Sister Care co-presenters Carolyn Heggen and Rhoda Keener were in Guatemala October 18-21, to lead an advanced Sister Care training. A version of these reflections from Carolyn Heggen first appeared in the Albany Mennonite Church newsletter.
What excitement there was last month as 34 women leaders from the eight Central American countries (Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Mexico and Guatemala) as well as Cuba and Puerto Rico gathered on at Semilla, an Anabaptist seminary in Guatemala City.
The participants arrived by airplane, by public bus and in the back of pickup trucks. The indigenous women from Panama had walked several hours from their villages in order to take a four-hour ferry and then a bus to Guatemala City. A number of the women said this was their first trip out of their own country. A mother of a 9-year-old daughter told us it was the first time ever she’d been away from her daughter overnight.
In spite of the travel challenges and the discomfort of being in a new setting and sleeping in a dormitory — many for the first time — the women quickly bonded with each other and seemed excited to make new friends and learn new things.
The only non-Mennonite woman in attendance was Midiam Lobaina from Cuba. Midiam works on women’s issues with the Cuban Council of Churches and organized the two Sister Care seminars we taught in Cuba last year. We were anxious to connect her with some of the outstanding Mennonite women of Latin America and to support her in the challenging and important work she does in Cuba.
Midiam was warmly welcomed in Guatemala, and before she returned home she told us that she doesn’t know when she has ever felt so warmly welcomed and so en mi casa (at home) in a group of people. She told us she feels like she now has new sisters in the faith and wonderful new friends to provide counsel and emotional support
If nothing else had happened in Guatemala, I suspect that arranging for these connections between Midiam and the Anabaptist women leaders in Latin America would have made the time, effort and money involved worthwhile.
But many other things did happen!
For four days, the women shared how they have been using the Sister Care materials: adapting it for use with children and young people, using it in groups of men and women, in addition to sharing it in retreats, Bible studies, community centers and schools. They shared their challenges and their joys, and they found support and blessings for their ongoing ministries. Additionally, we presented the new international version of the Sister Care manual.
While it is always tiring to combine travel abroad with intense teaching and cross-cultural interactions, Rhoda and I felt like our time and energy were well spent. We returned happy that the program and materials we have developed are being well used and creatively adapted in Latin America. We are full of admiration for the resilience of women living in difficult circumstances and for their commitment to sharing the Good News that each of us is a precious, much loved child of God.
The same advanced training for teachers of Sister Care will be shared in Argentina this January for women from the Southern Cone of South America. It will also be shared in Colombia in March for the women of northern South America.
We are grateful for the impact Mennonite Women USA is having on women around the world through Sister Care and the International Women’s Fund.
Carolyn Heggen is a Sister Care co-presenter and a psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery. She lives in Corvallis, Oregon where she attends Albany Mennonite Church. She is the author of Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches.