Vietnamese-American couple quits modern life

By Phan Duong   July 6, 2023 | 03:33 pm PT
John Lapp, an Amish man whose community refuses to live in the modern world, believes that his encounter with his Vietnamese wife was pure destiny.

According to John, 39, a resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, there are currently over 300,000 Amish people pursuing their old-time lifestyle in the U.S.

They avoid using digital devices including TVs, computers and mobile phones, and they travel by horse-drawn carriages.

They self-produce most of what they need in an attempt to ensure that external forces don’t create distance between themselves.

Before committing to this way of life, young Amish have a "rumspringa" period, during which they can explore and experience the outside world. They can freely use modern technological devices and enjoy the convenience brought by such things, including cars, films and gadgets.

After rumspringa, young Amish are free to choose whether or not they want to follow the old Amish rules or leave the community.

John says that around 15% of people choose to quit the Amish life after their rumspringa period, including himself.

"It’s a hard decision," he says, as quitting the Amish lifestyle means cutting off contact with one’s family, friends, and communities.

John left his Amish community in 2018, before finding a job at a company, making friends, and traveling by airplane for the first time ever.

A friend of his then introduced him to a Vietnamese woman named Nguyen Yen Nhi.

"We found many things in common as we talked, but we simply thought we had made friends," 35-year-old Nhi says.

Lapp, Nhi, and their first child David taking a photo during the 2022 Tet Lunar New Year. photo courtesy of Lapp and Nhi

John, Nhi, and their first child David during the 2022 Tet Lunar New Year Festival. photo courtesy of John and Nhi

Nhi was working for a project helping poor children in Cambodia when they met. John found himself interested in what Nhi was doing as he had been supporting children in need through charity organizations for years.

It was through her friendship with John that Nhi first learned about the Amish community.

After getting closer as friends, every time John traveled, he sent photos to Nhi.

"We got so close we trusted each other with our deepest secrets, pains, and hurt," Nhi recalls.

Sometime in early-2019, John confessed: "I thought of you as a friend, but as time passed by, I grew to have feelings for you. Do you want to be my girlfriend?"

Nhi never thought about marrying a foreigner, as she wanted to stay in Vietnam to take care of her parents and older brother. But John was the first man that made her feel safe and secure.

"John burst into tears when I said I agreed," she says.

John arrived in Vietnam a month later.

When he first visited Nhi’s hometown in the southern Mekong Delta of Kien Giang, he accidentally saw an argument among Nhi’s family members. The fight made Nhi sad and embarrassed but John said he felt even closer to Nhi afterwards. He decided to propose to her on his last day in Vietnam just before he returned to America.

"Both of us have been through painful events," he said. "I believe we will both be determined to build a happy ever after family because of that."

Lapp and Nhi welcomed David in December 2020. Photo courtesy of Lapp and Nhi

John and Nhi welcomed David in December 2020. Photo courtesy of John and Nhi

Throughout the same year, he visited Vietnam five more times before the couple held an engagement ceremony. Nhi came to the U.S. and the couple then had a simple, intimate wedding party in February 2020.

They moved to the town of Crossville in Tennessee a year after their wedding. Their land was in the middle of a primeval forest and the couple had to do everything from hunt food to chop firewood.

The now husband-and-wife cut down the trees, built their house, planted vegetables, dug a pond, and made a water tank on their own.

Their isolated lifestyle also helps the couple better appreciate each other.

To Nhi, John is an admirable husband, as he always thinks about her and their son David, even if that means he has to drive 10 hours straight to get to his company from their house.

"Many have asked me how we could be so confident staying in a build-it-ourselves house," she says. "But I trust him,’ Nhi says of her husband.

From John’s point of view, Nhi is a talented, hardworking, and strong woman. She sells things at her counter at the local market during the day and takes her time to clean their house and retouch photos and videos for their social media channels at night.

"I left the community not for the outside world, but for her," John says.

The American-Vietnamese couple says they will maintain Amish rituals that they still value, including family-oriented beliefs, consumption of self-produced food, and traditional medicine.

"Amish people don’t apply for allowances from the government," John shares. "We will pay our taxes if we have stable income in the future, but we will not receive government allowances."

Amish culture also prevents its people from getting divorce, and thus, John and Nhi have never mentioned that since their marriage, even in cases of discord.

The now 2.5-year-old David collects lavenders with Nhi in their family garden in late-June, 2023. Photo courtesy of Lapp and Nhi

2.5-year-old David collects lavenders in their family garden in late-June, 2023. Photo courtesy of John and Nhi

John has also introduced Nhi to his mother and siblings. Nhi says when they first met shortly after she came to the U.S., her mother-in-law seemed not too fond of her because of Nhi’s manicures. But their relationship improved after David was born. John’s mother now follows her son and daughter-in-law’s life with the help of social media and an American neighbor.

The Amish woman once asked the couple if they had a TV in their new household. When John responded no, she seemed happy because her son still preserved at least one of the traditional Amish values.

During a recent call, she told the couple that she watched videos of them building their house, gardening, and working at the local market.

"She said she was proud because I assisted John in everything, just like an Amish woman," Nhi says. "I hope John can reconnect with his family and community in the near future."

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