A Personal Choice

Photos by Clay Scott

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December 11, 2011

North Harlem Colony, Montana

Clay Scott
CLAY SCOTT: You’re listening to Mountain West Voices. I’m Clay Scott. Last spring I visited with Eli HofeR. He’s the pastor of the North Harlem Hutterite colony in north central Montana. One of the things Eli talked about was how to maintain 500-year old Hutterite traditions while still allowing freedom of personal choice. I stopped by North Harlem again the other day, and I met Eli’s son, Jacob. He’s back at the colony after having made what for a Hutterite was a pretty radical personal choice.

JACOB HOFER: I was third brigade, second ID, fifth battalion, 20th infantry regiment. I was a medic for second platoon A-Co. I was deployed to Iraq from August 4 of 2009 till July 24 of 2010.

SCOTT: Hutterites are…as I understand it they’re pacificists?

HOFER: Roger. Yes. Their doctrine teaches kind of like the Quakers. They are a pacifistic society…

SCOTT: So isn’t that a contradiction for you to join the military?

HOFER: Well, this goes back to..it is against Hutterite doctrine to join – voluntarily join – the military, but the Hutterites, especially this North Harlem colony, somewhat teaches you to make your own choices, because they don’t…they want people – they want smart people to make their own choices that benefit the colony…

I was 19 years old, kind of like ten foot tall and bullet proof, almost, you know. Invincible, you know, all that teenage mind-set that you go through. So it was challenging, I was scared a couple of times, you know, away from home for the first time, especially from a Hutterite colony, you know, you’re always so close, and you always have people near you, and family, ‘cause you live together, right? And you left that, and you don’t have that, like…instantly you don’t have that anymore.

There were some times especially where there were some scenarios and situations while deployed where there were some gunshots and some explosions and stuff – you were scared. And once adrenaline took over, and you carried through, you pushed through, and that night you tried to sleep, and you’re laying in bed, and you’re like ‘what the heck am I doing?’ you know. And then you just couldn’t wait to get home. And you thought of home. And you were homesick. It was just…it was rough.

(SCOTT) When you were homesick and thought of home, what images came to mind?

(HOFER) Where I was at in Iraq there was no snow. I never saw snow. I grew up, you know, northern Montana. We get feet of snow. Feet of snow. You know. And we’d always go sledding and everything. And I always remember as a little kid, there was four of us and we’d always, always, every morning after German school, we’d take off, take our sleds and go down, and just go sledding all day. And I’d always think about, you know, the whole colony being together, doing something. And it just…I just…that’s what I missed the most. I guess.

The support that I got from this community was so amazing and so awesome, that I attribute my successful transition from a soldier to civilian…to them. The support that I received here was…if I wouldn’t have had that, I’d be in some rough shape right now. I was an alcoholic – big time – I drank a lot. I needed something to cope with…and then I came back here to this community and the love and the support that they had for me, it just changed my world, and it was so amazing, and they saved my life, actually.

Experiences that I had in Iraq, and in the military, have shown me that life is extremely…that it can be taken from you so fast. I just look at every situation on the colony like…I enjoy, savor every day…and I don’t want it to be over…


You’ve been listening to Jake Hofer on the North Harlem Hutterite colony. This is Mountain West Voices. Our series is produced in association with the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, a regional studies and public education program of the University of Montana. Additional support was provided by the Greater Montana Foundation. For more stories from the Rocky Mountain West, go to mountainwestvoices.org.

I’m Clay Scott.