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Ex-Hutterites tell their story

These nine ex-Hutterites left their colonies seven years ago. In the back row, from left, are Darlene Waldner, Sheryl Waldner, Cindy Waldner, Karen Waldner, Jason Waldner and Junia Waldner; in the front row, from left, are Titus Waldner, Glenda Maendel and Rodney Waldner. (Photo courtesy of Risen Son Publishing)

Restriction and oppression drove nine ex-Hutterites to leave their colonies seven years ago, they say.

Now they have discovered joy in their faith, which has inspired them to found a publishing company and write a book describing their struggles.

The nine -- sisters Cindy, Junia and Karen Waldner, brothers Jason and Titus Waldner, brother and sisters Rodney, Darlene and Sheryl Waldner, and Glenda Maendel -- recall similar instances from their childhoods of exclusion, abuse and more. Each wrote an account of living at and leaving a colony for the book "Hutterites: Our Story to Freedom." Seven of the nine now live in Rolla, N.D., and two live in Killarney, Manitoba, Canada, about a half-hour north of Rolla.

Junia, Karen, Jason and Rodney visited South Dakota recently promoting their book.

"I look at it as God blessed us and provided for us," Rodney said of leaving the colony. "We love God. We love the Hutterite people. There's no reason for us to lie in the book. It is the truth. There's no gain or benefit for us to lie in the book."

They wrote the book, they said, to let others know there is a way to escape oppression they may suffer and that there is life outside the colony.

Hutterites live in a communal fashion. There are about 60 colonies in South Dakota. The majority live in Canada, but they also live in North Dakota, Minnesota and a few other states. There are about 45,000 Hutterites.

When the nine left their colonies, they found people who took them in and showed them how to live life in the "English" world. They also taught them more about living as the Bible teaches and how to rejoice in life, rather than hide emotions and only work and live for the colony.

"The biggest thing missing was love," Junia said of living in a colony. "I don't ever remember someone saying they love me."

Karen, Jason and Rodney agreed, saying even their parents didn't hug them or say, "I love you."

Junia said the way Hutterites live separates families -- children and adults eat separately each day, and men sit on one side of the room at church and women on the other, to name some examples.

The children are restricted in school to learning certain things, Karen said.

Jason added that he had no motivation to excel in school, because he was expected to quit at 15 and work for the colony, which he did.

"We live life, go to work, follow the crowd," he said.

Each had no personal ambitions while living in a colony, encountered cases of abuse, were depressed, and felt bullied into remaining in the colony or risk going to Hell.

Rodney's father was excommunicated from the colony for expressing his born-again Christian faith.

"It wasn't anything weird. It's what we believe," Rodney said. "But Hutterites don't speak about it."

Junia and Karen said the group is mostly frustrated with the Hutterite system that's hurting its own people.

They admit not all colonies are the same, but they wrote the book for those who feel trapped in situations like their own.

Since they left, Jason and Rodney have created a successful construction business while Junia and Karen run a cleaning business. They also use their time to share the Bible and Jesus' teachings with others, which they say they wouldn't have been able to do while living in a colony.

"This book is not even touching just Hutterites, but it's for anyone dealing with issues like oppression," Jason said. "It shows that Jesus is the way out."

A survey of some Hutterite colonies in the Mitchell area shows that some have heard of the book so far, but have not read it. One colony member said many books about Hutterites have been published, some that are true and some that are not true.

Alvin Waldner, minister at Grass Ranch Hutterite Colony near Kimball, said he's heard of the book but hasn't read it.

He said Hutterites do not force anyone to stay in a colony. If someone wants to leave or doesn't want to follow a colony's rules, that member can leave, he said.

Alvin Waldner said Hutterite colonies have their own trials and tribulations, but there's a lot of forgiveness. He added that many who leave colonies are finding an excuse to make themselves feel better, but never find peace.

The book, "Hutterites: Our Story to Freedom," is available at the Readers Den bookstore in Mitchell.