‘The Nine, Our Story to Freedom’, (2013, Risen Son Publishing) is the first of two books, published, that sets out details about an arduous journey of nine young people who moved away from ‘being’ Hutterite. ‘Since we Told The Truth’, is the second book, further chronicling the impact that an exit from a Manitoba and North Dakota Hutterite Colony has had on the nine former members. ‘The Nine’ were all between the ages of 17 – 25 years when they made the difficult decision to forge a new path, leaving their respective Hutterite colonies in 2006.
Jason, Junia, Darlene, Titus, Cindy, Sheryl, Karen and Rodney Waldner, and Glenda Maendel, left together, without a cent to their name, and the strength of collective faith in their hearts. Faith in God. Faith in each other, that they were doing the right thing. Leave Hutterite behind.
A life and spiritual journey with a new found fulfillment in faith, propelled the Nine onward in a modern world.
After five years outside of the colony, they began to write their personal story in the first book, ‘Hutterites, Our Story To Freedom.’ The first book shares testimony from each of the nine members who left their respective colonies, giving readers a rare look inside the life of this, communal society.
‘The Nine, Our Story to Freedom’, generated criticism and outrage from some members of The Hutterite community, at the time of its publication.
With their second book, (2014) ‘Since We Told The Truth’, The Nine say they are ‘committed to shining the light of truth to help others as they go beyond their past lives as Hutterites, to bring a national perspective to, and raise awareness of, truths that offer an accurate solution to those challenges currently shaping our social and political landscape.’ (www.thenine9.com)
Saultonline visited with brother and sister, Sheryl and Rodney Waldner last month at Bellevue Park in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to learn more about this fascinating journey from Hutterite Colony to Christian citizen on the outside. The ‘Nine’ are from four families. Six left from a Colony in Manitoba, and three from North Dakota.
Reflecting on the past, brother and sister shared insight into the journey that brought them to Sault Ste. Mare, where they moved to, in April 2016.
“Two-thirds of Hutterites live in Canada” said Sheryl.
“There are colonies all over the place in mid- western Canada and United States. Manitoba, Saskatchewan. Alberta, Montana, North and south Dakota. Washington State.” said Rodney.
There are approx. 45,000 Hutterites living in Colonies in middle and western Canada, upper Midwest and northeast United States.
“In the beginning, (after leaving the Colony) we knew so little about how to communicate. Even within our family.” said Sheryl.
In the Hutterite Colony, “All the children go to German and English school. We didn’t have close friends. It wasn’t a close family unit. You knew your parents were around , but that way of life is impersonal. I didn’t have a relationship with my parents when we were in the Colony. Children eat separate from parents, and at church, children sit separate from their parents. There isn’t too much of a close family unit.”
Hutterites originated during the Reformation in the 1500’s when many people were breaking away from the Roman Catholic Church. Some, who broke away, believed that infant baptism was not according to the Word of God, and were rebaptized as adults, thus beginning the Anabaptist Movement, of which Hutterites is an off shoot. Hutterite Colonies are rural, agriculture based, although manufacturing has become more prevalent in Hutterite colonies in the 21st century.
“We knew for awhile that we would have to leave; for about three years, as we watched what our father was going through.” Sheryl spoke about a serious fracture in their way of life when her father and the Hutterite ministers were at odds over her father’s view and understanding of what living as a Christian meant for him. In the context of communal living where freedom to think for oneself is essentially forbidden, Sheryl and Rodney’s father would eventually be excommunicated from the colony at age 41.
Elders and Ministers direct everything within the Colony. Especially independent thought that could undermine the ‘collective’.
“My father had experienced an awakening, and spoke about it boldly.” said Sheryl. “He was describing the peace and joy about having found Jesus Christ, as his Lord and Saviour. He was a Sunday School teacher in the colony, and started teaching the children about this journey. About how his life completely changed, and that he was not a true Christian before.” said Sheryl.
To have a complete understanding of why that is significant, a person would need to understand the essential genesis for this ‘paradox’. As Rodney and Sheryl describe it, Hutterites belief system is based in foundational doctrine including, ‘Constitution of the Hutterian Brethren Church’
This Constitution encompasses ‘All colonies that adhere to and practise the teachings of the New Testament as expounded by one Peter Riedemann, as set out in book or work entitled ‘Account of our Religion, Doctrine and Faith, given by Peter Riedemann.’ (excerpt from Hutterites, Our Story to Freedom)
Communal living in a Hutterite Colony did not include the view that a Christian person can attain ‘salvation’ outside of life within a Colony.
“My dad was always describing the peace and joy about knowing that a person can have eternal life. ‘I lived for the Devil. Now I’m living for the Lord’, is something he frequently said. My dad refused to stop sharing testimony.” said Sheryl.
All of this did not go down well with the leadership, the Huttterite ministers. “This way of thinking conflicted with the Hutterite rational way of living and their particular view of the world.” said Rodney.
‘Jacob Hunter was the Anabaptist leader most influential in shaping the group that became known as Hutterites. Peter Riedemann is considered the second founder because of his writings explaining the Hutterite faith. Riedemann was born in 1506 in Poland. When in prison for his faith in the early 1540’s, Riedemann wrote the ‘Confession of Faith for the Lutheran ruler Phillip of Hesse, and sums up the Hutterite-Anabaptist beliefs and way of life. The Confession is approved by the Hutterites as the definitive statement of faith.’ (excerpt from Hutterites, Our Story to Freedom).
“As a Hutterite you get baptised at around age 20, and that is when Hutterites say you’ve become a Christian.” said Sheryl. “There isn’t any personal testimony or confession, or anything like that.”
“When you’re ready to marry, you get baptized. You memorize some verses and written text in high German. It’s not a personal thing. You do it because you have to get married. It’s just something everyone does around age 20.” said Sheryl.
“The Hutterite ministers did not like that my dad was expressing his life-changing epiphany, and saying that ‘Jesus is now real to me’. The ministers tried to shut him up.”
“About 30 ministers came and questioned him, and sentenced him. He wasn’t allowed to associate with any of the people. They took his job away. They took his money away. He wasn’t allowed to go to church, or do any work. He was stripped of his membership as a member of the Colony. He couldn’t interact with the Colony at all. It became very awkward for us as kids.”
“At that time, as children we were living in fear. We started to see the hypocrisy of that way of living. There was no love for him, (father). He worked for the Colony for 41 years, and then nothing. He was kicked out with no money. No regard for how we were going to be able to take care of ourselves. We had to leave with nothing.” said Sheryl.
“They call themselves a religious group according to their Christian traditions. They think that they are the only true Christians because of their lifestyle. Christianity to them is more about communal living. Wearing the head covering. Wearing the dress. It is more about functioning.”
“A Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ.” said Rodney. “You can’t just take the Bible and make it what you want.. You can’t just take whatever scriptures you like that are all about communal living and think that this is the one true way to be. They see Jesus through a Hutterite lens. There is no joy for Jesus Christ in the Hutterite Colony.” said Rodney.
They give their whole life to the Colony, give up any pleasure or desire, for music for example. but they don’t see any assurance of salvation.” said Sheryl. “God is seen as a punishing God, not a loving God.”
“We grew up speaking a ‘Hutterish’ dialect that is not read or written. It’s a mix of several languages including German, Russian, Austrian, and English.” she said. “Life in the colony is about getting by, not about a personal relationship with Jesus. There is no joy. There is no rejoicing. A person would not greet anyone. Church was done in high German. Any of the text if sung or read was never with any emotion. It was very flat.
Teachers would come from the outside and teach school lessons. “In our Colony, it wasn’t encouraged to go to school past the age of 15 years. There is no purpose for higher academics and seen as a waste of time.” said Rodney. “I continued to Grade 12, even though I was criticized for doing that.” said Rodney.
At the age of 15 years, members are considered adults, and expected to work in the fields, attend to livestock and agriculture based roles within the Colony. “The leaders of the Hutterite Colonies decide what you can and cannot do.” he said.
After leaving the Colony in 2006, the group became engaged in independent business opportunities, including a cleaning company, where they learned important lessons on social interactions, language and communication, business, monetary values, banking, and much more.
Today, The Nine are involved with ministry work. WDJS (What Did Jesus Say) is a ministry that has members of The Nine travelling to various places, creating YouTube videos, radio interviews, print and other media. WDJS can be found here: (http://www.thenine9.com/ministry/)
Some of the Nine have become married. Rodney Waldner works locally at a Lumber and Hardware Supply Company, Lyons Timbermart.
Sheryl Waldner travels quite often, and this summer was on the road between the Sault and a space near Park Falls, Wisconsin where a large piece of property is being cleared as a sanctuary for WDJS Ministry.
“A year and half ago , the nine of us bought it together.” said Sheryl.
“We’re eventually going to have the house completed. A place where people can go and feel safe, a retreat, a place where they can go and be discipled.”
Recently, a Gazebo was constructed on the Wisconsin property, with work on a house well underway.
Sheryl and Rodney’s parents now live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and attend a church that is frequented by ex-Hutterites.
Rodney and Sheryl’s grandparents, who have since passed away, remained in the Colony.
The two books aforementioned are available at several Book and retail stores, as well as through the website. To find a complete listing, visit:www.thenine9.com. Speaking engagements can also be booked through the website.
There have been numerous book signing events for both books, including recently in Thunder Bay, Ontario at the local Coles and Chapter Book Stores.