Portions of this article were originally printed in the February 13 issue of Mennonite World Review.
We sat around the dinner table at a YMCA retreat center near Buenos Aires: 12 women from nine different countries. We asked how the Sister Care seminar has been shared with others in their countries of Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Paraguay — and how this material has impacted their lives.
From the United States, Carolyn Heggen, a psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing and a Sister Care co-presenter, asked questions in Spanish, while Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network Latin American director, translated them into English as I typed the conversation. What we heard amazed us: In the last three years these nine women have worked with others to share Sister Care with more than 2,300 others.
The seminar in Buenos Aires was organized as an enrichment event for 31 women leaders from the Southern Cone of South America. Sister Care seminars and materials have been received with much interest around the world and have been shared in 15 countries.
In Latin America enthusiasm and successful replication by participants has been particularly high. This is related to the fact that in Latin America, Mennonite women with strong leadership gifts, and in many cases both secular and theological education, worked together to form MTAL (Movimiento de Mujeres Anabautistas haciendo Teológia desde América Latina).
Some of these women have received scholarships for church leadership training through Mennonite Women USA’s International Women’s Fund.
Many of those now teaching Sister Care have had no more specific preparation than to have attended a level one seminar. The second level grew out of seeing that there would be great benefit in having additional training for women leaders who have already been teaching Sister Care in their churches and communities or who are planning to do so in the future.
In addition to presenting a review of the core content, we have developed additional resources to increase the content knowledge for teachers and new activities and resources to share with their students. The advanced seminar also provides an important opportunity for women to share their challenges and joys as they have taught others and to be encouraged and blessed for their ongoing ministry.
Martha Basualdo from Paraguay recalled how her first Sister Care seminar brought healing in her life.
“When I was at the seminar in Bolivia, I shared a painful story from my life for the first time with one of the participants at my table,” she said. “This sharing was the beginning of a process of healing within me. The openness and vulnerability of Carolyn and Rhoda in sharing experiences from their own life journeys was very helpful to me. This made me feel that I did not need to have shame to talk about problems and past trauma in my life.”
At the enrichment seminar, Martha dramatized a biblical monologue of the story of Tamar. She said, “I identify personally with this story and I want other women to feel encouraged to own their stories as an important first step toward healing.”
We asked the women around the dinner table circle, “What topic did you find most helpful or important in this Enriched Sister Care?”
Angela Opimi, an attendee from Bolivia, said, “It is to affirm the importance of demonstrating trust and confidentiality. One of the weaknesses in the church is the lack of trust. Many sisters say they don’t trust sharing with others in the church.”
Ester Bornes, an attendee from Argentina, said, “Of the three seminars I have attended, this has been the deepest. You explained complicated ideas to us in ways that touched our hearts.”
Deusilene Milhomem, an attendee from Brazil, said, “For me it is more clear about ‘losses’ now. I often don’t know how to teach that, but there are always women around me who have had great losses, so I needed to learn more about this.”
Martha Basualdo said, “The teachings about ambiguous loss helped me understand some things from my personal story.”
Gladys Silva, an attendee from Chile, said, “It is important to listen to other people’s pain. Many of my sisters have suffered and I didn’t know it.”
Rebeca González, an attendee from Mexico, said, “I really loved the teaching about finding your life mission, that each woman should be encouraged to discover her vocation and life calling and move toward that. Many of our beloved sisters live in an emptiness. I want to encourage other leaders so that they can find their mission and convert their pain into their calling.”
She added, “I also want to reinforce the idea of setting limits. Many women are now pastors and feel they need to respond to all demands.”
Sister Care Enrichment was also shared with 35 women in Guatemala at Seminario Anabautista Latinoamericano in October 2016 with women attending from Cuba, Puerto Rico and six Central American countries.
In March 2017 we will present a third Enrichment seminar in Bogotá, Colombia. Funding for these three Latin American events was provided by the United Service Foundation, the Schowalter Foundation, Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Women USA.
Rhoda Keener is the Sister Care director for Mennonite Women USA and a former MW USA executive director. She lives in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania with her husband Bob. Rhoda is the co-editor of She Has Done a Good Thing: Mennonite Women Leaders Tell Their Stories.