Intersection Column | Forecasting the Unpredictable
by Suzanne Woods Fisher
Don’t you love it when experts get it wrong? I do. Last summer, weather forecasters predicted that California would be facing another year of severe drought. So wrong. The state had record rainfall.
Here’s another one: In the early 1900s, there were around five thousand Old Order Amish in North America and sociologists assumed they would assimilate into the culture like so many other immigrant groups had. So wrong. The Old Order Amish are the fastest growing population in North America. Not the largest, but the fastest growing. And they have very few converts, which means they’re expanding from the inside out. Big, big families—an average of eight to ten children—with a retention rate among the young that modern churches would love to have.
Another incorrect forecast: The most conservative Amish would decline in numbers. So wrong. The Swartzentrubers, one of the strictest subgroups, are outpacing all other Old Order Amish churches. They’re deeply dedicated to the plain and simple life—no indoor plumbing in their homes, they farm the old-fashioned way, no reflection signs on their buggies, their clothing is drab and unadorned. Even the name suits their traditional lifestyle. In Penn Dutch, swartz means “black,” trüber means “dull or gloomy.” Don’t get the wrong idea. They have plenty of happiness and satisfaction in their lives. I’ve seen it, up close and personal. And that brings me to the back story of Lost and Found, my newest book.
In this novel, the Old Order Amish church of Stoney Ridge, Pennsylvania, is considering a relocation. Historically, whenever there is a conflict in a community, the Amish quietly pick up and leave. That’s how they have spread into so many states. And that’s exactly what’s going on in Lost and Found. A Beachy Amish church (very progressive) has moved into town and shaken things up…and not in a good way. So Bishop David Stoltzfus sends a team to check out an underpopulated farming area in Tennessee that might be just the place for their church to thrive.
So, being a vital part of Bishop Stoltzfus’s scouting team, off I went to explore this corner of Tennessee!
While there, I drove around several counties, stopped at Swartzentruber farmstands (rather than have retail shops in town, they’ll sell produce and baked goods from little shacks on their property), spoke to as many as I could, took as many (respectful) pictures as I could, and wrote down copious notes. There’s nothing like on-the-ground research—it brings a novel to life. Little things, like their baby-blue front doors, a lovely tradition among their church. Or how well tended the farms were. Or how young children trotted happily behind their dads throughout the day as they went from barn to house and back again.
So, after all the research was gathered, would it mean that the little Amish church of Stoney Ridge will relocate in Lost and Found? You’re going to have to read the novel and find out for yourself. After all, you know how the saying goes: It’s hard to make a prediction, especially about the future.
About the Author
Carol award winner Suzanne Woods Fisher writes stories that take you to places you’ve never visited—one with characters that seem like old friends. But most of all, her books give you something to think about long after you’ve finished reading it. With over 1.5 million copies of her books sold worldwide, Suzanne is the bestselling author of more than 35 books, ranging from non-fiction books, to children’s books, to novels. She lives with her very big family in northern California.
About the Book
Trudy Yoder shares a passion for birding with Micah Weaver—and their friendship is finally turning romantic. But old feelings resurface in Micah when Trudy’s older sister reaches out to him after leaving for a singing career in Nashville,. Micah sets out to find her again, but what he doesn't know is that what you're looking for isn't always what you find.
Did You Know?
We have better Bible study tools today than the church has had since its earliest decades. That’s due to three factors:
Education. A shift toward more emphasis on social history means more focus on the lives of ordinary people. Instead of exploring only politicians and kings, many scholars are now studying the lives and worlds of everyday men, women and children—including slaves.
Archaeology. Uncovering cities such as Corinth, Ephesus and sites around Mt. Vesuvius has shed light on social and historical practices. Historians used to think the shaved heads mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:5 referred to the practice of prostitutes. But evidence from Pompeii demonstrates that such women wore stylish hair. More likely the practice related to adultery.
Technology. The Internet and translation software make it possible for students to access unpublished dissertations and scholarly journals in languages they’ve never studied. Technology also makes documents searchable, enabling scholars to sort the useful from the unapplicable. Twenty years ago, someone studying writings in stone had to go on site to ancient cities. Today’s scholar can read volumes of translated inscriptions while eating ice cream at home.
Since the New Testament is full of ordinary people living ordinary lives, these developments are helping us better imagine the world of the earliest Christians. While biblical truths are timeless, our ability to imagine Scripture’s context with its smells, sounds and sights has improved exponentially.
-Sandra Glahn, Nobody’s Mother
Why I LOVE My Local Christian Bookstore
“I love shopping in bookstores because it feels like the world is at my fingertips!”
-Aaron M. Zook, Jr., The Elimination Games Enigma