Weaving a network of leaders, healing, and hope

The article was originally published by Mennonite Mission Network. 


When Hispanic women gather, big things happen.

Hispanic female leaders from across the United States gathered April 7-8, 2017 at Portland (Oregon) Mennonite Church. They came as strangers and acquaintances and left as friends and a network, trained as Sister Care presenters for Hispanic women in the United States. Sister Care is a ministry of Mennonite Women USA that gives women the tools for ongoing personal healing and for responding more effectively to the needs of others. The seminar was taught in Spanish by Carolyn Heggen with Rhoda Keener teaching through a translator.

Sister Care is a resource for women in the United States and around the world, but previously there hadn’t been a workshop geared toward Hispanic women in the United States. “Why weren’t there workshops for Hispanic women in United States?” asked Marisa Smucker, a church relations representative for Mennonite Mission Network. Prompted by Madeline Maldonado, the organization’s board chair, Smucker did the research and found that there was a need for trained Sister Care workshop facilitators for Hispanic women in the U.S. So Smucker met with Rhoda Keener, the Sister Care director for Mennonite Women USA, and they started planning.

Together, they formed a committee, which included Alma Ovalle, of Conferencia Feminil (Women’s Conference) and board member of Mennonite Women USA; Nelly Ascencio, moderator of the Concilio de Iglesias Hispanas Anabautistas el Noroeste USA (Council of Hispanic Anabaptist Churches of Northwest USA); Rhoda Keener; and Sandra Montes Martinez, moderator of Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church).

In learning about Sister Care, what interested Smucker was that “it provided the space for two things to happen: for women in leadership to receive resources… and network with women across the country… to recognize other’s gifts and encourage each other on our journeys.”

In her evaluation, Montes Martinez wrote, “As an Hispanic women we don’t have many resources. Nonetheless, we have a lot of desire to heal and help others. We would like to have follow-up trainings at least once a year with you so we can keep growing as women leaders.”

Sister Care provided the network and tools for women to care for each other. But it takes resources in order to give one. Beyond personnel resources, support was given by Atlantic Coast Mennonite Conference, Everence, Franconia Mennonite Conference, Mennonite Church USA Care and Prevention Fund, Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Women USA, Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference, Portland Mennonite Church, and United Service Foundation.

Smucker was especially encouraged by a response from Merv Stolzfus, to resource and recognize the leadership skills of Hispanic women. Stoltzfus is the Executive Conference Minister of Atlantic Coast Mennonite Conference. “He told me the conference didn’t have funds,” Smucker said, but he and the conference’s executive committee found the funds needed to help out; and he also helped recruit women to go!” Smucker said.

“I have learned the importance of giving life to a dream or hope; once the words are spoken aloud, it gives others a chance to join in and to make it happen,” Smucker said.


Kelsey Hochstetler is a writer for Mennonite Mission Network. 


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