By David Borntreger
Malinda and I grew up in traditional and happy Amish homes. I have five brothers and five sisters; Malinda came from a family of twelve. After Malinda and I started our own family, we continued in the Amish way of life we had always known.
We began hungering for more of God, which led us to reading everything we could get our hands on about faith. And that caused us to question some of our traditions. I began to wonder why we didn’t minister to people outside our community, so one day I asked the bishop his views on supporting ministries like those supplying Bibles to people in China.
He said, “Our emphasis is on taking care of our own. We don’t have insurance, so if someone has a hospital bill, we help with that.” To me that didn’t make sense. The Bible talks about going into the world and preaching the Gospel. Little did I know my eyes were starting to be opened.
When I asked my dad why we didn’t reach out to people in other countries he said, “The thing is, if you go over to other countries it would threaten your culture.” For instance, we are not allowed to have photo identification. Even boarding a plane is not allowed in the community.
One of the books I read called out some of our practices as occultic. That got my attention. One of the practices the author questioned was water dowsing. Typically the person that is “dowsing” holds two sticks or rods and walks around a property in the hopes that the rods will dip, twitch, or cross when the person walks over underground water. This and other similar traditions had been rooted in our culture for many generations.
About five years ago, shortly after Thanksgiving, I went to talk to my dad about some of these issues the book had raised. When I arrived at his house, he happened not to be home, so I started talking to some of my brothers who still lived at home. I got a mixed reaction from them. Finally my dad came in and sat down. He listened a short time, and then in an authoritative voice I’d never heard before said, “You lay that book down and don’t quote it in this house again!”
I knew I was on to something big. I talked to a few other people, but then the bishop got after me. I didn’t realize the offense he would take. The Amish highly regard their forefathers and their traditions. The whole thing became a circus of sorts. Soon the whole community knew I was addressing issues, raising awareness. I was confronting our long-held traditions. The bishop said he didn’t want to defend water dowsing necessarily, but because one of the deacons he knew was still practicing it, he didn’t want to condemn it either.
I felt I had concrete evidence that the practice was wrong, but we were not allowed to condemn it because our forefathers had done it. Water dowsing opens the door to divination. Some people will use the rod for other purposes. They will ask it questions about the future. They know that the practice is not based on science, but they ascribe the results to God. I also learned about other people turning to other occultic practices, but the situation was being hushed up.
My wife and I studied more about the Holy Spirit with the input of some close friends. We became interested in certain biblical prophetic ministries – crazy for an Amish guy! I made a name for myself as a rebel.
Around this time, Malinda was studying the Bible. In our Amish church the ministers are the preachers; lay people have no opportunity for expression. The rest of us are given specific selected passages to read for the next service. We are discouraged from digging too deep into the Word or studying it on our own because our leaders are afraid we will be misled.
As Malinda would read a passage, she would say, “Look at this, David, they preach it this way, but the Bible says it this way.”
I would reply, “You can’t come against what the preachers preach,” to which she would reply, “But they aren’t preaching what the Bible says.”
I became more aware of what the preachers were preaching. They would always admonish us to keep the traditions of the elders. Our traditions are said to be biblically based, but sadly, much like the Pharisees, we rely on the traditions more than we rely on God. In Matthew 15 the Pharisees and teachers of religious law got after Jesus for allowing His disciples to break the commands (such as washing their hands). Jesus told them they were violating the direct commandments of God because of their traditions. I became aware of so many similarities between the Orthodox Jews and the Amish. If you look at a photo of an Amish man and a Jew with black attire and broad-brimmed hat, it’s hard to tell the difference. In fact, I’ve been asked if I can speak Hebrew. I say, “No, I’m not Jewish, I’m Amish.”
Malinda and I dug deeper into the Word. We love the New Testament church! We had so many questions: “Why don’t we have those (New Testament) experiences? Why doesn’t anyone speak in tongues?” No one would answer my questions.
Most Amish in our community think you cannot know if you are going to go to heaven or not. This, I believe, testifies to the fact that the Amish, like the Jews, are very legalistic, Old Covenant-minded. They confess Jesus, yet believe in a works-based salvation. It’s very confusing. They don’t grasp the most exciting part of the Gospel, that Jesus paid the price for our atonement through our faith in Him!
Growing up we didn’t get much information about baptism. We had both been sprinkled as youth. I used to wonder why we didn’t practice baptism by immersion like they did in the New Testament, and then one of Malinda’s relatives gave her a book that explained what baptism meant in the original language. We learned that immersion is the biblical method for baptism. We studied Romans 6, which says we are “buried with Christ” through baptism. When you get buried in the watery grave, it’s like your old man is being buried. You are a new person. We discovered immersion is the most common form of baptism, especially in persecuted countries.
Our problem was this: how do you get baptized by immersion in the Amish church? They don’t allow baptism by immersion. It was not in our tradition. I presented our desire to the ministry, and it didn’t go well. They wouldn’t do it. They told us we were being discontent and that we would be excommunicated and condemned by our families if we were baptized by immersion.
This brought us to the hardest decision in our 33 years of life: obeying God or man. We were both part of closely knit families. The prospect of being cut off from them was more than disheartening. And yet we felt we needed to submit to God in everything He asked us to do.
In desperation, I cried out to God for a word of confirmation. A day or two later, a car drove up to our house. Inside was a lady I barely knew. Her cheeks were tear-stained.
I asked, “Why are you here?”
She said, “The Holy Spirit sent me.” She related that for a week, the Holy Spirit had been giving her a heavy burden to pray for us.
“Was there any earthly reason for that?” I asked.
She said there wasn’t and assured us that she knew nothing of our struggle.
“So you are not telling us to go back to the Amish way of thinking?” I asked.
“No, not at all.”
I thank the Lord for His confirmation. On June 16, 2020, Malinda and I were baptized by Mark Smith in Crystal Lake, Iowa. It was a wonderful experience coming up out of the water, knowing we had done what God wanted us to do. I encourage everyone to follow Christ through baptism. It’s so much simpler than other things God asks us to do, such as always thinking pure thoughts.
It was so simple, but it cost us so dearly.
When our church found out we had been baptized by immersion, they placed us in the ban. We were condemned. It was hard. We had just been baptized; we didn’t want to lose our family or our church. Before this time we were close to our families. Now our brothers and sisters think we have gone off a cliff, that we are crazy. Malinda’s family members in Wisconsin think we left our faith. Her mother sent her a letter telling her she was no longer welcome in their home. We are not welcome to attend funerals or weddings, even for our family members.
We became outcasts. We were kicked out of our church. People in our Amish community can’t have business dealings with us. Almost all our Amish acquaintances condemn us and gossip about us. Our younger siblings, even though more open to us, are not allowed to talk to us. I don’t want to cause any more trouble, so I don’t attempt to talk with them. I recently drove by an Amish farm auction, and everyone stared at me like I was going to hell.
We are still hurting. But we are so thankful for our family at First Church of the Open Bible in Clear Lake, Iowa, especially Pastors Will and Joyce Hunsaker and Associate Pastor Adam and Katie Henaman, who give us advice on how to walk with the Lord. We took Jesus at His word when He told us that we are to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This simple act of obedience has cost us dearly, but it has been worth the cost.
Watch David and Malinda give their testimony below.
About the Author
David and Malinda Borntreger live in Northwood, Iowa, and attend First Church of the Open Bible in Clear Lake, Iowa. David is self-employed and spends much of his time raising goats and growing vegetables. The Borntregers have nine children.
Click Here to watch David and Malinda share their testimony.