Former WI man finds acceptance after leaving Amish family

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
John Shrock pictured in 2017.

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — John Shrock was 17 when he decided to flee his Amish community in Wisconsin after facing the pressure of "constantly trying to live up to perfection."

Shrock, now living in North Dakota, grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm in an Amish community says he's found the acceptance he's been searching for after leaving his family.

"If you want to go to heaven, you have to be a good Amish kid," Shrock, now 24, told KVRR-TV . "So I tried to be the best."

Being Amish

Shrock came from very strict Old Order Amish—no technology, no electricity, using horses and buggies with "tons of rules about what color the buggies could be," Shrock wrote on his website, 

"I honestly didn't hate being Amish until I was about 16 years old," Shrock explained on the website. 

John Shrock enjoying life away from his Amish roots.

He started to "think like a teen" and didn't want to comply with the "thousands of rules that you constantly had to listen to." He was "sick of not being good enough." The tipping point came after a fight with his father. 

"One morning that spring, while I was plowing a field, I hit a rock that made the plow jump out of the furrow. My dad was right behind me and said, “If I had been doing that, I could have done a much better job.” I didn’t doubt that he could have," Shrock explained. "He was my dad. Of course he could have done better than me. However, I was extremely angry at him for saying this and called him a großkopf (directly translated “big head”, or someone who thinks very highly of themselves- prideful – and is very offensive to the Amish)."

When Shrock came in from the field for lunch, his father was standing there with a belt in his hand and told Shrock, "If you think you know everything, you need to whip me."

It was the worst punishment Shrock had ever faced. Emotionally, he was tortured and despised his dad and the Amish religion even more.

He wrestled with thoughts of leaving the Amish, knowing if he stayed and joined the church, the punishments would get even worse, abhorring himself for thinking such thoughts. 

"I couldn't believe I wanted to leave the Amish," Shrock wrote. "I had to be awful to think like that."

After several months, he gave up and the night before he turned 17, he decided to leave. 

"I had enough. I was done," he wrote.

I left

Shrock left on July 11, 2011, leaving a note that simply said, "I left," and ran for the woods. He slept in an abandoned barn for a night. He didn't know where he was going, only that it was away from the Amish. He had no food, clothing or money and knew he would need to find a job. 

A farmer drove Shrock to Hillsboro, Wisconsin, and he was eventually taken in by a man who had also left his Amish community.

There was no photo of that day he left or of his Amish childhood, growing up on a dairy farm, the fourth of 11 children, helping at a very young age with chores like cleaning the barn and feeding calves. His first photo came three days after he walked away from his family. 

The man who had taken Shrock in had left the Amish 15 years before Shrock and someone had taken him in. 

"So I guess he was just doing it for me now the same way they had done it for him," Shrock told KVRR-TV.

John Shrock's license plate is a reminder of the note he left his Amish family in Wisconsin to start a new life in North Dakota.

The man and his family took Shrock in, shared the Gospel with him, took him to church and eventually adopted Shrock. They taught him how to navigate the modern world. He later attended Master's Baptist College in Fargo.

Shrock said he's found the acceptance he's been longing for from his adoptive family and his friends.

"I can be honest about who I am and never put on a show," he said.

Outside world

Shrock said the most difficult part about leaving the Amish community was learning English. Pennsylvania Dutch was his first language.

As a child, Shrock had been told how horrible the outside world was—that it was bad— and he had no idea what he was getting himself into. 

Now he's thankful he left and ventured into the "amazing, comparatively speaking" outside world where he has a cell phone, drives a car and has enjoyed trying new activities that he had never experienced before.

"You can just do fun things," he said. "Going bowling ... I didn't know what bowling was."

John Shrock enjoying life.

However, he said he's not ungrateful for some things the Amish have as well. 

"They have amazing food (my mother was an amazing cook), and they also have a better sense of being together as a community where they do things together and you feel more a part of everyone there," Shrock wrote. "I still miss some of those things now, but one thing I knew when I was leaving is that doing that would immediately cut off ties with my family."

He has seen his family since he left and his mom writes to him periodically. Visits with his family are about once a year he explained in a video. 

Shrock started his website and John Shrock I Left, LLC, in the hope of reaching out to others. He plans to write a book eventually with the vision of helping Amish boys his age who want to leave the Amish. 

Shrock believes Amish youth are leaving in greater numbers now compared to 20 0r 30 years ago. 

"It's a lot easier to leave now," Shrock explained in a video.

Some communities have started rumspringa where youth can test out what it's like to leave the Amish community. 

"That's been another gateway to allow them to leave," Shrock explained in a video, but there are very few communities that allow that practice. 

"The more people that leave, the easier it is to leave because those of us who have left want to help those that do [want to leave]," added Shrock.  

The Associated Press contributed to this story.