by Mennonite Women USA
The women who gathered for Sister Care seminars in Paraguay and Argentina in August came from widely varying ethnicities, church denominations, and theological beliefs, but their responses echoed a similar heartfelt thought. One woman said: “You told me that it is possible to break the chains of oppression and pain and you have given me the tools to know how to do it.”
The 113 women who met at Los Alpes Hotel near Asunción came from Mennonite Church and Mennonite Brethren denominations and were joined by a group of 16 from across the border in northern Argentina. The 30 women at Bragado in Argentina a week later came mostly from Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Argentina, and also included friends from Pentecostal and Catholic churches. Varying ethnicities included Latinas, Indigenous, and Germanic Mennonites.
These women united with the simple, yet profound teaching at the heart of the Sister Care seminar: to be an effective healing presence for others, we need healing from our own wounds. And…God can use our tears to help others. Presenters Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing,
and Rhoda Keener, Mennonite Women USA co-director, guided participants through four units beginning with the truth that each woman is a beloved daughter of God; then, the importance of self care when caring for others, the healing power of compassionate listening, and transforming loss and grief.
One woman responded: “Three years ago I was raped and it was something that ruined my life, but in these days here I have learned that God still sees me as a beautiful pure woman. I have felt called to be a missionary and to help other women who carry heavy shame and wounds.”
Another woman echoed this thought saying about the seminar: “I have learned ways of taking off the heavy shawl of shame and fear I have worn for many years. I am going to take what I have learned to help heal the wounds of others in my church.”
Rhoda Keener said, “Our mission with Sister Care is to provide practical tools for women to help in their healing journeys. When we heal, our response becomes like the woman at the well. She ran back to her village to tell others about the Messiah. Women are often surprised that Sister Care begins by
looking at our own need to know that we are beloved daughters of God and by taking seriously our life experiences and personal story. But that is also where Jesus started with the woman at the well.”
The Sister Care presenters state that “good theology and good psychology can work together to help in healing.” Many women said they have heard from their churches that psychology and psychiatric medications are not needed if one’s faith is strong enough. A seminary student wrote: “I will return to my studies in psychology (which God has called me to) grateful to realize that psychology need not be in conflict with the Word of God.”
Carolyn Heggen summed up the experience of teaching in Paraguay and Argentina: “Once again I have been blessed by the emotional warmth, responsiveness, and openness of our Latin American sisters. Beyond our differences in culture, history and politics many of us share a common longing for our beliefs and faith to make a practical difference in our lives. One woman said, ‘I’ve been a Christian for many years but this is the first time the concept of salvation has been made practical for me. You’ve helped me know how to apply God’s healing and salvation to my personal story and wounds. This will help me in my own healing and as I share God’s plan of salvation with others who are hurting.’”
Mennonite Women USA is grateful for the local women who hosted these events; Linda Shelly, Latin American Director for Mennonite Mission Network, for her invaluable assistance in planning these seminars; and the many generous donors who make this ministry possible.