The Nine: Misrepresentation of the Whole
Written by: Carol Maendel on Tuesday, November 12th, 2013
My name is Carol Maendel. I am a 26-year-old wife and mother who lives at Forest River Colony near Fordville, North Dakota with 100+ other people. I am a Hutterite. I was married a year ago and moved from my colony to my husband’s, as is our custom. Growing up at my small mother colony in Montana, I attended a public school in town, got a driver’s license when I was 15 and graduated in 2006 from Roundup High School. I worked at the colony and spent time with my family until I was baptized. I then married and moved to Forest River.
I live, work, and enjoy my new family and friends here at my home. This is my response to the book Hutterites: Our Story to Freedom, written by “The Nine”, a group of Hutterites who left their colonies and have written a book about their experiences.
Many people have never heard of Hutterites and have never visited a colony. It saddens me that people would be so naive as to base their opinion of such an incredibly complex culture on the word of nine people who say they’ve “escaped” and have now written a book about it. While their 83-page book may contain some truth, it is also filled with straight-faced lies, omissions and inaccurate information about the Hutterites, our way of life and the Nine’s stories. If you tell a story, and you deliberately leave things out, then you have essentially told a lie. This is what they have done. When people read this book, they will be deceived by what they now believe to be the truth about the Hutterites.
There are nearly 50,000 Hutterites living in about 500 colonies all over western North America. The Hutterite faith is Anabaptist, meaning we do not believe in infant baptism, and we broke away from the Catholic Church in the 1500s in Moravia (now the Czech Republic). We are also pacifists, and wear a traditional dress that sets us apart from the non-Hutterite world. We are spiritual cousins to the Amish and Mennonites, but one thing that is unique to our faith is that we believe in living together communally and sharing all goods together“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” -Acts 2:42-47
We eat three meals together every day, work every day except Sunday and worship together daily in evening church services and a morning service on Sunday. We believe in the Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and only through Him are we saved. Hutterite life is a quiet, well-ordered way of life. We believe in dying to self and serving our fellow man. What better way to do that than in community, where, ideally, the sick and elderly are cared for, you pick your brother up when he falls down, and you are encouraged and uplifted by the Word, family, and friends on a daily basis.
Not all colonies are the same. There are four different branches of Hutterites, each with the same principles of communal living and Anabaptist faith. However, within these four branches are differences in management of the colonies, style of dress and certain rules. Here are some examples of how different life can be from colony to colony:
- Some colonies are strict, while others allow more liberties, such as women having driver’s licenses or young people being able to play sports.
- Some colonies have more interaction with the outside world, and as a result may sometimes be exposed to worldy things which they would otherwise not experience in the colony; other colonies are very sheltered.
- Some colonies are not financially sound, while others have many thriving businesses.
- Some colonies embrace technology, like having wifi, while others restrict the use of internet to their agricultural operations.
- Some colonies are ‘religious’ while others keep a Christ-centered doctrine.
- In some colonies, the leaders do take advantage of the power they have been given; in others, they are just, doing their jobs with compassion and fairness.
- Some colonies live with strife and discord, other colonies are havens of tranquility and peaceful living
- If there is a problem in the colony, some colonies will ignore it, while others deal with it head-on
I could go on and on, but the point I’m trying to make is that you cannot cram 500 years of history into one chapter of an 83-page book.
Forest River Colony in North Dakota and Hillside Colony in Manitoba are two very different places. Forest River Colony is to me a model of what real colony life should be like, whilst in Hillside Colony, they have a history of tension and discord among their members. And yes, many people leave Hutterite colonies. They leave for all sorts of reasons. But the Nine neglected to mention that people also come back.
The colony at which I now reside–Forest River–is the same one from which three of “The Nine” left. They still have parents, brothers, sisters, cousins and many other family members here who are still at odds with their new-found ‘freedom’. The Nine left many things out of their book, including the fact that the ‘outside source’ that came to minister to them was a man by the name of Fred Phillips. He is now Glenda Maendel’s husband. He only visited Forest River a few times before he had a handful of young people entangled in his web. I have never met him, but he must be a man of great charisma and persuasion. He could recite Bible verses without glancing at a Bible, and from a few who visited him but weren’t drawn in, we heard that he made colony life sound very bleak and oppressive. He is never once mentioned in the book by name. Fred Phillips claims to be the minister for the Nine at a small non-denominational church. We have heard strange rumors about his ‘ministry’. Being former Hutterites, the Nine knew that Hutterites tend to try and stay out of the limelight, either on air or on TV, and thus they probably think that no one would speak out against them if they wrote this book. They are wrong. Many Hutterites have responded, including a young ex-Hutterite man who was with their group for a short time but then chose to leave. It would be worth reading to gain perspective and to evaluate the Nine and their story.
The Nine say that they knew nothing of a personal relationship with Jesus before they left the colony and that they were taught that if they did leave, they would go to hell. This is not true. The entire idea of our faith is based on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, beginning with the fact that our culture exists because our
forefathers did not believe in infant baptism, but rather the baptism of an adult who has confessed their belief in Jesus Christ and is baptized into the body of believers (the Church) in His Name.
Unfortunately, there are Hutterites who believe that living in the colony and wearing our traditional dress will earn them a place in heaven. I have known my entire life that is a false belief. They cannot discern between faith and religion. In the 400-year old sermons our ministers preach from (they were written at a time when early Hutterites were being persecuted, tortured and killed in Europe for their faith), they stress to us that “just because you live in community and wear your traditional clothes doesn’t mean that you are saved from hell. Salvation can only be found through the blood of Jesus Christ.” I have never been taught that if I leave the colony I will go to hell. I have also never been taught that anyone who is not a Hutterite will go to hell. I have many non-Hutterite friends who are Christians and who are living their lives right in Christ in the outside world. The ‘evil world’ that the Nine speak of in their book is not the world outside the colony, full of non-Hutterites, but rather, the actual evils in the world that every Christian today should be teaching their children to avoid–sin.
You won’t understand the complexity of the Hutterite culture and the simplicity of our faith until you actually visit a colony and spend some time there. I invite you to visit Forest River Colony. The Hutterite culture is not immune to the troubles of the world. If the Hutterite Church was perfect, how would God strengthen our faith and bring us closer to Him? “Smooth seas do not make a skillful sailor” (African proverb).
I consider it a privilege and a blessing to be able to live the way I do…growing in my faith as I care for my family, and working and fellowshipping with people I have come to love and cherish here at my new home. Earlier I mentioned that I attended a public school–I probably had more experience with the outside world than any of the Nine before I was baptized, both good and bad, and yet I was not torn when I made my decision to follow Christ. That, in my mind, is what I call ‘freedom’.
Many people get their only information from overly-dramatized and scripted tv shows like “Meet the Hutterites”. It would be nice if they were encouraged to get to know the real thing. Thank you and God bless you,
Our address is:
Forest River Colony
4068 35th Ave. NE