Carolyn Heggen New Sister Care Co-Facilitator

Women leaders hope to translate, contextualize materials for other cultures.

by Heidi Martin for Mennonite Women USA

Carolyn Holderread Heggen, psychotherapist specializing in women’s issues, trauma recovery and healing, has accepted a role as co-facilitator of Mennonite Women USA’s (MW USA) Sister Care.

During the past year she provided leadership in the revision and expansion of the manual and seminar, collaborating with Rhoda Keener and Ruth Lapp Guengerich.

“Sister Care brings together the best of our theology and psychological understandings in practical ways that are accessible for lay women,” Heggen says. “It provides training women can use for their own healing and as they reach out to help others.”

Heggen and Keener, MW USA executive director, co-presented the Sister Care seminar in Franklin Conference Feb. 4-5 at Marion Mennonite Church, Chambersburg, Pa. About 80 women attended from six Mennonite Church USA conferences as well as six local denominations, including Presbyterian, Brethren in Christ, United Brethren, Catholic and Baptist churches.

During the five-year development and testing stage of Sister Care, seminars were held in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Colorado, Ohio, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Iowa—each hosted by local Mennonite Women leaders.

“Providing a resource to equip lay women has been a central goal for Mennonite Women USA,” Keener says.

At the heart of the seminar is work women are invited to do with their own story as they identify places where God’s grace and healing have transformed loss and grief.

“What touched me was how accessible the concepts were made for ordinary women,” says participant Freda Neil. “The seminar validated what I have experienced in ministry —that my story of brokenness and God’s transformation can help others.”

“The most helpful part of the teaching for me was learning how it is possible to help others change their ‘toxic’ stories to healing stories,” Neil adds. “As we listen, we can ask questions that encourage others to see God’s presence in their journeys. At the closing anointing service, I asked to have my ears and my heart anointed so that I can listen from my heart. Compassionate listening is truly spiritual work.”

Keener is delighted that Heggen will be a primary co-presenter of Sister Care for the next two years.

“Heggen brings decades of commitment to the church working with women’s issues as well as a strong academic and clinical background,” Keener says. “Her teaching and care for women’s healing and wholeness are a great gift.”

Heggen has lived and worked in Latin America, Pakistan and Nepal and has traveled extensively, speaking and doing workshops.

While serving with Mennonite Central Committee, she was head of pastoral care and counseling for the ecumenical United Mission to Nepal. Since then she has provided trauma counseling training for local people to do community trauma healing work following the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia and other areas of disaster.

Heggen is the author of Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches, which has also been translated into Spanish. She has offered workshops on family violence and healing throughout Canada, the United States, Latin America and in other countries.

“One of the things I find very satisfying is that I continue to be able to mentor and support women around the world,” Heggen says. “These relationships are already bringing requests to share Sister Care resources and training internationally.”

Keener and Heggen envision inviting women from other cultures to contextualize the material and make it appropriate for use in their setting.

Sister Care seminars are being scheduled for 2011 and 2012. This fall, seminars will be offered in Illinois, South Dakota, Florida and Kansas, with others in process.

Plans are underway to have the manual translated and contextualized for use among Hispanic women. Attending the Franklin seminar in February were Wanda Gonzalez Coleman, who will provide the translation work, and Elizabeth Soto Albrecht and Sandra Perez, who will assist as consultants. Heggen speaks Spanish and will work with Latina sisters to facilitate the seminars in Spanish.

“Sister Care is revolutionary,” Perez says. “What came to me is that there are other women who have the same story as mine. I thought I was the only one experiencing the suffering. If there are two of us, there are thousands. This is cutting edge.”

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