Living near one of North America’s largest Amish communities opened Wayne Ayer’s eyes to the spiritual needs among the Amish people, an Anabaptist church community that is known for its simple living, plain dress, and a reluctance to adapt to modern conveniences.
“When I was in Ohio I saw the Amish all the time,” he remembered, “and was completely unable to communicate with them in any way. It was one of the most defeating feelings in my life.”
Now the pastor of the Vicksburg Grace Brethren Church near Hollidaysburg, Pa., he is once in the vicinity of a large Amish group. It has led him to a pivotal role in organizing a conference to bring attention to the need among the Amish for salvation.
The Amish Awareness Conference will be held in Savannah, Ohio, north of Ashland, on April 10-11, 2014. For more information, see amishawareness.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/AmishAwarenessConference.
“In the eyes of many, the Amish seem peaceful and separated from a world of murder and divorce and to a large extent they are right,” he said, noting that crime among the Amish culture is often minimal.
“However, as born again Christians, we know that the Bible is clear; living a good clean life is not good enough to cover one’s sins,” he emphasized. “Billy Graham once said, ‘all the goodness in the world will not buy a person one minute of time in heaven.’”
While pastoring a church in Ohio, Ayer connected with Joe Keim, who was raised in an Old Order Amish sect and joined the Amish church at age 17. After Keim and his wife, Esther, both accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior, they left the Amish church and soon became burdened for their Amish friends and family. In 2000, they began a full-time ministry to reach Amish people with the gospel, Mission to Amish People.
“In trying to live a life on mission I felt compelled to get a greater understanding of culture and need,” noted Ayer, who watched the Amish construct a home for he and his wife, Amber. “I had to know how to reach these people.”
“I believe with all my heart that the Amish People are the local church’s responsibility to reach,” he said. “We can’t neglect this great responsibility to reach these people. God has brought the Amish first to our backyards and now to the [television] airways. They are in the spotlight and they need the light of the gospel,” he stressed. “I believe with conviction that if you have an awareness that the Amish are truly lost without Christ (religious but lost) that you have the responsibility to seek use every available method in every available way to reach these precious people with an available Jesus.”
“The Amish believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, that He died for their sins, and that He is the way to salvation,” he explained. “However, many Amish also practice a works-based relationship with God. They view their good works as earning favor with God. If their good works outweigh the bad works, they feel God will allow them into heaven,” he explained, noting that the Amish are basically good, hard-working people, who have to make sure they stay on the right path, so they get final rewards in heaven when life is over.
“They say ‘Amish is a lifestyle,’ not a religion,” he said. “They choose to keep the simple life so they can focus more time on family and home, rather than the things that require advanced modern technology.” It is estimated that nearly 250,000 Amish live in North America.
Last year Ayer was challenged to do something so great for God that only God could get the glory. He knew it was time to act on his burden to reach the Amish.
He contacted Keim and the two began to plan the conference that would draw attention to the fact that the Amish are lost and in need of a Savior.
Ayer will be presenting the keynote address at the conference, which also will include sessions on Anabaptist history, Amish of today, basic beliefs and traditions, legalism and it’s devastating effects, and three ways to evangelize. A worship time will include the bluegrass music of Conley-Schmidt (http://conleyschmidt.com/index.htm). Registration is $40 until March 1, 2014, when it increases to $50, and includes Amish-style meals. Group rates are also available. Housing is available nearby.