Andean Anabaptist Women Pastor Each Other

This originally appeared from Mennonite World Conference October 2013.

Women from several Andean countries participate in a session of “Caring for ourselves and each other among women,” facilitated by Carolyn Holderread Heggen and Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, of Mennonite Women USA. Photo by Daniela Velásquez

Cachipay, Colombia – Forty-nine women pastors and leaders met here 7-10 August 2013 to receive training on the theme of “Caring for ourselves and each other among women” – also known as “Sister Care.”

The event was part of the Anabaptist Women Theologians Movement of Latin America (MTAL) and brought together women of the Andean region: Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, along with some from Argentina and the USA. The training was facilitated by Carolyn Holderread Heggen and Elizabeth Soto Albrecht of the USA. Sister Care is a ministry of Mennonite Women USA.

Soto Albrecht shared that many leaders give and give, but often do not stop and care for themselves. This workshop “became a time in which we pastored each other, walked with each other, and modeled what confidentiality and trust looks like in cultures where it is very hard to trust.”

The workshop began with an analysis of the Colombian context and its implications for the Andean region, and participants shared about the toll that 60 years of war has had on their country, their community, and their families. Time was given each day for personal reflection and profound internal work, and for sharing in community and supporting each other in sorrows and joys. Soto Albrecht described it by saying, “we held each other in our tears, and we held each other in our happiness.”

Many women were able to journey towards healing in this community. “God was there very much, present and tangible, through the love of these sisters and the openness of our spirits,” stated Soto Albrecht. “It was a privilege to be able to see and hear from sisters, with tears and profound conviction, that they were able to claim profound healing in those areas of their lives.”

This diverse group, with differing theological positions, was also able to dialogue over controversial issues the church currently faces. Daniela Velásquez of Peru, one of the youngest participants at the event, was greatly impacted by the way they were able to learn in the midst of these differences. “We were able to hear the opinions and ideas of each person, and learn to live with these views that differ from our own, in an atmosphere of respect and without imposing on others. In this way this gathering was a small step of joining forces, to listen to and respect each other in regards to our faith,” shared Velásquez.

Decisions were also made regarding the future of the Anabaptist women theologians’ movement in this region. A new facilitation team for the Andean Zone was elected, with a new model of shared coordination between two women, Martha Lucía Gómez, a pastor, and Zaraí Gonzalía, the executive administrator of the Seminario Bíblico Menonita de Colombia, the Mennonite Biblical Seminary of Colombia. They will be accompanied for the first year by outgoing coordinator Alix Lozano.

At this gathering the women also agreed to a fee for membership or participation in the movement, and to encourage the conferences to also contribute to the movement, as it currently has no ongoing financial support. A seed offering was initiated, with the plan of starting a fund which will serve in the future to sustain or support women’s incoming generating projects.

In Lozano’s report of the event, she expressed the deep gratitude of the participants for the support from the variety of people and organizations that made this gathering possible: Latin America Committee of the Council of International Anabaptist Ministries (CIMLAC), Anabaptist Women Theologians Movement of Latin America (MTAL), Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Mission Network, Justapaz, Schowalter Foundation, and the Mennonite Biblical Seminary of Colombia. Thanks were also expressed to the Anabaptist churches of the Andean region for their prayer support, and encouragement and support for the women participants.

News Release by Kristina Toews, MWC Web Communications Worker

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