By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
The decision to leave wasn't simple, but it was right.
'It meant leaving my family and everything I knew,' said Barbara Keim of Temple. 'But I had found the Lord and wanted to live the life He wanted me to. That meant leaving my Amish community.'
The year was 1995. She was 23 and didn't have a college education. She had some work experience, but it was limited.
'I was a waitress, and I taught for seven years in the Amish school,' Mrs. Keim said. 'That was after I graduated the eighth grade.'
Her faith helped her make the transition from Amish to modern-day American. The only encouragement she needed was from the Bible.
'Jesus died on the cross to take my sins away,' she said. 'That's not something you can earn. It's yours for the taking, it's a gift, it's something greater than you are.'
It didn't take her long to learn that lesson. She knew about Jesus from the German Amish Bible of her childhood.
'But none of it hit home until I saw the English Bible,' Mrs. Keim said. 'That's when everything became clear.'
In her Ohio Amish community, the English Bible was banned because the church elders thought it 'was evil and encouraged young people to leave.'
Ray Mast introduced Mrs. Keim to the English Bible. He was a friend of one of the women whose children she babysat.
'He was formerly Amish,' she said. 'He helped other Amish people work through their struggles with Amish life and helped them know the Bible if they wanted to learn it.'
In a roundabout way, Mast is also the way she met her husband, Harvey Keim, a bus driver for the Temple school district.
In 2001, Mast hosted a meet-and-greet social for 'the newly ex-Amish.' That's when Mr. and Mrs. Keim became friends. They married in 2003.
Mr. Keim's background is similar to his wife's, except his childhood home was more primitive.
'We didn't have toilets,' he said. 'We had an outhouse, and the norm was one bath a week.'
A calling from God was not what inspired him to leave his Amish family. (They lived in Michigan and Wisconsin.)
'I was tired of getting in to trouble all the time,' he said. 'I figured if I was going to hell, I may as well do something to deserve it.'
On his second day in the 'real world,' he went to a church and said he was saved.
'Everything suddenly made sense,' Mr. Keim said. 'I figured out I was here for a reason, and that all those rules didn't mean anything.'
He was referring the community rules that the Amish elders from the church had put in place. They mandated work policy, curfew hours, what could and could not be in a home, what you could and could not do for entertainment and where you could and could not go.
Mrs. Keim's community operated the same way.
'God showed me a long time ago that the Amish stay away from things that have the appearance of evil,' Mrs. Keim said. 'That's why card games are forbidden, because they can lead to gambling.'
Make-up is forbidden because it can lead to lust.
'But that's not so. It's the condition of the heart that causes evil,' Mrs. Keim said. 'And once you surrender your life to Him, the Holy Spirit is in your heart and it guides you and direct you and allows you to do those things without succumbing to evil.'
Raised secluded and sequestered, Mr. and Mrs. Keim still experience occasional bouts of culture shock.
'Every now and then, I will hear things on the TV or from other people that I would just never imagine,' Mrs. Keim said. 'Like how girls will pretend to like other girls just to get a guy's attention.'
And Mr. Keim, he's had to learn the hard way that you can't trust everybody.
'There are people out there who will do you harm, who want to do you harm,' he said. 'On the Amish farm, you didn't have to worry about that.'
In the 15 years Mr. and Mrs. Keim have lived as free Christians, the only people they have called family are their two young children.
Talk with Mrs. Keim's family is civil but rare. Her three brothers and one sister chose to remain the Amish sect.
'My parents can see the girls, and we can visit occasionally to share general family news,' Mrs. Keim said. 'But there's no deep connection, no everyday support.'
When Mrs. Keim attended her sister's wedding in 2003, she had to wear an Amish gown her mother made her. She would not have been welcome if she had worn her own clothing.
Contact with Mr. Keim's family is non-existent.
'I was the first to leave,' he said. 'I'm the one they think caused all the trouble.'
Of his nine siblings, three left. One joined the military.
'They blame me for that too,' Mr. Keim said. 'The Amish are against war.'
But these are not reasons for the Keim's to regret their decision. They say they are at peace with the Lord, grateful for what they have.
'Being Amish was like being in a dense forest,' Mrs. Keim said. 'Life as a free Christian is like being in an open field where the world is wide open and there's nothing you can't do.'