Born from Anabaptist sentiments in the early 1500s, the Hutterites were followers of Jakob Hutter. Similar to Mennonites and Amish, Hutterites differed in their belief that they should share all their goods communally–and they still do. During the early 20th century, Hutterites, who had fled east to Russia over the years, began immigrating to the U.S. and Canada, where more than 400 Hutterite communities exist today. Hutterites have no particular aversion to modern tools and equipment, but they are still, in terms of dress, custom, language, and their self-sustaining communal lifestyle, very much a peek into the past.
I Am Hutterite, by Mary Ann Kirby, is the story of one 20th century family that came to believe they could no longer stay in the community. If you assume the author’s goal is to expose and condemn the isolated and sometimes narrow minded ways of the Hutterites, you will be surprised. Instead, Mary Ann Kirby clearly loves and appreciates the best aspects of Hutterite society while simultaneously understanding she cannot go back.
When her family left the community, Kirby struggled, as anyone would, to transition from a fully communal lifestyle to one where she and her immediate family were on their own. She paints an almost idyllic picture of the Hutterite community from a child’s perspective. It’s a place of plenty and safety. It’s a place where she has a plethora of “aunts” and “uncles” to care for her. It’s a place where she can run and play in carefree innocence with friends. It’s also a place where everyone contributes in some way to the common good. Even a boy who is mentally handicapped has a job that makes a real and meaningful contribution to the community.
Kirby also writes, though, as an adult who has come to understand and appreciate the reasons for her parent’s choice to leave–even though the consequences rendered painful results for many years. They went from a place where they had no money at all, yet they wanted for nothing, to a place where they wanted for everything and needed money. They immediately lost every support system and human network they had ever known. They left a place where they fit in and moved to a place where they were completely odd. The contrast could not have been more stark or shocking.
While Kirby and her family suffered from the choices of others and sometimes of their own, Kirby found a way to glean the best from her past and lay the ghosts to rest. I Am Hutterite is a fascinating read that is ultimately about faith, human nature, cultural differences, and a willingness to allow grace to bring your heart safely through them all.
© 2010 L. Kay Johnson, L is for LaNita. All rights reserved.