The Joy of the Johnsonburg Awakening

By David Servant

News sometimes travels very fast among Amish folks! So perhaps you’ve already heard about the Johnsonburg Awakening. I’ve been blessed to have witnessed it from the day it began, which was January 31st of this year. That was the day I met Jonas ——–, an Amish minister who had been born again a few weeks earlier, and Levi ——–, an Amish bishop who had been born again a few years earlier.

Both of those Amish men, of course, had been baptized when they were teenagers, and according to what many Amish people believe, that is when they were supposed to have been born again. But by the time I met them, they both had come to realize that they had not actually been born again when they were baptized as teenagers. When they were baptized then, they said and did everything they were expected to say and do, but they did not possess a genuine heart-faith in Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until years later that they truly believed in Jesus—as evidenced by their genuine repentance and subsequent heart-obedience to His commandments. That is when they were truly born again.

When someone truly believes in Jesus, Jesus becomes their Lord, because that is who He is. Jesus is Lord, and He is mentioned as “Lord” hundreds of times in the New Testament. If Jesus is not your Lord, you don’t actually believe in Him. You may think you do, but you don’t. As the apostle James wrote, faith without works is dead, useless, and cannot save anyone (see James 2:14-26). And as the apostle Paul wrote, “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living” (Rom. 14:9).

When Jesus becomes someone’s Lord, that is when they are born again. That is the spiritual “regeneration” and “new birth” that are both mentioned in the 1632 Dordrecht Confession (to which all Amish groups subscribe), an experience that was the centerpiece of all the original Anabaptists’ faith. Tragically, the wonderful new birth experience has been lost among many Amish groups today, which is why I am writing this letter. I hope to help Amish people who have lost their spiritual heritage recover it, because Jesus said that unless people are born again, they will never see or enter the kingdom of God (see John 3:3,5). That means, unless you are born again, you will go to hell when you die.

When someone is born again, it is a spiritual rebirth that is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus said to Nicodemus (see John 3:1-16). Born-again people are “new creations in Christ” as Paul wrote (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). When people are born again, they start their lives over.  That is why, in the New Testament, the apostles only baptized people who confessed a genuine faith in Jesus (see Acts 8:36-37). Interestingly, the apostles didn’t sprinkle new believers with water, they fully immersed them under water and then lifted them out of the water, which symbolized their death, burial, and resurrection, as well as their cleansing from sin. Being born again is like being raised from the dead! Those who have been truly born again know what I’m talking about!

When I met Jonas and Levi and their wives, it was obvious to me that they were all born again. I was born again myself more than 45 years ago, and I’ve been in vocational ministry for more than 40 years as a pastor and an itinerant teacher. I’ve traveled all over the world teaching the Bible. I’ve personally met thousands of people who have been born again, and all of them have told me of the changes—some very dramatic—that occurred in their lives when they truly believed in Jesus and made Him their Lord. Some were former drunkards, adulterers, liars, thieves, or homosexuals (just like in the Corinthian church; see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). All were sinners to some degree. But when they were born again, their lives were changed. All of them became better people. Even good Amish people become better people when they are born again. Their change might not be as dramatic as those who are not raised in godly, Christian homes, but they are still changed for the better.

And we should not be surprised that born again people are dramatically different from what they were before they were born again. The Bible also teaches that those who are born again are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. When someone truly believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit, whom the Bible also refers to as God, comes to live on the inside of them (see Acts 5:3-4; 1 Corinthians 6:19). Think about that! God comes to live on the inside of those who truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! How could such a thing happen without it changing the lives of such people? Who would ever believe that God could come to live inside someone and it would not affect that person and their behavior?

So that is what happened to bishop Levi, his wife, minister Jonas, and his wife. And just like the thousands of other born-again people whom I’ve met over the last four decades, those four felt so blessed, and they wanted all their family members and friends to enjoy the same blessing. So we talked on the evening of January 31st about what could be done to achieve that.

We agreed to start by having a weekly Tuesday evening Bible study that would alternate between Levi’s and Jonas’ houses. And Jonas and Levi decided that they would try to start additional evening Bible studies to which they would invite other Amish people, where they could tell them about being born again and becoming true believers and followers of Jesus.

Before long, there were a total of five weekly Bible studies, and those who attended were also being born again. Just like their Anabaptist forefathers who read a translation of the Bible that was written in the language they used every day (German), they started reading Bibles that were written in the language they use every day: English! They were often surprised at all they learned, and what they learned further changed their lives. Just as Jesus promised them, the Holy Spirit became their teacher, leading them into the truth (see John 16:13).

When those who attended one of those Bible studies truly believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and were born again, they of course wanted their families and friends to also be born again. So they told them what had happened to them, and soon the Bible studies increased in size as others were born again. Within two months there were about two dozen adults attending the Bible studies, plus their children, and there were six spiritual generations of Amish people who had believed and led others to genuine faith in Jesus and the new birth. Among the newly-born-again Johnsonburg Amish, there are young people who had a habit of getting drunk every weekend. No longer! As you are reading this, the newly-born-again Johnsonburg Amish are continuing to share the good news of the new birth.

Tragically, because bishop Levi, minister Jonas, their wives, and all of the newly-born again Johnsonburg Amish were part of an Amish community that had lost its spiritual heritage, they were all excommunicated for “adopting a new faith.” The truth, however, is that they all recovered the original faith of the first Anabaptists, as well as the apostles and Jesus. All of those people believed that those who are not born again will never see or enter the kingdom of God (see John 3:3-5). They all believed that being born again was not something that happened at baptism, or that something that happens gradually over years of time, but is something that occurs when people truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent. They all believed that being born again is an inward transformation that results in external changes, including sacrificial love for fellow Christians and obedience to Christ’s commandments (see 1 John 2:3; 3:14).

If you doubt me, just read the New Testament in a language you understand, and also read the Dordrecht Confession in a language you understand. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of Amish and formerly-Amish people across the country have done just that, and they have been born again and are now experiencing all the blessings that accompany being born again. They know their sins are forgiven (see 1 John 2:2). They know they have eternal life (see 1 John 5:13). They know they are God’s spiritual children and that He is their heavenly Father (see 1 John 3:1). They know they are not destined for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through Jesus Christ (see 1 Thessalonians 5:9). They have the Holy Spirit residing in them, and He is guiding them into holiness and obedience to all of Jesus’ commandments (Rom. 8:9, 14; 1 Cor. 6:19). And they want their Amish family members and friends to experience the same blessing. So they never stop praying for them, and if they are given the chance, they try to tell them about being born again through faith in Jesus Christ.

Anyone who reads the New Testament in a language they understand will see clearly what Levi, Jonas, and all the other newly born-again Amish people in Johnsonburg have seen. If you are uncertain, then read the New Testament for yourself. Trust no one, including me, regarding what God expects of you! Read the Bible for yourself!

Regarding Bible Translations:

In the weekly Johnsonburg Bible studies, everyone has been using various English translations of the Bible. They have not been using the German translation of the Bible for the same reason they have not been using the Spanish, French, Chinese or Russian translation of the Bible—because none of them can read Spanish, French, Chinese or Russian. And none of them can read German, at least not very well.

The Bible has been translated into hundreds of different languages, and for one simple reason, so that people who speak and read those languages can understand the Bible. That is why Martin Luther translated the Bible into German. He wanted the German people who didn’t understand Latin to be able to read a Bible in their own language.

I’m sure you know that the Bible was not originally written in German. Neither Moses, any of the Prophets, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, John, James or Jude ever spoke or wrote in German. Rather, the Bible was originally written in the languages of the people who were alive when it was written, which included Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. And that is why Levi and Jonas use English translations of the Bible at their Bible studies. They want to understand the Bible so they can understand the gospel and obey Jesus. It is just that simple.

If you are alarmed that they are not using the German Bible, please don’t be! Please don’t think that the German translation of the Bible is the only accurate translation among hundreds of translations that exist in hundreds of languages! The truth is, the groups of modern linguistic scholars who have translated many English versions of the Bible have many more ancient biblical manuscripts from which they can translate that were not available to translators like Martin Luther 500 hundred years ago. That is because so many ancient biblical manuscripts have been discovered since then. Modern translations are actually more accurate to the original texts than translations from several hundred years ago. Martin Luther did an excellent job translating the Bible into German. But if you don’t understand German, all his work does not benefit you in the least!

If you do not have an English New Testament, I would be happy to send you one. In fact, I will send you two different translations, the King James Version and the New Living Translation, so that you can compare them. If you are interested in more biblical information about being born again, I would also be happy to send you an article I’ve written titled, “What Does it Really Mean to be Born Again?” Finally, if you would like to speak with either bishop Levi or minister Jonas, they would be happy to talk with you. To make any of these requests, just contact me here.

If you are already born again, then praise God! Follow Jesus with all your heart by obeying all His commandments! Great is your reward in heaven!

If you are not yet born again, you can be! Jesus died for all your sins so that you could have eternal life! You can be born again today and become a “new creation” in Christ! Just read John 3:16 and act upon it!

Sincerely in Christ,

David Servant

James 4:6: God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Ephesians 2:8: For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Hebrews 11:1: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.