Living the Amish faith half way across the world Ukrainian 'Amish' exhibit similar faith choices to Amish, Mennonite beliefs

Over the past year, Ed Kline and others have visited with a group of people who don't drive cars, use electricity, take photos, use phones and promote a very simplistic lifestyle. While this scenario may sound extremely familiar to those in and around Holmes County, the nation's most populous Amish community, it is not the Amish Kline has visited with, but rather a group of people half way around the world.

The group of believers are known as Ukrainian Amish, although in real life they are not Amish at all, but are known for living a very similar lifestyle to the Amish of Holmes County.

Kline recently shared his story with visitors at the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center (AMHC) in Berlin, where he spoke about the amazing similarities between two groups who have lived unbeknownst to each other for nearly a century.

The Ukrainians live very simply, and like the Amish, they seek to be separate from the world. Hesitant to reveal much about themselves, it is a group of people who originally came from an Orthodox background and have been evangelical believers for several generations.

In October 2008, Roy Hershberger Jr., an Amish bishop from Berlin, visited this same village. When the Ukrainian Amish heard that the Amish position on cars, electricity, cameras, and phones is similar to their own, they desired to learn more about the Amish culture.

In July 2009, Kline and his wife, with Beth Hostetler, traveled to Chernovitsi, Ukraine, and made contact with the group of people who have mirrored his people's lifestyle so closely. What Kline found was that amidst many similarities were some fundamentally differing views of faith, but the passion and conviction by which these Ukrainians followed God was, in fact, very much akin to what occurs in Holmes County.

"We have a very rich heritage of faith, and so do they," said Kline of the Ukrainian Amish. "Their faith is built on that same radical transformation — that vision which is precious to us.

"When we got there, they were extremely interested to learn more about our culture and our faith."

While the faith may be similar, the actual physical presence had its differences. The men were beardless, wearing soft "conductor-like" hats. The women were moderately dressed, all wearing scarves as veiling, covering all of their hair. Their barns, their farms, and everything they had, were much smaller in proportion than what is an average size in Holmes County. Much like the Old Order Amish, they meet at homes, not in churches.

Kline said that the Ukrainians were eager to learn about the Amish, and he and several other visitors shared about Martyr's Mirror, the Amish and Mennonite faith history, how the Anabaptists came to America and how the Amish live. All communications took place through an interpreter.

"They spoke in Old Style Ukrainian dialect, not even the modern dialect of today in Russia," said Kline. It was kind of like they would be speaking English in the King James version today.

Despite speaking completely different languages, Kline said he sensed a real kinship with the group and felt very at home. Like his people, this group had also been ostracized and criticized for their simple beliefs.

However, unlike the Anabaptists of America, the Ukrainians had a falling out with the Orthodox faith, and much of what they believe is passed down to them through a man they consider to be a prophet.

In 1943, a man by the name of Evan Tekasch was converted and joined the group, thus beginning his journey into faith. They explained that for "six years and 40 days," Tekasch struggled with his sinful nature, until he got victory and was then baptized. He eventually became the leader of the group, until his death in January 2009.

"They spoke very highly of Evan, referring to him as Prophet or Teacher," said Kline. "He must have been a very perceptive and capable leader. They spoke at length of their prophet's visions and dreams."

These dreams and visions became a huge part of their faith. As time passed, others began having visions and dreams and taught things that were not scriptural, so Tekasch began to teach that the Bible is sufficient and is the ultimate guide for a godly life. "They still put more emphasis on visions and dreams than most Anabaptists do, but seem to have found a balance," said Kline.

Before he died, the prophet requested that his teachings, especially his visions, not be written down, so they don't depend on him instead of the Bible.

"Their faith is typical in that they preach and believe in the new birth of Christ," said Kline, "and that unless a person repents of their sin, they are not qualified to receive the grace of Jesus Christ."

Other similarities were evident to Kline, who began to get the feeling that he needed to return to become more acquainted with these Ukrainians who seemed to have so much in common with the Amish.

The emphasis on worthy daily living, communion, foot washing, baptism and God's judgement were all topics which Kline said he felt he would have loved to dig into in a more in-depth fashion.

"The one thing that they really stressed that we don't necessarily agree with is the prophesy of the End Times," said Kline. "Much like our people, they don't evangelize, but instead stress winning people over by their daily living."

Kline will revisit the group this October, when he hopes to reconnect with a people he is certain will continue to live their faith in the same simple lifestyle which has made them a unique people in their own homeland.

Kline told the crowd at the AMHC that because of the connection that has been bridged between the two groups, the Ukrainians may gain a better understanding of some biblical principals from their new brethren.

"Maybe we have stepped into the picture when they really need a little sense of direction, with the passing of their leader," said Kline. "They will have to make changes, just like any group, in order to survive and prosper, but their faith is real and it is deep. They have come to similar conclusions to their faith much in the manner that we have."

To find out more about the Ukrainian Amish, and Kline's trek to a new and oddly similar world of faith, you can find his entire story on The Bargain Hunter website.

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