In 1988, Jonas and Anne Beiler were living in Texas. Having suffered a number of personal tragedies, they decided it was time to pack their bags and return to the place they knew and the people they loved back home in Pennsylvania. They arrived with just $25 in their pockets. Anne’s first move was to land a job at a local farmers market selling pizza, pasta, and pretzels. Business was brisk, but they hungered to go out on their own.
Having borrowed $6,000 from his father, Jonas and Anne opened their own stand featuring the same fare. At one point, Anne contemplated dropping the pretzels from their menu because in her view they weren’t all that exceptional. That got Jonas thinking. Having grown up Amish and, having had an aunt who taught him how to bake as a young eight-year-old boy, Jonas asked whether he could play around with the recipe.
After some trial and error, he perfected a hand-rolled pretzel recipe that immediately became a huge success. From that humble beginning, Auntie Anne’s was born. Today, with 800 locations, the company has become an international success story with what has been a meteoric rise to the top. After twenty years, they sold the company in order to pursue the dream they had discussed on their trek back from Texas.
You see, Jonas longed to someday open a community counseling center, a place that would house a learning center for children, a public library and coffee house (of course!), as well as a pregnancy resource center. At the time, Jonas and Anne laughed at the thought of it. How in the world would they–with just $25 to their names–find the kind of money necessary to pursue a dream of that magnitude? They didn’t even know where they might live once they landed back in Gap, PA. But they had faith that the Lord would one day provide.
Last week Jean and I traveled with our boys to the heart of Amish country to lend our support to the grand opening of a dream come true: The Family Center of Gap. We had a fantastic visit entering into the joy of Jonas and Anne’s dream come true. We also had fun introducing Trent and Troy to the Amish culture.
As we drove down Highway 340 through Pennsylvania Dutch country in Lancaster County, the boys were glued to the view outside of the car window. We carefully passed hand-crafted buggies pulled by beautiful horses. We later learned that the Amish often times purchase retired race horses to pull their carriages.
I couldn’t help but notice the large number of children working and playing in the fields. The Amish believe in large families, sometimes with seven or more children. I appreciated the way the kids looked out for and helped each other–the older watching over the younger. And forget about the pressure to wear the latest designer duds. From the hat on the boys’ heads to the dresses on the girls, Amish youth were dressed in similar fashion.
At first, Trent and Troy laughed at some of the traditions which have remained largely unchanged since the 18th Century, practices such as going without electricity or phones, dressing alike, and refusing to pose for photographs. Jean and I pointed out that the Amish community deserves our respect because they choose not to live with many of the modern day conveniences that we do. I think the message got through.
The boys especially loved going to the Amish Village where the non-Amish can take a tour and learn more about the Amish home and lifestyle. Trent was very intrigued by that experience. We took pictures sitting in a display carriage, visited an Amish schoolhouse, and toured a farm.
As we drove around I mentioned to Jean if the financial markets continue to crumble, many people may be knocking on the door of the Amish wanting to learn how to grow food and tend animals. The fact that the Amish have kept the family farm tradition alive might prove very wise in the long run. And in the short term, the Amish’s commitment to hard work, learning a craft, celebrating their faith, and upholding the family unity are something we can all learn from.