Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hutterites: In 45 minutes, I was on the other side of the world…

... and imagine my surprise when I got called to substitute-teach at a one-room school on a Hutterite colony. First of all, it was March Break in Edmonton’s schools. Second of all, I found out that Hutterite schools are also run by the public school boards (although I guess the shock should have been diffused by the fact that many school boards in the Edmonton area run many alternative and religious schools).

It was probably the most enjoyable teaching day I have ever had. I don’t want to be a sappy emo, but my heart nearly melted when I saw all the little black hats and jackets neatly hung up by the door. I arrived during the German class they have first thing in the morning, and a number of boys were kneeling at the front, to which I thought “boy, they’re pretty pious in German class.” It turns out they were there because of mischief, and the German teacher/ minister of the colony is apparently much stricter than I am. You should see the old-school leather whip he keeps in the teacher’s desk! The teacher aides who showed it to me told me how one day the class was so out of control, that they called the German teacher to come in from the fields. The moment he stepped in the room, the students were instantly in their desks, quietly looking forward, albeit with quivering lips.

As it is, I had no such trouble with the kids. They were like angels. The teacher-aides said it’s because I’m kind of a novelty to them, being the first time they saw me and all. Apparently they can give their subs a run for their money after they get used to them. But my day at the colony was amazing, as the pictures here below can tell….

Team Plautdietschland practicing for the 2010 FIFA World Cup…

How can you tell these kids have no TV?

And no, I’m not in the middle of telling them about Ozzy Ozbourne. You probably can’t see the skipping rope, and in the second one, I’m in the middle of doing a cross-over.

It Takes A Painted Village…
To the class I read “My Painted House,” a picture book written from the perspective of a child telling the reader about their brightly-painted village and life in Africa. There were pictures of painted walls with all kinds of patterns, and so the kids were given an assignment to draw a design for a painted wall. Here is an impromptu sketch I drew to model for the kids. I explained that it symbolized my visit to their community, and the similarities and differences between my world and theirs. What do you see in my wall?

A Hutterite boy and girl drawing their designs for a “painted wall.” (Hmm, I wonder if they will be used to adorn any of the gray buildings in the colony?)

“Grandpa, what was it like teaching in a one-room school?” Well, as you can see in this picture…

Can you tell I got a real kick ringing the bell? How many teachers get to experience this???

Storytime before hometime.

At one point during the day, a little girl looked up at me and asked “Is your brother a Hutterite?” I was extremely puzzled by the question, and wondered if it was my new haircut or something. But when I was home, it dawned on me: in the morning when I introduced myself, I said: “As you can see, I’m not a Hutterite, but I consider Jakob Hutter to be my brother because of his faith in Jesus Christ, and his belief that the true church consisted of all the people who put their trust in him.” Well, I’ll have to teach these kids how to speak Christianese next time I come. I would jump at the chance to go back, even if they can be as naughty as the teacher aides report.

I kind of felt like a male version of the main characters in Chocolat and Babette’s Feast, as I splashed into the scene of a simple classroom whose kids seemed mesmerized (and maybe corrupted, some might say) by the flavour I brought that is normally inconsequential.

But I was probably the most affected. I find myself missing them alot. Life out there seems so rich in a simple and uncomplicated way. I’m not under any illusion, mind you, and as the teacher aides could surely attest, the Hutterites are just as much in need of a saviour as I am. But still, as I groan under the burden of Cain’s city, the visit to the colony felt like coming up from the deeps and breathing a huge gasp of air. Notwithstanding the conviction that God calls his people to engage with and shine the light in the world-at-large, the Hutterite life sure looks pretty inviting.


Anonymous said...

Hello Renny

I am a Hutterite from Manitoba, and contrary to what some people believe, there are those of us that have internet access, legally and sanctioned by the minister of the colony; I want to comment on your post on how your day went teaching at the Hutterite colony. I appreciate how you gave an honest report on how your day went. I too am an English teacher, I was born in a Hutterite colony, and have lived here all my life. I am going through university to get an Education degree so I can teach here in our school. The reason I'm so impressed with your post is that it is nice to hear about our communities from the perspective of someone not living in the colony.

marla said...

I totally understnad the draw a the simple life of the Hutterites. Sometimes being in and not of is just plain hard work.

Carla said...


That looked like a fantastic experience. Thanks for sharing it.

I'm going to look for the book "My Painted Village", too. Sounds like something we'd enjoy here.


Renny said...

Thank you for the comment, Anonymous. I hope that my post may be found honouring to your community, because I count it a tremendous privilege to have been received to teach amongst the Hutterites. I recently read that there was a program in Manitoba to train Hutterite people to serve as certified teachers in their community. I think that is fantastic, and the only thing that would sadden me is that I wouldn’t be needed to come back.

Anonymous, if people have notions of Hutterites being disjointed from society and its methods and wares, I’m sure those same people would look at me like I was from outer space. Contrary to what some people believe, I actually don’t have internet access, or a computer – at home anyway (I use them at libraries and schools). In fact, I don’t normally watch TV (I disconnected the one that comes with my suite). And I don’t have a car (I sometimes rent one, but mostly take the bus and walk). And I don’t sing “O Canada” (something that the Hutterite kids I taught actually do). I hope you will allow, in a humourous sense, that I sometimes feel more “Hutterite than the Hutterites”.

In fact, I myself became aware that Hutterites can be quite progressive, resourceful and innovative while honouring and preserving long established traditions (Marla, if you ever visit a colony, I'm sure they'd love some of your recipes :). Wherever there are Hutterite colonies, there are thousands outside who are blessed with the provisions and fruits of your focused and hard working lives. I thank God for your community, and pray that he blesses and mulitiplies the witness of Christ within it and through it.

Renny said...

Hey Carla and Marla (woo-ooo-oooo-ooo! Remember Marley and Marley in the Muppets Christmas Carol?)

Yeah, it was fantastic. I find myself looking through the photos almost everyday, the ones on my blog and others that I wouldn’t post because it showed their faces – beautiful smiling ones that I really miss. I’ll have to show them to you at Christmas.

BTW – I made a mistake on the title of the book. It’s actually called “My Painted House”, and I’ll be making the correction in my entry. Yes, I highly recommend it. I know your kids would love it. I could especially see Rianna and Heidi really enjoying it. It really has something for the entire family – including little snippets of sports, politics, history… Carla, I’m sure you’re ordering it as we speak!

Paula T said...

I just envy that! (in a godly way) I've so oftenf wondered what it would be like to join the Amish communitty and be a part of it. There is something to be said for traditional gender roles and simplicity. I would struggle giving up tv though...

What a fantastic teaching experience. I'm so happy for you!

Renny said...

Hey Paula! Yeah I can't tell you how much I hope I get called back to sub there. I mean it probably wouldn't be as novel the second time around, but still.

Thanks for the affirmation of honourable differences between the genders! It’s always refreshing to hear that from a sista!

I think TV would be the last thing I would miss (as per previous comment). Though it goes against my desire to evade pain, I think I would miss the battle that God has called me to fight, and the victory He has called me to win, in faithfully following Jesus amidst the perils of the “present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). Of course, a Hutterite who loves the Lord would have to battle the temptation to put their faith and trust in their tradition and lifestyle, rather than in the Lord Jesus and his sacrifice at the cross to cover sin. Either way, when someone becomes a child of God, he is instructed to “remain in the situation which he was in when God called him (1 Cor. 7:20, 24).” I know that if I decided to become a Hutterite or the like, my heart’s motive would be to escape the arena of testing and growth that God has put me in. Likewise, the Hutterite who gets saved is well placed to remain in the colony as a witness to a living faith, instead of trying to escape the challenges that colony life can yield (although God could call such a person to move on and serve Him elsewhere). To seek escape from where God calls us to be would serve as an unfortunate hindrance, if not abortion, of the glory of God eternally shining through our tests and trials.

As an aside, there might be some Hutterites who might react at being referred to as Amish (although it's not clear if you were doing so) the same way that Canadians might at being called American (which I personally don't mind either way – as I kind of alluded to previously regarding “O Canada”, my identity is in and allegiance to “A King and a Kingdom,” as Derek Webb would say).

Probably the biggest difference is property. From what I have read, Amish individuals can own private land, whereas the Hutterites do not. They are "commune-ist", mind you in a very non-marxist sense (and seem to work as hard as, if not harder than, capitalists).

Meanwhile, as my Hutterite guest above attests, Hutterites use electricity and all sorts of modern conveniences that the Amish don't use. There does appear, however, to be randomness as to what is verboten and what isn’t. Alot seems to depend on the whims of the colony minister (If I am off-base, I’m interested in hearing more from my Hutterite friends on the subject).

Anonymous said...

Hello This is your hutterite friend again. The off-base isn't really that far off-base. Although there are some fundamentally "verboten" things, small things like access to Bicycles, Internet, Higher Education, and in some cases even movies and radios depends a lot on what the "management" (in some colonies, the minister has a lot of say in this respect, in others its a coalition of three or more of the colony elders and members of management)

In most, if not all colonies though, it is presumed that no matter who is making the decisions, it is being made for the betterment of the whole community. And being part of the community, and being raised as a Hutterite, we believe that the management is concerned for all the members of the community.

Living Hutterite, does have it's challanges, but for those of us that are living in the community the older we get, the more we appreciate the livestyle we have the priviledge to live like this.

Renny said...

No doubt! I think the older I get, the more I myself appreciate the lifestyle of your community!

In fact, I think most of us start to look for more simplicity, as burdens and complications arise in life. Also, we tend to become more conservative as we age – that is, we seek stability and take a much more sober approach to change. Yet, at the same time, we want our lives to make a difference, and we see our need for community and cooperation – especially as we become more aware of our own mortality and weaknesses.

On this note, the Hutterites stick out as a community that has persevered and survived through much of the chaos of our age. I perceive that there is a lot I could learn from your community, and how the cross of Christ has shaped many of the convictions and traditions you speak of.

(It turns out that I'll be teaching at the colony tomorrow -- I can't wait to see them again!)