Living in great falls I have had the privilege of meeting some interesting characters, the most interesting to me is a poorly represented and largely misunderstood minority known to locals as escaped hutterites. The word escaped is used because these individuals have chosen to leave their childhood homes on the hutterite colony. Hutterites are a Christian sect that practices separation form society, through communal living. Communal living means that every action taken by an individual is for the benefit of the colony. These colonies are governed by a religious law whose rules are dictated by a governing body of church officials. On the colony a person’s profession is decided by the needs of the colony. The communal lifestyle of these colonies is an effective form of government so long as everyone on the colony is acting with the best interests of the colony in mind.
I was recently graced with an opportunity to speak with a young man who left the colony. When I asked him why he left the answer I received stunned me, this young man told me that he left the colony because he became a Christian. He went on to explain to me that on the colony the hutterite way was the only way to God, instead of Jesus Christ being the foundation of faith as the Bible claims. When asked how a "Christian" sect was not following the path of Christ, he explained that faith was based in unity and unity was brought about by uniformity. My young friend told me the story of his break from the colony, and struggles in the world outside of it. This story helped me to better understand the nature of hutterite culture and my own, I would like to share what I have learned from this most amazing young man.
Samuel( his name has been changed to avoid jeopardizing his relationship with his family on the colony) was born into the communal life of a Montana colony, he was educated in German and English like any other hutterite. What made him different was that he questioned the hutterite faith, which marked him as a troublemaker at an early age. As the years passed Samuel became a teenager who yearned to have answers to the questions he asked during his childhood. Samuel and a few others like him began to do bible studies independent of the colony’s church. The preacher who was also the head of state for the colony found out about these meetings and demanded that they be ended. That attempt to control Samuel and his colleges only caused further dissidence when they chose to hold their studies in private. Plagued with many questions and a gaping emptiness, Samuel developed an unhealthy addiction that secretly consumed his life, and as he now believes, removed him from God.
While battling this addiction Samuel was selected to be the colony’s mechanic and weed sprayer, and when his time permitted he would help the cows give birth. It was his duties as a night calfer that led him to a life changing revelation, while birthing a calf in the dead chill of Montana winter Samuel found God. After the calf was born Samuel was going to bring it into the barn so it wouldn’t freeze to death, Samuel’s attempt to remove the calf did not make it’s mother very happy. As Samuel grabbed the calf a 1500 pound mother charged him. Instead of trampling Samuel into the ground, the mother cow stopped a few short inches away from seriously injuring the troubled young hutterite.
Samuel explained that cows sometimes "bluff" like that to intimidate a potential threat. What amazed Samuel is that the cow "bluffed" instead of trampling him, which would have left him incapable of returning to the warmth of his home. "if that cow had not bluffed I would have died in the cold", this epiphany is what opened Samuel’s eyes to the true foundation of the hutterite belief system. It is also the moment that Samuel believes he found God. Samuel’s "cow moment" made him realize that his problems were the result of his conformity to a life that he did not fully agree with. Samuel decided that he could no longer profess a faith he didn’t feel. This decision would change Samuel’s life drastically.
Samuel’s new found faith was a threat to the leaders of his colony, so they gathered a special court made up of the preachers from his and other colonies. At this court Samuel was asked if he believed that the hutterite way was the only way; or if Jesus was the way. His answer was Jesus, which prompted the court to give Samuel a six month probationary period in which to stay on the colony and recant. At the end of his probation Samuel was again brought before the court and asked the same question, to which he gave the same reply. The court decided that while Samuel didn’t have to leave the colony, he was not to be recognized as a contributing member. Samuel could not stay in a place where he was unwelcome, so with ten dollars to his name he left the colony.
Leaving the colony meant that Samuel would be disowned by his family, and removed from the only life he had ever known. Samuel was entering a world larger than anything he had ever known, with no idea of where he would go or how he would make his living. Up until this point the colony provided him with everything he needed to live, and assumed control of all his financial, social, and career choices. Samuel’s decision to leave the colony showed a strength of character and conviction that is unheard of in our society. Without the guidance of his colony leaders, Samuel was faced with a multitude of choices for the first time in his life.
The first choice he had to make was where to live and how to feed himself. This choice was made easier by a kind family on a small Montana ranch, who took Samuel in and allowed him to work as a ranch hand. After about six months of solitude at this ranch a twenty year old Samuel yearned to join the world around him. This yearning led Samuel to apply for a job building trusses for a construction company in a near-by town . The hutterite’s reputation for having a solid work ethic, and Samuel’s experience in carpentry, were key factors in the construction company’s decision to hire Samuel. Samuel now had a source of income, a home to live in, and an idea of how to function as an individual instead of as part of a collective.
While carpentry and construction were fields that Samuel was highly capable of working in, his emancipation from the colony afforded him the opportunity to pursue his true passions. Samuel has a gift for gab that is unequaled by any of his peers, and an insatiable hunger for knowledge that rivals great thinkers past and present. While Samuel has used his silver tongue to share his testimony with congregations across Montana, he sees public speaking as more of a creative outlet than as a career path. Samuel’s true passion lies in critical thinking, taking an incoherent stream of evidence and organizing it into a coherent conclusion. Samuel wants to carry his love of philosophy into high school and college campuses, so other young men and women may develop the same thought processes that helped him to find his faith.
Samuel believes that critical thinking is just as taboo in contemporary American society as it was on the colony. The idea that free thought is discouraged in a free society sounds to many like a conflict in terms, but if anyone could identify social control, wouldn’t it be someone who was raised in a conformist society? Samuel believes that by reaching out to our youth and encouraging them to question the world around them a new golden age of enlightenment could sweep through our once great culture. Samuel understands more than many of his peers at the college, that social changes are never brought about easily. He is aware that his altruistic quest to enlighten his fellow man will be an uphill battle all the way. Most people would say that Samuel is fighting a loosing battle, but I say that standing boldly in the face of overwhelming adversity is a victory.
Samuel’s revolutionary thinking made him an outcast in the place of his birth, and his decision to leave that place for a supposedly free society did nothing to change his status as a social dissident. By leaving the security and familiar comfort of the colony, Samuel was rejected by the family that should have loved him unconditionally. To leave all he knew for a world that would not easily accept him, Samuel showed an uncommon degree of courage. I feel privileged to have had an opportunity to know such a brave crusader, and am confident that anyone who knows my young friend feels the same way.
If you as a reader pass a judgment on the communal lifestyle of the hutterites, that is your choice. My intention was not to demonize the hooterites, nor to canonize Samuel. I only want my peers to understand the magnitude of a hutterite’s decision to leave their colony. I have not seen many people who would sacrifice everything they are to peruse a dream they can’t define. A revival of such fearless devotion to the pursuit of freedom is something the american people have been lacking. Samuel and his fellow escapees are not the only people I have met with this uncommon degree of courage. Millions of people world wide wake up from a lifetime of philosophical slumber, to find that their dreams only exist in their minds. Their continuing struggle to make those dreams reality is the same force that has guided every great social change in history. So now I challenge all of my fellow outcasts, dissidents, and dreamers to stand and fight as Samuel has , only you have the power to turn your dreams into reality.