, think, and how to behave, they must learn to make choices and sometimes their decision-making skills are immature. I’ve known some former Amish who’ve made unhealthy choices and are living with lifelong consequences. 

What did you learn about their culture? 
Some people call it a religion. Some call it a lifestyle. The former Amish call it a system. I prefer to recognize it as a culture because one is born into it, and expected to live, marry, and die in it. There’s tremendous diversity among the orders, settlements, and families. Reading fiction books – while entertaining – cannot accurately explain the Amish. There can be no “expert” on this multi-layered, mysterious culture.

Each week I learn something new about the Amish and realize I know only about the Swartzentruber because of my personal, intimate experiences of those God brought into my home and heart.

My book focuses on my experiences with former Swartzentruber and conservative Old Order Amish. Readers tell me, “I learned so much.” 

I learned quite a bit that I didn’t know too! How did you get in touch with Amish who left to live on the "outside"? 

Word spreads among the former Amish and those wanting to leave. 

I see. I know they are such a tight knit people so I’m sure word
travels well throughout the community. Bringing this to a close my readers want to know what makes this book different from other books about the Amish, especially the fictional books about them?

It’s reality. Educational and entertaining, like fiction with dialogue. Gives an inside look at the strictest Amish orders. Surprises readers with laughter and tears. 

This is a great book and Brenda, thank you for joining us this week and giving us a peek inside the lives of these special people. One last question, how may our readers connect with you?

I welcome blog readers and I’m on Twitter @BrendaNixon 

Beyond Buggies and Bonnets: Seven true stories of former Amish is available on Amazon in Kindle ($6.99) and Paperback ($15.99) or U.S. residents may order an autographed copy directly from me ($17.00) at: PO Box 1302, Mount Vernon, OH 43050.

For media interviews or speaking engagements contact:

Brenda Nixon 
PO Box 1302, Mount Vernon, Ohio 43050

                                  BOOK BLURB:
Beyond Buggies and Bonnets Seven true stories of former Amish
By Brenda Nixon release date: May 2015 Available on Amazon or get signed copies from the author!

Brenda Nixon shares her dramatic experiences of assisting Amish who leave their plain life to join our “forbidden” Englisch world. She gives an honest and courageous look at the difficulties inherent in adjusting to a new culture from the perspective of those who grew up in the reclusive Swartzentruber or conservative Old Order Amish, and who meet the adjustments and responsibilities of life on the “outside” with hope, humor, and an open heart. Readers will be amazed, entertained, and enlightened as they:

Visit Amish Gma [church],
Recognize how clergy is chosen,
Get facts on bed courtship,
Learn rules on kapps and buggies,
Discover dental attitudes and practices
Inspect a rare Swartzentruber Ordnung, and much more. 

BIO:  Living in Ohio – home to the largest number of Amish districts nationwide – Brenda Nixon has opened her heart and home to many youths who’ve left the Swartzentruber and Old Order Amish. Her intense and interesting experiences are a learning curve, which she shares on her award-winning 
Beyond Buggies and Bonnets blog and through speaking at public and private venues. Her goals are to teach cultural literacy about these conservative orders within the diverse Amish culture, and be a voice for ex-Amish. She is a wife, mom, teacher, speaker, and author or contributor to 35 books.



  1. What a fascinating interview. Thank you for sharing Brenda with us.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by and for sharing Nan!

    2. Thanks for reading Nan. If anyone has questions, I'm willing to answer.


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