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Marty Lehman’s journey “between two worlds”

6.5. 2017 Written By: Emily Kauffman 1,306 read

On the morning of the presidential inauguration, as Donald Trump was being sworn into office, several dozen people gathered at the Elkhart County Courthouse in Goshen, Indiana.

The gathering was called to celebrate tolerance and diversity by joining in prayer for our nation and its leaders. The service began and after several members of the community shared words of hope, Marty Lehman offered a prayer:

“As people of this Goshen community, show us the path forward as we engage in the work you’ve called us to. Fill us with wisdom and insights and energy to make a difference right here in Goshen. Help us to be your hands and feet here in our community and beyond.”

In her work as the administrative pastor at College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Lehman is often asked to pray – for Goshen, for the church, for the world. And like the church, Lehman has grown and changed in many ways.

Lehman grew up in the Amish community close to Topeka, Indiana, on a dairy farm. She remembers having no running water, no indoor bathrooms or electricity; and taking baths with the garden hose during the summer months.

Lehman is the middle of six children, with two older sisters, two younger sisters and a younger brother. She remembers sitting in a circle and eating chocolate with extended family during the holidays, as well as visiting her Bontrager grandparents.

This all changed when her parents made the decision to leave the Amish church. Marty was 10 at the time.

Her parents were under the shunning, which meant that their families and members of the church could not have contact with them at the time. The shunning extended to both sets of grandparents, to uncles and aunts and to her 150 first cousins.

“It seemed like we kind of entered this no man’s world,” she said. “Where now suddenly the Amish community didn’t accept us and the conservative Mennonites really didn’t accept us because we were Amish. We were constantly reminded of that. It seemed like every sentence started with, ‘Oh well, you were Amish.'”

It wasn’t until her dad died from cancer, in 1987, when Marty was 31, that the healing began on her father’s side.

“His family is very comfortable with silence so his brothers would come and sit with him when Dad was towards the end of his life,” she said. “Then when Dad died we had a typical Amish burial. So his brothers dug his gravesite and buried him. And in a way, it felt that some of that had come full circle.”

Her dad’s death helped Marty gain more of an appreciation for her Amish heritage. She began visiting her grandmother more regularly.

“She was an interesting woman that was somehow always cheerful,” Marty remembers. “‘God’s in charge, I don’t need to question why these things happen, I just need to keep going, I need to be faithful,’ that was always very much her attitude.”

For Marty, another part of the healing process was her decision to go to college.

“When I was a conservative Mennonite girl in high school, my goal was to be a secretary,” she said. “I wasn’t going to go to college.”

She chose a Bible school, Rosedale in Irwin, Ohio. After going to Rosedale for three terms, she got a job as a secretary for an insurance company.

“After three months I was just bored out of my skull,” she said. “And I just knew I couldn’t do that anymore: that’s when I decided to go to [a four-year] college. And I was the first one in my family of my siblings.”

She attended Hinds Junior College in Jackson, Mississippi, for the first two years, then finished at Indiana University at South Bend (IUSB) with an undergraduate degree in sociology. She immediately went on to get her master’s degree, also at IUSB, in public affairs.

“My education has been huge,” she said. “It has opened so many doors to work possibilities I didn’t even know existed.”

“When I think of my education and my career, I often think of a conversation I had with one of my aunts (who are all Amish),” she said. “She asked me about my work. But before I could start, she said, ‘Oh, you don’t even need to tell me as I won’t understand it anyway.’”

After she graduated from college Marty worked for almost five years at what was then called Elkhart County Child Welfare. She then moved to working in the admissions department at Goshen College, where she began to learn more about the Mennonite Church. She did recruitment for three years and then became the admissions director. She remembers fondly the communities she was able to visit in Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.

One of the most special of those connections was with Christy Smith. The two met on a Marine Biology high school recruitment trip. Christy eventually came to Goshen College and the two continued to develop a relationship.

Marty learned that Christy’s parents were going through a divorce. Eventually Christy became a part of Marty’s family. Christy eventually married and had three children, Madeline, Seth and Sofia.

“We see them about every other month,” said Marty as she picked up a framed picture of her three grandchildren. “We have been vacationing together in the summer and always see each other at Christmas.”

It was also during her time working in admissions that she married Rex Hooley.

“I think that our spouses always greatly influence us and certainly shape some part of who we are,”she said. “Rex and I have always been really good friends. We have allowed each other to do our own thing and be our own person.”

One of the discussions we have is, ‘If my parents would not have left the Amish, would I be Amish today?’ I would say that I probably would be because of the emphasis on family. My parents gave up a lot when they left. And I’m not sure that I would’ve ever been willing to do that. Rex on the other hand points to my cell phone and all sorts of other things and says, ‘you wouldn’t be able to give up all of those things.’ To that I say, ‘I would’ve never had access to all those things.’”

Marty and her siblings have also had this conversation and all agree that they would be Amish today, had their parents not left.

“One could say, then, ‘Why don’t you go back?’ Well it’s not that simple, at this stage in life, or even at the stage of life when we had that choice.”

Amish roots continue to impact Marty today.

“I feel that I live in two cultures. When I go to my Amish relatives, we do certain things there, then when I come back to the English world there are a different set of rules.”

While she can’t go back and redo things, Marty is taking it upon herself to bridge some of the divide. Right now, she is working at her Pennsylvania Dutch.

“If I see Amish people in some kind of a setting, somehow I have to remind myself that they won’t know that I used to be Amish,” she said. “I think my growing up feeling marginalized, growing up between two cultures and worlds has helped me identify a lot more with people that are marginalized. I observed that while working with Mennonite Church USA I gravitated towards people of color. In some ways, I felt like I could identify with them more than I could mainstream white Mennonites.”

Lehman’s desire to embrace the beauty of intersectionality in her life is evident in her closest friends.

James Logan, a professor of religion and African American studies at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, became good friends with Lehman when they worked at Goshen College together. They often traveled together for work, which Lehman says helped her to catch a glimpse of how Logan “experiences life” and how people responded to the two of them differently.

Iris de Leon-Hartshorn, from California but of Mexican decent, director of Transformative Peacemaking, is another close friend of Lehman’s. The two met while working for Mennonite Church USA together.

“She is a radical, a feminist, a person who stands up for what is right and much more,” named Lehman. “She is Mexican-American and also lives in two cultures, like I do. She has also taught me so much about race and race relations. She is a person I can always be honest with and vice versa.”

Lehman’s own story and desire to learn and engage in complex conversations has continued to impact her hope for her own community.

“My hope for College Mennonite is that we will continue to reflect the community,” she said. “I hope College Mennonite will be different, or else it’s going to die. We’ve got to keep moving.”

And so will Marty. In the next two or three years she hopes to retire, but that doesn’t mean she’ll stop being involved and making a difference.

“I don’t see retirement as doing nothing,” she said. “I see it as a new journey where I won’t have a paid job. But I’ll still do things and want to do things to stay involved and make a difference in the community. There are too many needs in the community to just sit on my butt!”



Emily Kauffman will be a senior at Goshen (Indiana) College in 2017. This article was written as part of a feature writing class. 

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3 Responses to “Marty Lehman’s journey “between two worlds””

  1. Mennoknight says:

    Thank God for you, Marty. What a remarkable story!
    David Lapp Jost

    • David Helmuth says:

      My wife, Naomi, and I have really enjoyed getting to know your family, Suella (lived next to them for five years), Marty, who was employed here at Greencroft , and your mother, who does not seem to grow old and we see here at Greencroft. What a great family and how great it is for you to feel positive about your Amish upbringing! Rex and I got to know each other when we were members together at Forks Mennonite Church. (And Emily is my brother’s daughter.) David Helmuth

  2. Dennis Lutero says:

    Well done, Emily. You get an A (from me at least). I stumbled upon this story by accident, and I’m glad I did. I come from outside the Mennonite and Amish traditions, and this was very enlightening. Thanks for sharing.
    In Jesus,

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