Former Hutterites tell their stories
Nine Hutterites who say they were forced to leave their colonies over religious persecution will be selling copies of their book in Red Deer.
The former members of Hutterite colonies in Manitoba and North Dakota each wrote a chapter in Hutterites: Our Story to Freedom, which details their lives before and after leaving their closed communal communities for the world at large.
Rodney Waldner recalled trouble began brewing after he and several other colony members secretly met with a travelling preacher who gave them English language versions of the Bible.
The Hutterites had been feeling unfulfilled from attending daily church services spoken in High German, which they couldn’t understand, said Waldner. (Hutterites speak English as well as a dialect made up of German, Russian and Austrian.)
Disaffected colony members eventually became born-again Christians — which did not mesh with the kind of religion their leaders approved of.
“You can say ‘born again’ in German and that would be fine, but you can’t say ‘born again’ in English,” said Waldner, who believes the leaders see any kind of dissent as losing control of membership.
Seven years ago, he and eight others left the two colonies when their families were “excommunicated.”
With some support from a small ministry on the outside, the former Hutterites began learning how to live as individuals outside the collective.
Waldner said he had worked for years in the chicken barn of the Hillside Colony near Brandon, Man.
Nobody had asked him his preference before assigning him this job. If they had, he said he would have told them he wanted to become an electrician.
Waldner now helps run several successful businesses that various members of the nine former Hutterites are also involved with, including construction and commercial and residential cleaning. He said it’s been wonderful discovering his “God-given talents. ... Before I didn’t even know I had any skills.”
His cousin, Karen Waldner, is also happy to have new choices in life since leaving the Manitoba colony.
As an individual, she said she could, for the first time, ask herself which colours she preferred in her clothing and which kind of home decor items she wanted. She even discovered an interest and talent for interior design.
“Even the simplest things,” she said, like going out for dinner with her husband, were a new experience.
Living on the colony for women means leaving school at 15 or 17 to learn to cook and sew, recalled Karen, who has a Grade 9 education.
While child-bearing is a primary role for Hutterite females, Karen said she and her sisters were kept in the dark about sexuality. She was never told about menstruation, but only given feminine hygiene products to use by her mother. While she observed pregnant women in the colony, she said, their state was never openly acknowledged.
Karen, who is now married to a former Hutterite from North Dakota, is happy to have freedom of knowledge and of practising her born-again Christianity without persecution.
She and the other co-authors wrote the self-published book to share their experiences with others. Rodney Waldner said he hopes their stories resonate with people who have to overcome obstacles in their own lives. “I want to give them hope that God helped us. We have a responsibility to share this message.”
The authors will appear at a meet-and-greet session at Chapters in Red Deer on Monday, Nov. 11, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Their book will be available at the store.