Editor’s note: This article was originally published on LDSLiving.com in April 2019.
In the fall of 2011, a customer stepped into Raymond Weaver’s furniture store in Danville, Ohio. He was a good friend of Raymond’s, and in the course of their conversation Raymond mentioned his curiosity in Native American history, specifically how these ancient people came to live in the Americas. Raymond remembers his friend, Harry Proudfoot, replying that he had a book that could help with that.
Two weeks later, in mid-September 2011, Proudfoot handed Raymond a Book of Mormon. His life, the lives of his family, and the dynamics of his community would never be the same again.
Investigating another church had never crossed Raymond’s mind. “I was Amish with no intentions of ever changing that,” he says. “I thought to myself, 'There is no other church on the face of this earth that I know of that I would want to raise my children in.' I didn't know of a better place to be than where we were.”
Six weeks after receiving the Book of Mormon, Raymond had read it cover to cover along with most of the Doctrine and Covenants. “I knew that this was the Lord's church, and I could not deny it. I knew for certain, beyond a shadow of a doubt,” Raymond says. “I knew I had some tough choices to make.”
As the son of an Amish bishop, Raymond Weaver knew that being baptized a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would not only jeopardize his family relationships but his entire way of life. If he decided to follow the Spirit and the command in the Book of Mormon to be baptized, his community—those he’d lived, loved, and worshipped among for 35 years—would systematically shun him.
An Undeniable Experience
In November 2011, Raymond lay awake for three nights after reading the Book of Mormon, trying to quiet his mind and sleep. He was lucky to get two hours of fitful rest a night. “Every joint in my body ached,” Raymond says. “It was the most harrowed up experience that I had ever had in my life. … I thought to myself, ‘If this is what the rest of my life is going to be like, I don't even want to be here.’ But I knew that the Lord was trying to tell me something.”
Finally, Raymond walked to an 8-foot by 8-foot storage shed that housed the community phone. In isolation, he pondered the new truths he’d learned from Latter-day Saint scripture as well as an ancient biblical story. “Jonah couldn’t get away either,” Raymond distinctly recalls thinking about the prophet who faced behemoths and great depths after failing to act on what he knew was true.
In that small shed, Raymond prayed. “I prayed that Heavenly Father would let me know, that He would let His will be done, whatever it is,” Raymond says. Within 10 minutes of finishing his prayer, the pain left Raymond’s muscles and joints. That night, Raymond “was instructed by the power of the Holy Ghost, and from the other side of the veil, about what to do to move forward with the gospel in the community.”
“I knew that the gospel of Jesus Christ had come to the Amish community, and I knew that I was the vessel that the Lord had chosen to use for that to happen,” Raymond says. “And I wondered why it had to be me. It was the most intimidating, the most daunting thing that I had ever experienced in my life, but at the same time it was the most joyful thing I had ever experienced in my life.”
Though Raymond didn’t know what would happen or how he would accomplish what he now knew he had to do, he says, “I knew if I followed the Holy Ghost day by day that Heavenly Father would help me navigate through this maze.”
A Nighttime Sacrament
After this experience, Laura Weaver says, “I could see that something was happening to him.” While Raymond often talked with Laura about passages he read in the Book of Mormon—some of which resonated with her, others which confused her—the discussions didn’t feel any different than those they had after Raymond read leadership or business books. But things changed that November. Raymond began teaching his wife in earnest, sharing as much information as he could every day until the Spirit would tell him, “That’s enough.”
As the two continued to learn together, they began meeting with the missionaries at the Proudfoot home.
Though Laura already believed in God, in the Bible, and that Jesus Christ died on the cross for her, the plan of salvation felt overwhelming at first. “We had no knowledge of a preexistence or priesthood authority or the world after this life—it’s a lot to comprehend,” she says. “As Raymond shared that with me, the Spirit didn’t fully hit me that this was true or that [baptism] is what we needed to do. But still, it made so much sense. It comforted me and made me know that we needed to act on this. This isn’t something that we could push aside.”
Because the Weavers had to secretly meet with the missionaries to take the discussions, they tried to cram as many lessons into one sitting as possible. By the second lesson, the missionaries told Laura about the reality of eternal families. “That is when the Spirit overcame me and testified that eternal families were true,” she says.
The Weavers started taking the missionary discussions around Thanksgiving, and on December 22, 2011, they committed to baptism. That evening, Raymond met with the local stake president, President Birch, and mission president, President Nilsen, and shared an unusual prompting he had received: he and Laura should not attend the ward in Mount Vernon and they should not tell their children about their baptism for a time.
Presidents Birch and Nilsen decided to move forward with the baptism while they continued to ponder the situation. On the day after Christmas, four days after their discussion, Raymond received a call on the community phone. “We have figured out what the Lord wants,” Raymond remembers President Birch saying. He and the area mission president, President Nilsen, felt inspired to create a new group in the stake—a group consisting of Laura and Raymond.
On January 3, 2012, Brother and Sister Proudfoot picked up Raymond, Laura, and their newborn baby from their home and drove them to the church. Laura had never stepped foot inside a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse before, she had never seen a baptismal font, and, having spent her whole life in traditional Amish dress, she had never worn a jumpsuit. Everything felt foreign and awkward at first.
But then Laura remembers, “The comfort of the Spirit there and the people there was very amazing to me. The love of these people that were around us, sharing this emotional part of our lives—it all has a very special place in my heart.”
By outside appearances, little had changed for the Weavers. They continued attending Amish worship services, wearing Amish dress, and their children continued to attend Amish school. But on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday evening at around 10 p.m. the leadership from the local ward and sometimes stake and mission president would come to the Weavers home to hold an intimate sacrament meeting as they renewed their covenants with the Lord. From a spiritual perspective, everything had changed for the Weavers.
Spreading the Fire of Faith
Raymond often shared insights from books with his neighbor, Levi Troyer. But when Raymond began talking about a book that professed to be “Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” Levi’s curiosity was piqued, and he asked for a copy.
“After I started reading the Book of Mormon, I was [filled with] this exciting and fulfilling feeling,” Levi says. “I had never experienced anything quite like it before.”
He continues, “One evening when Raymond came to our house, we sat in my office and he felt prompted to tell me that they were baptized and belonged to the Church.” Raymond told Levi about the importance of being baptized by immersion and the proper priesthood authority. “He gave me a ton of information that very evening, and I just didn't know what to make of it,” he says. “If I did something like this, … I knew what was going to happen. If you get shunned, you lose your family members, your parents—in a sense, you lose everything.”
The two talked until past midnight. In the meantime, Levi’s wife, Laura Troyer, put the children to bed alone before crying herself to sleep out of frustration.
“When he came to bed, I woke up crying because I fell asleep that way, and he asked if I wanted to know what he and Raymond were talking about,” Laura remembers.
Levi told Laura everything that he had learned, including that the two of them needed to be baptized by immersion. “When he told me that, I quit crying and I said, ‘I know,’” she recalls. “That was the most peaceful, joyful feeling I’ve ever had, and I just knew that it was true.”
The Troyers were baptized on April 17, 2012, and a new light came into their life. Laura, who experienced anxiety and depression, says, “The gospel—understanding the plan of salvation and having that testimony of Christ—took care of all my anxiety.”
Looking for a New Church to Join
Nighttime sacrament meetings nearly doubled in size as the Troyers began attending, but Raymond continued to pray to know whom he should bring the gospel to next.
“One morning, just before I woke up, I had this vision of two people,” Raymond says. “I woke up immediately, and … the first thought I had was, ‘You need to share the gospel with them.’ This was quite intimidating because they were in a different Amish congregation.”
The people from Raymond’s dream were Mary and Paul Hochstetler—but sharing the gospel brought risks of exposure and excommunication.
Two weeks later, however, Raymond’s sister asked, “Did you know the Hochstetlers are looking for a new Church?” Again, a prompting came that Raymond needed to share the gospel with the Hochstetlers. But the Spirit told him, “Not yet.”
Paul Hochstetler had begun reading books that caused him to question some Amish practices and beliefs. But when he brought these concerns to his Amish bishop, he remembers, “They said, ‘Well, it always was that way.’ And I said, ‘No, I need to know why.’”
When Raymond and Levi Troyer arrived at the Hochstetlers front door, they were anxious to hear about a church that believed in building strong leadership and modeling everything, from its organization to its covenants, after Christ’s teachings.
As Mary and Paul read the Book of Mormon together, they constantly referenced the New Testament, studying the two side-by-side. “We wanted to make sure we knew that they coincided,” Mary says.
Five weeks after being introduced to the gospel, the Hochstetlers were baptized, on June 27, 2012.
Six weeks after the Hochstetlers joined the Church, the converts felt prompted to approach another couple about the gospel, and the couple told the Amish leaders.
“They usually take a year to a year and a half after someone leaves their group until they start the shunning,” Levi says. “It made such a stir and they were so upset that they started the shunning about six weeks after they found out what had happened.”
Shortly after finding out about the Weaver family’s conversion, Laura’s family hired a driver and drove 40 miles to speak with them. “Our children didn’t have anything to do but to linger around and hear the conversation, and it was not a friendly conversation. So this was hard on their young hearts. Their grandparents and their uncles and aunts coming here and saying harsh things to their parents just tore them up,” Laura says through tears.
In August, the Troyers had a similar experience with their family after Laura Troyer’s parents invited Laura and Levi over to their house to meet with the Amish church leaders. Laura and Levi hoped they would be given a chance to explain their choice and offer their testimonies, but as Levi’s parents and some of his siblings arrived, Levi and Laura’s mothers started crying, people began shouting over one another, and the entire discussion dissolved into chaos.
Everything in the confrontation focused blame on the Book of Mormon. Levi distinctly remembers his brother nearly shouting before he left, “Just get that book out of your house tonight. Take it out and burn it. Just get rid of that book.”
But “that book” and the spirit it brought to the Troyers is what offered them peace and refuge during this time.
Levi adds, “There was an added measure of the Spirit. … I don't know how to describe it other than it was like sitting inside a bubble hearing everything that was being said, but they couldn't hurt us,” Levi recalls.
Most of the eight Troyer children were young enough that they didn’t question their parents’ new faith, but the oldest, 14-year-old Orpha, struggled to understand why her parents would risk their salvation and their family relationships to be baptized into another church.
One day, while working with her mother in the family bakery, Orpha asked, “Mom, how can you do this?” Orpha recalls, “She said, ‘I believe that what we’re doing is truly from God. And everything that we’ve heard and done, we’ve known and felt in our hearts that it’s from God.’ … When she said that, something burned in my heart. The Spirit was so strong and testified truth to me in that very moment.” From that day on, the Troyers could weather the storms together, unified as a family.
The Hochstetlers, however, suffered the heartache of watching their family become divided. Though many of their older children were married with children of their own, the Hochstetlers had nine children under the age of 18 living in their home and were planning a wedding that September.
But as the wedding day approached, Paul and Mary noticed that the community and their own children were not pitching in as expected. The Hochstetlers later learned that leaders within the community had told the Hochstetler children that since their parents were not listening to the Amish bishop and church leaders, they did not need to listen to or obey their parents.
Mary remembers one sleepless night when the phrase “You have to talk to the kids” kept running through her mind. The next day, while the older children were away, Mary brought the younger children together and began asking them questions about how they felt about their parents’ new faith. Paul felt a prompting to return home that same morning and was there to share in the conversation.
Paul and Mary discovered that their older children would often tell the younger children that their parents were sinners and that they should move away, outside of their parents’ influence. After that conversation, Paul and Mary kept their younger children close around the clock so that they could protect them from their own siblings.
With the help of a priesthood blessing, the Hochstetlers survived the September wedding. The following Sunday, September 24, 2012, Paul and Mary, along with the Troyers and Weavers, were excommunicated from the Amish faith.
“This was scary,” Raymond says. “Within the thinking of shunning, the Amish would say you were cursed. They shun you. They don't want anything to do with you businesswise. You can't sit and eat with them. You can barely visit with them. They don't want to hear what we believe.”
He continues. “It was mind-numbing, but I knew that if we [were faithful], the Lord would bless us somehow.”
Not only does an Amish community shun those who leave their faith, they also shun those who fail to abide by the rules of shunning, which creates a fear that adds to the rigidity and the isolation. “In their minds, they think of heaven or hell,” Levi explains. “If you go to hell, you're going into actual fire. You're going to burn for eternity, forever, and you’re told that if you are being shunned when Judgment Day comes, then there's no chance of you making it to heaven.”
By that November, three of the Hochstetlers’s teenaged children had moved out of their home. While Paul and Mary felt heartbroken, Mary remembers the question that helped her endure the separation: “Do you love them enough to let them go?”
A few months after the families were excommunicated, Amish school board members arrived with cardboard boxes filled with the Troyer and Weaver children’s belongings, informing them they could no longer attend the school.
Raymond, who owned a furniture store and manufacturing shop run by Amish employees, had to liquidate both businesses. Levi, who owned a construction company with mostly Amish employees, gave his business to his brothers and began working in the family bakery, which lost all its Amish employees. Paul was able to salvage his furniture business, but he similarly lost his employees and had to rely on the patience and good relationships he had with his clients as he began rebuilding.
But the most distressing change for the converts came in the loss of the community and family that had supported them their whole lives. But Laura Weaver testifies, “When I think about it, it’s painful that I can’t see them, but the Spirit helps me remember that someday we can be an eternal family—that keeps me going.”
By October 2012, the group of 24 converts and their children had outgrown the Weaver kitchen, worshipping instead in the Hochstetler woodshop on spare Amish pews in the afternoons. Church meetings gradually expanded to include Relief Society, Primary, elders quorum, and Young Men and Young Women classes. The families also found comfort from members in the nearby ward.
“Without the extra added strength and layers and layers of protection from the Holy Spirit and extreme care, concern, and help from the members of the Mount Vernon Ward, there's no way we could have ever done this,” Levi acknowledges. “I'm sure the Lord knew this. He was very aware of everything that was going on in our lives. He protected us many times and still does to this day.”
After homeschooling their children for a year, the families were delighted when a missionary couple was called on a special assignment to help teach their children in 2013. Over the next three years, three different missionary couples served as teachers in the one-room schoolhouse. Sister JoAnne Price, who taught the children with her husband from 2014 to 2015, noted, “[The children] have a really compatible kind of a quiet understanding that they were all in the same boat. [Yet] every one of the children, every one of the parents have their own paths.”
Wherever the families turned, the Lord was filling their lives with small saving graces.
When Raymond was fasting and pleading to know where to build a new store, it was President Nilsen who mentioned, “You know, that old barn would make a great furniture store.” When he began searching for ways to finance the renovations, a ward member who was an accountant provided a solution. When he was preparing to open his new store, it was a Church member from Tennessee who helped Raymond purchase inventory.
“It was just amazing how the Lord helped us every step of the way, even though it seemed at times like all the opposition was stacked against us,” Raymond says.
Levi experienced similar miracles after a couple gave his family their old car, which proved integral in rebuilding his construction business. Paul has also been able to grow his furniture business after employees from Deseret Book heard his family’s story and began selling his products in their stores.
And while each family and individual’s story has been different, each has seen the way technology can open new opportunities, if used with the principles of the gospel. After stepping foot inside a cell phone store for the first time, Raymond walked away with a flip phone, too intimidated by the smartphones and countless options available. But over time, all three families have slowly integrated technology into their lives. From the practical to the spiritual, the Weavers, Troyers, and Hochstetlers have been able to use principles from their Amish upbringing and their current faith to use media for good.
As time wore on, the converts’ relationships with their extended families began to improve, along with their financial situation.
“There has been a lot of softening of hearts over these six and a half years now,” Levi notes.
Laura Troyer recalls how one day she ached to see her parents and prayed for some reason to visit them. “That very next day we got two letters in the mail that were addressed to my parents,” Laura says. Those letters turned into a pleasant visit and a small step in rebuilding relationships.
The Hochstetlers noted how their older children recently invited them to a family dinner. “It was out of the blue,” Paul says. “It blew my mind because we are not supposed to eat with them.” Over the years the Hochstetlers have respected their older children’s choices to live the Amish faith and are careful not to cross any boundaries, which has helped build a bridge of common ground.
After worshipping together in the woodshop for three years, the specially created group of Amish converts was incorporated into the local ward. At the time, they had more than 35 converts and 70 people attending sacrament meetings. Of those converts, three have now served or are currently serving missions.
Over the past seven years, the Hochstetler, Troyer, and Weaver families have been able to be sealed together as eternal families and enjoy the peace the temple brings into their lives.
A year after losing her father, Laura Troyer kept thinking of his life and wondering if she should approach her mother about completing his temple work. “All the sudden it was like he was all around me, saying, ‘I am ready. I am ready to have my work done,’” she says. During a family trip to the temple to perform his work, Laura says, “We all just knew he was there. He was ready.”
For Mary, many of the ordinances in the temple feel familiar. From the clothing to the wording, Mary sees parallels between her old faith and the new. But this time, Mary understands where those traditions come from and how they draw us nearer to our Savior, Jesus Christ.
While Mary notes that her and the other families’ faith journeys are unique, she often affirms that “We’re not any more special than anybody else.” She understands that each person’s path of conversion is remarkable.
Raymond recognizes, “In spite of all the opposition, the Lord wanted us to stay here and to prove to the [Amish community] that we could flourish. … I know that the gospel has come to the Amish community.”
Laura Weaver adds, “Just from being in this community, they see the joy and the lightness of our path.” About the shunning and isolation she experienced, she says, “I wouldn't want to go back and redo it, but if that's the only way that I could have the gospel, I absolutely would. It is the most priceless possession—the testimony that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live.”