Sister Care Spreads to Guatemala

This article originally appeared in The Mennonite April 2013 written by Claire DeBerg

Left to right: Rhoda Keener, Olga Piedrasanta, Carolyn Heggen, Ofelia Garcia. Keener and Heggen transferred Sister Care leadership responsibilities in Mexico to Piedrasanta and Garcia in February. Photo by Karen Flores.

Rhoda Keener, co-director of Mennonite Women USA, and Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist and teacher, returned from the Sister Care Guatemala Seminar they led together for 61 women Feb. 11-15.

It was the first of three Sister Care seminar events slated for Central and South America. What made this trip so poignant was both the impact of the first Spanish Sister Care manual and the passing of the Sister Care leadership torch for the upcoming seminar in Mexico. SC Guatemala welcomed women from eight countries: Bolivia, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico and Guatemala.

Gloria Chacón of Costa Rica says: “The training took place amid powerful stories of pain. Many tears were shed, and there was an opportunity to think deeply about important issues, such as accepting ourselves as beloved of God, taking care of and understanding ourselves, learning to set boundaries, listening with compassion and managing stress. It was a healing space for many of us.”

Each country representative requested Spanish manuals to take back with her to continue the Sister Care seminar teachings at home. Over 800 Spanish Sister Care manuals were sent along. Two more translation projects sprouted from the new Spanish manuals as well: a translation into Kek’chi (a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala) and a Panamanian manual that will rely heavily on pictures and images, since many of the women recipients are illiterate.

“We feel so very good about the seminar,” Heggen says, “with such participatory, warm women who are grateful for the contextualized Spanish manuals and who told us over and over how much they have learned and will share with women in their churches and communities.”

SEMILLA, the Latin American Anabaptist Seminary, hosted the SC Guatemala event, where pastoral care professor Olga Piedrasanta was the event organizer. Piedrasanta secured funding from Mennonite Central Committee to help women travel to Guatemala from South America and Central America. The Sister Care leadership torch was passed from Keener and Heggen to Piedrasanta and Ofelia Garcia. Garcia is one of Mennonite Women USA’s International Women’s Fund recipients.

“I experienced something different among us,” Garcia says, “new courage and energy to continue breaking new ground. Beside us stands our sister, friend and companion, also taking up the challenges of the kingdom of God. Each is so different and yet we have so many things in common. This space was used to heal pain, express things that perhaps had been stored for a long time. It was a space created with freedom and confidence. The greatest impact of Rhoda and Carolyn has been open hearts, speaking from their own experiences, without masks.”

On the last day of the seminar series, Keener and Heggen trained Piedrasanta and Garcia for leading the seminar in Mexico. “The handing over of leadership for Mexico to these two Central American women is really powerful,” Keener says. In a pinning ceremony, Heggen and Keener removed their Sister Care pins and pinned them to the blouses of Piedrasanta and Garcia. Then the four women prayed.

Piedrasanta and Garcia will present Sister Care May 24-25 in Chihuahua, Mexico, and pass the gift to the next group of women. SC Guatemala was a ministry made available through funding from Mennonite Women USA, Schowalter Foundation, Mennonite Central Committee and the Latin America Committee of the Council of International Anabaptist Ministries.

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