News spread quickly throughout various Hutterite colonies in North Dakota and Manitoba, Canada—nine young people between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five had gathered the courage to leave their lifelong surroundings, family, and friends to follow Jesus Christ. Each had heard separately about the unconditional love of Christ and the simplicity of knowing Him from ministers outside of the Hutterite colonies. Hutterite leaders considered this a “new, false belief,” and they bitterly attacked it. Yet, one by one, nine young Hutterites made the costly choice to step away from the only life they had ever known and from leaders who had ruled their every decision.
I was one of those nine. I was one who, although somewhat afraid of this new belief, nonetheless surrendered to the loving draw of my heavenly Father.
For seventeen years I had lived in the Hutterite colony, where my life was immersed in legalistic traditions that had been practiced for many generations. I was taught that by following traditions like daily church attendance, dress codes, and having a strong work ethic, I would please God. I adhered to these traditions strictly, yet in the back of my young mind, I noticed hypocrisy toward God’s truth. We had a form of religion, but there was a noticeable absence of love and joy.
This saddened me.
A Christian man who had left the colony years prior came to visit. I felt compelled to go hear him. For the first time, I heard how to receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. It turned out what they called a new, false belief was actually the simple truth of the Word of God, and I wanted this truth.
Immediately, the Holy Spirit began a cleansing in my heart, bringing conviction of my sin. I found myself kneeling before my mother, apologizing to her for the many times I had disrespected her. I wept in her arms. From that moment on, my life changed. I began reading my Bible, praying, and listening to preachers on CDs, all of which was forbidden by the colony leaders. At age seventeen, I prayed in faith and asked Jesus to be my Lord and Savior. God received me right then and there, just as I was—hopeless, depressed, confused, fearful, and without a vision for my life. Then, through His love and grace, God refreshed me and gave me a hope for my future and hunger for His truth.
As I pursued my newfound relationship with God, I discovered that the colony rules were in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Soon I and the other believers began to be persecuted for our faith. We desperately called upon the name of the Lord for guidance, help, and deliverance. He answered our prayers and opened the door for a small Christian ministry from North Dakota to visit our colony. These people shared openly about God’s miracles in their lives and how they could hear His voice. I desperately wanted to experience God in such a way.
Not long after their visit, an opportunity arose for a group of us to visit this ministry. I was so excited. I knew that these people would help me grow in my faith and teach me more about what I had been studying. I especially wanted to learn more about the Holy Spirit as described in John 14:15–27.
I did not know when I left the colony the morning of December 25, 2006, that I was leaving there forever. But once I had experienced the freedom and joy of Jesus Christ, I couldn’t go back. I wanted more of Jesus. I wanted His ways, not the ways of man. I wanted His truth, not the lies of the world.
For the first time in my life, I was experiencing freedom. Freedom from fear, guilt, and condemnation. I felt so alive and complete. I had very few personal possessions with me, and I had had to leave my parents behind, but I was filled with peace and joy. Jesus was directing my footsteps, and I trusted Him to supply all my needs. And He did.
The people from this ministry gave us a place to stay and taught us about God’s Word and how to walk out His Word in our daily lives. This was an answer to my prayers! I had prayed fervently for someone to come into my life and teach me more about God.
The week after we left the colony, I was water baptized. It was wonderful to share publicly that I was a new creation in Christ Jesus. I also received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. After that, God’s Word was much clearer to me, and I had the strength to be obedient. I had a lot more joy, too. Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Through the working of the Holy Spirit in my life, the healing of His Word, and through godly counseling, I have been delivered from fear, shame, guilt, and a constant need to please people. I’ve also found freedom to speak and use my God-given gifts for His glory. Certain physical expressions have helped me break free, too—things like praising the Lord with flags and dance, waterskiing, and learning to play the pan flute.
It has been ten years since The Nine, as we call ourselves, left the colony. Since our stepping out to follow Jesus Christ, God has blessed us more than we could have ever imagined, faithfully meeting our every need. In the colony, I was taught to bury my feelings, but God has shown me that He cares about every detail of my life—the big and the small. He welcomes my cries. And for my every question and concern, He has an answer.
Whoever you are, reading this article, I want to encourage you to experience a life in Jesus Christ and to receive the love and freedom He has for you. There is so much joy, peace, and truth waiting for you. Receiving these things, however, may require your leaving behind what is comfortable, safe, and secure. It won’t be easy, but it will be the best decision you will ever make. Don’t be afraid to take that step of faith. God will meet you, walk with you, and provide for your every need, every step of the way.
Written by Sheryl Waldner
Photo by Almos Bechtold