The Outsiders: Amish Community Speaks Out

For the roughly 220,000 Amish living in North America, Holmes County, Ohio, serves as a capital of Amish culture. With more than 40,000 Amish and 210 different church districts, it is home to the largest Amish settlement in the world.

Simplicity and humility are foundations of the Amish culture.

"We've just got a different way of life," said an Amish elder who did not wish to be identified. The elder, who will be referred to as "John," spoke candidly with ABC News about temptations, faith and the life he and his wife built together during the past 40 years.

"We don't have electricity. We don't have telephones in the house. We don't have cars. We don't have TV, radios. We just kinda try to stay behind a little bit," John said.

John's wife added, "There is a quietness in this life. I would say family means a lot."

She told ABC News her daily mantra, explaining that "Who you are when you get up in the morning and who you are when you go to bed at night, that you did the best that you could, you know? And yes, we all sin, but your sins can be forgiven."

Although the Amish traditionally do not use phones and electricity in their homes, liberal sects permit the use of technology in the workplace if it aids business. As a result, many shops have sheds with telephones and fax machines.

Holmes County has an exclusive newspaper and even a telephone conference line that started in late 2004. By calling a telephone number and entering a password, community members can be connected to other Amish people around the country within minutes.

"It's just news about Amish and Mennonites, it's not national news -- it's just in our language and news of happenings among Amish and Mennonite people," John said. "Somebody dies, somebody gets married. Sometimes an accident, and a car hit a horse and buggy."

Worldly Temptation

A period known as rumspringa, which loosely translates to "running around," is an Amish youth's time to discover the world outside the community. Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, it may begin at around age 16 and ends when the individual agrees to become baptized or join the church. Amish teenagers often take advantage of relaxed rules by experimenting with technology, driving cars, drinking and smoking.

"I think the outside world sometimes thinks that the Amish don't have any problems. But it's not like that. The Amish have problems. Maybe not the same type of problems that some in the outside world have," John said.

The elders who spoke to ABC News said they sympathize with young Amish who are struggling with their decision. They recognize that today's youth have much more temptation to leave the Amish community, but still say that their Amish faith is what keeps them centered.

"I used to feel that I would never leave the Amish until I was probably 24. I had a car for so long, and was driving a truck," John said. "Pretty soon, I got to thinking, you know, 'You don't have to be Amish.' But then, in back of your mind, it's still ... would I be satisfied if I wouldn't be Amish?"

He offered some advice for the undecided. "I'd tell them to join a church as soon as they're 17 or 18 and get married. And get a job, or, you know, work on a farm or somewhere and raise a family. Then, when you're older you don't have to think about all this stuff that you did when you were younger that you shouldn't have done."

Guilt and shame, he said, are powerful deterrents.

"I felt guilty [having a car] until I had one for a couple of years, and then the guilt wore off," John said. "The last one I had was a '64 T-bird. It was a nice car."

John's wife said she was "tempted by music." John's temptation was watching westerns on television.

Even among the Amish, there is powerful peer pressure. John calls it "Keeping up with the Joneses."

"Somebody builds a house, nice big house. OK, then, the next guy has to have a bigger house," he said. "One person gets a new buggy. So, you have to have one, too. That's envious."

Beheaded for Their Beliefs

The Amish trace their roots back to the Protestant Reformation and the Anabaptist movement in the early 16th century. The Anabaptists emphasize voluntary adult baptism. They are baptized once as a child and then again as an adult -- choosing to be baptized a second time is central to their beliefs. The Amish believe only adults can make informed decisions about their own salvation.

After being persecuted for hundreds of years in Europe, the Amish came to America in hopes of freely practicing their faith, John explained.

"People started reading the New Testament more, they found out or they came to the conclusion that it doesn't do you any good to be baptized as an infant," he said. "You have to be baptized as an adult, after you know the difference between right and wrong. And then you have to be baptized through a confession of faith through Christ.

"But, to be baptized as an adult, now you were baptized twice and that was against the law. So, these people were put in prison, they were burned at the stake, they were beheaded," he said. "They wanted to eliminate them."

Today, in North America, there are several different groups that bear the Amish name. Each subset of the culture abides by different rules and regulations.

For example, more liberal populations use battery-powered light sources in their homes and reflection triangles, rubber wheels and sliding curtains on their buggies, while conservative communities strictly adhere to kerosene lanterns for light.

John told ABC News that the tell-tale sign of an Amish person is their horse and carriage.

"Once you lose your buggy, you're no longer Amish," he said.