When I was first contacted to review I Am Hutterite I was immediately interested for two reasons: first, my mother grew up on the prairies of Canada just as the author, Mary-Ann Kirkby, did; secondly, my family is also a family of faith.
But, the concept of being a Hutterite was new to me. Based on the verse found in Acts 2:44-45 the Hutterites have a “commitment to the common ownership of goods (which) sets them apart from the Amish and the Mennonites and distinguishes them as the finest and most successful example of community life in the modern world. Today their population sits at approximately forty-five thousand on four hundred colonies in the northwestern United States and Canadian prairies.” (p. xvii)
The story Mary-Ann Kikby tells of her growing up on the Fairholme Colony as a Hutterite is a fascinating one; the colony seems to run as an efficient, warm and loving place, with a specific part for each member:
Regardless of age or capacity, each member had a station to fill and meaningful work to do. No one received a salary, but everyone’s needs were met. Sharing a common faith, most colony members were satisfied with a sustainable lifestyle that nurtured them physically and spiritually from cradle to the grave. Everyone ate, worked, and socialized together for the good of all. Women did the cooking, baking, and gardening while the men carried out the farming, mechanical, and carpentry chores. (p. 63-63)
We learn of their style of dress, the huge dining rooms where families eat together, the massive kitchens where women age 17 to 45 do the cooking under the leadership of one head cook for everyone. We learn of her father who came into the colony an outsider; although he won her mother’s hand, he never developed complete unity with her brothers, one of whom was the colony leader.
After a series of great disagreements, one involving the death of his daughter because they were not granted permission to take her to the doctor, and one involving the purchase of necessary farm equipment needed for his job, her father decided to leave the colony. Taking his wife and seven children, Mary-Ann’s father found a home on ‘the outside’ in which the family would live independently.
It was an enormous change for the children, suddenly thrust into the public school system, where their pronunciation of ‘th’ (nonexistent) and style of dress (antiquated) set them apart from the others. But, it was also an enormous challenge for their parents, who now must do all the tasks which had been shared by the colony members themselves.
Despite longing for ringlets and hot pants, lunches wrapped in Saran Wrap and brown paper bags, and acceptance from her peers at school, Mary-Ann realizes the honor in the life her parents gave her.
I am struck by how often we look for the perfect lifestyle. Some leave home in pursuit of freedom, and like the prodigal son return grateful for what they’d once scorned. Some set up an enclave of sorts, hoping that the group can meet one another’s needs. Others live a quiet and orderly life such as a Catholic or a Buddhist monk. No one can find the answer to complete happiness on this earth because this world is not our home. But a life which honors God, and family, such as the Hutterite families have, cannot help but create a great foundation for themselves and their children.