This column profiles two women who have named Mennonite Women USA in their estate planning. Each shared her story with Rhoda Keener and her reason for making this legacy gift. Here are their stories.
By Rhoda Keener
Elizabeth Goering, North Newton, Kansas, speaks prophetically to issues of our time. When I asked her to share with me about her life, she began with her personal mission statement: “Everything I say is based on my belief in a loving God as exemplified by Jesus who reached across human instigated divides and accepted all humans. He broke rules and turned things upside down.” She smiled, “This gives me license to turn things upside down!”
I asked Elizabeth what she sees as primary issues for women in the church. Without hesitation, she responded, “I believe the Mennonite Church needs more women in leadership positions. Congregations must be aware of and acknowledge the woman’s capabilities when pastoral team responsibilities are discerned.” She added, “I also believe the church must accept the LGBTQ community. I dream that women will be the leaders in dealing with this issue.”
Born in 1920, Elizabeth lived through the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Her grandparents came from Europe because of their opposition to war efforts and hearing about that was part of everyday life. She said, “I grew up with the belief that we are Mennonites; we don’t go to war.” Elizabeth credits the time married to a CO during WWII, and later, to a class assessing feminism from a biblical perspective at (then) Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, for developing her involvement in anti-war organizations and feminism. A graduate of Bethel College, she taught first grade for 25 years. In the 1990’s she served as secretary for Western District Mennonite Women.
Elizabeth and her husband Victor have been married 71 years and are active members of Eden Mennonite Church. They have four children, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. She said, “My children approve of me when I speak out and write letters. In fact, getting involved and supporting causes have become intergenerational concerns.”
Last year Elizabeth named Mennonite Women USA in her will. She said, “When I see the prayer list of International Women’s Fund students, I am heartened. And Sister Care is a rejuvenating ministry for MW USA. My prayer for Mennonite women is to be accepting of others.”
When asked for a word of wisdom, she said, “Don’t be afraid to speak out.”
I first met Florence (Flo) Rheinheimer Harnish, who lives near Ephrata, Pennsylvania, in 2002, when she served as chairperson of Atlantic Coast Mennonite Women. Over the years she has often communicated to me her deep belief in the equality of all people.
Flo gave leadership to an MW USA Sister-Link, working with MCC, to support a community in South Africa for persons suffering from AIDS. After Mennonite World Conference in Zimbabwe, we visited that community and I saw Flo’s compassion and desire to form friendships with the people there.
Born in 1930, Flo graduated with the first Goshen College nursing class; later she earned an MS in Education, and taught Nursing at several colleges. She also worked for 30 years raising and training llamas. At age 60 she took lessons to play the violin, which she still enjoys today. Flo and her husband Dave have been married for 58 years. They are parents of three adult children and have nine grandchildren. Their daughter Marie serves as secretary for the MW USA Board of Directors. They are active member of Akron Mennonite Church in PA.
While Flo and Dave volunteered in Tanzania with MCC, from 1967-70, a chance meeting between Flo and a woman whom she didn’t know well, became a symbol of Flo’s deep belief in equality. She describes this meeting in her book: A Psalm of Joy and Lamentation. In that culture, it was customary for women to curtsy to men, and to kneel to persons who, in their minds, were important. The woman knelt to Flo. She writes: “I couldn’t understand (what she was saying). I didn’t know what to do with that kneeling. Finally, I got down on my knees and kneeled also. . . This incident is fixed in my memory and I pray that the woman remembers me with love, as I remember her with love.”
In reflecting on naming MW USA as a portion of their estate giving, Flo said: “It’s important to be ‘real people’ with our international sisters. Sister Care is helping that to happen now. I would hope it will continue with other similar ministries in the years to come.”
When asked for a word of wisdom, she said: “Be a friend to everyone, to the point where you can’t see the color of their skin, their nationality, or their gender.”
Join MW USA’s Legacy Circle
We invite you to name Mennonite Women USA in your will or through a gift annuity. The following language is all it takes to create a legacy clause in your will:
“I give ______ (insert dollar amount) or _______ (real or personal property) or ______ (percentage of estate) to Mennonite Women USA as an unrestricted gift.”
Please let us know if you have named MW USA in your will.