They’re Just Normal People

Kim Swigut shares insights from her visit to the Fox Hill Bruderhof

Video transcript:

My name is Kim Swigut. My husband, Wayne, and I are both retired. About eighteen months ago, we felt like the Lord was telling us to simplify, so we sold the house and the cars and most of our possessions, and we moved full time on the boat.

Wayne has always been interested in the Mennonites and the Amish, and our pastor in Rochester asked if we’d ever heard of the Bruderhof. Wayne said, “No, never heard of them.” And our pastor – he’s a Vineyard pastor – goes, “Well, I get their magazine, the Plough.” So he started passing along copies of the magazine, and that’s how we learned about the Bruderhof. We first came to visit in November 2016 to Platte Clove in the Catskills; we spent two nights and thought, “Nope, not for us.”

Still, we continued to think about the Bruderhof. We looked at the website, we watched some of the YouTube videos and read more in the magazine, and we thought, “You know what, there’s truth here. There’s something about this.” We weren’t really knowledgeable about social justice, and the magazines really opened our eyes to a lot of those issues.

But Wayne and I were never the type of people to seek community, or so we thought, so we moved onto the boat and went south for a winter, and cruised up and down the east coast for a while. We really thought we’d do ministry that way; we tried to connect with local churches. But the issue was they didn’t know us, and we were only there for a few days and every time we asked if we could help, we were told, “No, we’re good. Thanks.” So though we really enjoyed the traveling and meeting the people we didn’t really feel like we were doing ministry like we wanted to, serving other people. And it started feel like one long vacation and not really what we had hoped. It felt like it had become very self-centered.

We decided we needed to know more about the Bruderhof. We really wanted to know, who are these people? What brought them here? So in January 2018 we spent ten days at Spring Valley, a community in Farmington, Pennsylvania. We told our host family that we wanted to talk to as many people as we could. We met people at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and more in between! I mean, we heard so many stories that at the end of our visit our brains were whirling. Later we realized that the visit to Spring Valley was mostly social. What was it like just to live here and work here? So we came to Fox Hill, a community Walden, New York in November 2019 and we’ve really enjoyed it so far.

The most surprising thing about the Bruderhof is that they’re normal people. I couldn’t believe it. I mean when you see the kerchiefs and the long skirts, you kind of automatically think, “Oh, those poor, oppressed women,” but it’s not like that at all. It’s just women that are trying to abide by the scriptures (I mean, it does say it in there, in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians).

They’re just normal people. They go through the same struggles that we do. They’re seeking Christ; they make mistakes and they fully admit that. We’ve heard a lot of great stories and about incidents that have really tugged at our heartstrings. We’ve been able to share with them things about ourselves that have been meaningful to them. It’s just like going into any other congregation. They are a church. They seek really hard just to be a church.

Another thing that comes to mind when you just look from the outside is what you’ve heard about “cults.” They are not a cult. For one thing, the Bruderhof really seeks to reach out to their community at large and to the world. They have communities all over the world, and they reach out in a local way. Every Saturday night here in Fox Hill, there’s dinner for the public, everyone’s invited. Come and get it! It’s great. And they go to Bible studies; they’re very involved in prison ministry. I know at Spring Valley, the young men there work very closely with the volunteer fire department. So there’s a lot that they do locally and then they are there in times of disaster. They work with other organizations to send some of their young people out to help with refugees – immigrants at the border, hurricane disaster relief. So it’s not an inward focus. It’s an outward focus as well. They want people to come to know Jesus, and that’s what Wayne and I want, to know Jesus better and to help other people to know him.

The hardest thing for me was sharing a kitchen because we do a lot of community meals! We usually eat together in the main dining hall, but in those few times when we’re actually making a meal just for us, this entire house, which is one, two, three, four, five families, shares a kitchen. I should say two – there’s an upstairs kitchen and a downstairs kitchen, but only one mixer for the entire house. So over Christmas, that was really something to overcome. But anyway, doesn’t it sound silly that that would be the hardest thing for me? Now for my husband, I believe, you know, he’s been retired for six or seven years now and getting back into a schedule [has been challenging]. Now, he loves work. We both love work. We love the work that we’ve been doing in the factory. We’ve been working with Community Playthings, building the Outlast blocks and also the hollow blocks and all different kinds of things, and we enjoy that work.

Kim Swigut explains why the Bruderhof is not a cult

What else has been hard? I always had a very sedentary type job. I worked as an administrative assistant in various capacities and most of that was very sedentary. So I love being up and active, but I also love . . . isn’t it funny how this question went from what’s hard to what I really love? But what I love is the fact that everything that I do, be it sweeping a floor or washing a dish, it’s not for me, it’s for the community and it’s serving others.

I would definitely recommend a visit to my friends and family. The thing is, when we came, especially this third time, we actually got a lot of pushback from friends and family and as we’ve been here for this longer period of several months, there are things that I know our friends and family care very deeply about, and the people here care very deeply about those same things.

And I think that they would really enjoy their time here. The conversations that we had, the time out in nature. It’s really been a very good time to get to know the people here, enjoy nature, do a little work with your hands, do something a little physical, and have some frank discussions about what’s going on in the world and how we bring Jesus into that.

The reason why we’re leaving: Well, we’ve had a couple of medical issues that have cropped up, so we’re actually leaving sooner than we wanted to. We had hoped to spend more time here. So actually it’s just our last few days and it’s kind of sad because I’m going to miss the friendships. I’m going to miss the camaraderie. I’m going to miss all the meetings and the community dinners and the fun times. The thought of going back to the life that we led, as much as we loved being on the boat, as much as we loved our freedom, we really love to serve. And so there’s a lot of thoughts going on in our minds. Can we take some of what we’ve learned here and put it to practical use outside?

Because one of the things that everyone here has stressed is that living in community is not easy. That’s why you take a vow. It’s the same thing as marriage because you make that promise to God, not just to the other people, and you need strength and more importantly, you need to be called. You need to feel that the Holy Spirit is calling you to this lifestyle. And if you have that call, then it doesn’t matter. All the other stuff, it doesn’t matter, because God will make a way. He’ll provide a way. He’ll lead you by faith and by grace to build community with these people and to reach out to the world and to serve each other and love each other and to follow Christ as best you can.

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