Q&A With Elizabeth Byler Younts

Elizabeth YountsCarrie: Elizabeth, in The Promise of Sunrise series, all three books address some aspect of how WWII affected the Amish. I personally found this bit of history extremely fascinating when I read the series. Can you explain why the draft was such a dilemma for the Amish and how some were able to work around it?

Elizabeth: First, thank you so much for having me and for reading the series. Calling it extremely fascinating has pretty much made my week so—again, thank you.

The greatest dilemma was in the taking of a human life. The Amish take the commandment of Thou Shalt Not Kill even into war and believe that it is not for them to send someone else into eternity. As far as the draft—there was actually a great deal of politics involved because of the policy for conscientious objectors (COs) during World War 1. COs who were drafted only had the option of going as a noncombatant or go to jail. By the 1930s both the churches involved with the CO movement and the government were ready to work together to find a better solution.

The Civilian Public Service (CPS) was created as alternative service. The Amish didn’t work around the draft but they, as well as the Mennonites, Brethren, Jehovah’s Witness and several other churches, were drafted like all eligible American men. Because they were registered as a CO they were given an alterative option.

I personally never learned this in my school history class but rather through my grandpa’s stories. I am so glad to share some of these stories in my series.

Carrie: You come from an Amish background, and I know that your family history influenced the Promise series. How did WWII affect your family at the time?

Elizabeth: The greatest affect was on my Daudy (grandpa). He was drafted and served in two camps. The first camp was more of a labor camp and at the second unit he served as an aide in a mental institution. He didn’t talk about it often and we would hear the same three or four stories over and over again over the years. When I started doing research for the series, years after his death, it was clear why he didn’t talk about it—because working in the mental institutions in this era was gruesome and even traumatic work.

I dug deep into research and learned things even specifically about the hospital my Daudy worked in and I was shocked at what he would likely have seen and experienced within those walls. At the same time, I’m so thankful that he was able to have an alternative service during wartime. He did some very difficult work, but still he was physically safe and he was able to return home after service, unlike many of the military who never returned home after being sent overseas in World War 2.

Carrie: Which characters in The Promise of Sunrise series most reflect your grandparents’ experiences?

Elizabeth: I’ve mentioned my Daudy in the previous question. His experiences were hugely influential to me. But also in book 2 I was very inspired by my cousin who fell in love with a devout Catholic girl. Without giving away the ending of Promise to Cherish, that book blends my Daudy’s CPS experiences with my cousin’s romance during his young years.

Book 3, Promise to Keep, was most inspired by an Amish cousin’s daughter, who is deaf, and my mother, Esther, who has been a deaf interpreter for many years. I loved that connection and wanted to explore what that might look like in another era and adding in a Marine with PTSD.

Carrie: You are also an Air Force officer’s wife. What is the best part about being married to a military hero? What is the most difficult?

Elizabeth: I love my husband and his devotion to our country. We met as teens and it was clear early on that he was a man of integrity. In his years of active duty, during deployment, and now in the Air National Guard he never goes half way and never just goes through the motions. He is a hero to me. It’s hard for me to say what was the most difficult because it feels disloyal to the military life. I didn’t love all the moving around every few years and I wasn’t crazy about long-term separations from a deployment or training. But I think I personally felt a great deal of stress to rush into life with every move for me and my daughters. Rush to find a home. Rush to find a circle of friends. Rush to find a church, doctor, hairdresser…etc. This was difficult for me.

But in the same breath I have to smile because with those rushes we have experienced so much joy and love. I have friends all over the world who I’ve studied deep Bible truths with, who I cried with through joys and sorrows, who we’ve celebrated with, and those people were truly a lifeline so many times. Every time we changed churches we had the opportunity to grow with a new set of faithful men and women. My husband left active duty recently but is a Lt. Colonel serving in the Air National Guard, because of this my youngest daughter doesn’t remember the active duty military life but my oldest does and she has an incredible maturity when it involves change—which we called adventure. She’s incredibly flexible and is a loyal friend. I have to say, that I’m simply thankful for our time in active duty and in the Air National Guard and I have the greatest respect for all military families.

Carrie: What is the number one thing that a military family needs from its church family?

Elizabeth: What a great question. I’m going to speak from a personal perspective but I imagine I’m not the only one who felt this way—but I wanted so much to feel like I authentically belonged with a group of ladies. I just can’t say enough about hospitality and authentic conversation and interest. When someone is actually interested in me and my family beyond learning what my husband’s rank is, I’m thankful! The times where I’ve felt the most connected with a local church members were usually outside of church and looked a little like these two examples.

1-Being comfortable enough to text a friend or two to meet up for a quick lunch somewhere.

2-When that friend has a loss or difficulty and they call you for support and you’re able to help.

Of course, we know this doesn’t happen overnight and it takes some time to build history with new people, but ultimately I think many military families want that give and take that comes with participating in real life with our local, nonmilitary and military friends. We don’t want to be peripheral to the local church. We don’t want to be seen as a temporary friend.

To learn more about Elizabeth and her books, visit her website or connect with her on FaceBook.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *