New Sister Care teachers commissioned for North America

Eight new Sister Care presenters are certified to teach North American seminars following an October 25-27 training in Bel Aire, Kansas led by Sister Care developers, Carolyn Heggen and Rhoda Keener.  Heggen says, “We are touched by the life experiences and passion for healing ministry of these new presenters.  Because of their varied circles of relationships and their many connections, we anticipate they will open new doors for the sharing of Sister Care.”

Since its beginning in 2008, the Sister Care seminar has been shared by MW USA with 4, 300 women in 16 countries; these women, in international settings, have taught thousands more. The manual, Sister Care: Equipping Women for Healing Ministry, written by Heggen with Keener, is available in 12 languages. The seminar provides women with tools for ongoing personal healing and for responding more effectively and confidently to the needs of others. 

Cyneatha Millsaps, MW USA executive director, and Berni Kaufman, executive assistant, will provide ongoing support for the new presenters who will work in pairs, and logistical guidelines for groups who host seminars.  Keener and Heggen andKeener will continue teaching international seminars.

Millsaps said: “Mennonite Women is excited about certifying 8 new women for facilitating our Sister Care Seminar. We have reached thousands of women in the last 10 years; with the additional teachers at this very critical time in the history of our church and country, the need for SisterCare is more important than ever. We believe God is about to do something new with and through women.”

Meet the new North American Sister Care teachers:

Alicia Manning, Williamsburg, Virginia, of Calvary Community Church (C3 Hampton) is an educator, minister, therapeutic foster parent and caretaker. Through her work and life experiences, Alicia helps others unpack the pain of trauma and embrace a healing, restorative mindset rooted in a biblical understanding of who we are in Christ.

Grace Tijerina, Brownsville, Texas, serves as a pastor and church planter. Having faced difficult issues in her own life and found healing, it has become very important to Grace to walk with other women in their journeys of healing.“My heart just opens up when I see or hear about women going through difficult situations.”

Hildalejandra Pellecer, Grand Prairie, Texas, is a member of the executive board of Iglesia Menonita Hispana. “I see the need to have someone who can help understand some of the pain and sorrow that our sisters face in life and are often not able to express to others.” Hildalejandra feels called to help bring healing in women’s lives.

Hyacinth Stevens, West Haven, Connecticut, is the Pastor at King of Glory Tabernacle in the Bronx, NY and works as the Program Coordinator in New York for MCC East Coast. As part of her pastorate she begana mentoring program for young women and teenage girls in the community around the church.  Hyacinth brings a passion for transformative discipleship. 

Jill Swiers Baker, Albany, Oregon, fiercely believes in the power of positive friendship and deep laughter and the healing that those can bring.  In her job as a high school counselor she works hard to provide services and support practices that lead to better mental health for her students. She is a healer at her core and feels called to healing ministry.  

Marta Castillo, Norristown, Pennsylvania, is a pastor passionate about connecting people with a gracious God. She finds the Sister Care materials speak essential truth into women’s lives at any life stage. “Sister Care gives us the opportunity through Scripture and storytelling to learn about God’s love and healing power.” 

Sandy Drescher-Lehman, Green Lane, Pennsylvania, is a spiritual director and pastor at Methacton Mennonite Church who counts it a privilege to walk with people through the joys and difficulties of life. “My calling is to connect people to the unconditional and abiding love of God that I’ve experienced my whole life. My challenge is to live a balanced life of work and play, exercise and rest.”

Twila Lehman, Albany, Oregon, brings her love of teaching and people to SisterCare. In her work as a community college instructor, she had the opportunity to advise, teach, encourage and support her students. As a facilitator with SisterCare, Twila is excited to equip women with tools to care for and support each other through life’s journey.

Equally Beloved

This article by Rhoda Keener was originally published in the Fall 2018 issue of Timbrel, “Faith and Feminism.”

We had just taught that each woman is a beloved daughter of God at a Sister Care seminar in East Africa. At the break, a woman told me that her husband left her because she did not give birth to a son. She went on to say that her greatest fear was not knowing who would bury her when she died.  Because she has no husband or son she lives in poverty and has lost the esteem of her family and community.

When Carolyn Heggen and I ask women around the world to list the challenges that women face in their churches and communities, invariably we hear that “men are more honored in the church” and that “women are expected to have a job plus do most or all of the housework and childcare,” and that “women often experience violence from their Christian husbands.”

In the first unit on being a beloved daughter of God, we teach that scripture can be used to help or hurt women. I often quote Jimmy Carter who says in A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, “There is a [worldwide] system of discrimination based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms.”  The rest of the book describes the many ways that discrimination against women follows the belief in male superiority.

How we interpret scriptures is an integral part of how we experience our value as women. In Sister Care, we teach new ways to understand three mistaken theological beliefs: 1) that God wants men to dominate women, 2) because of the Fall women are more easily deceived and cannot trust their own judgment, 3) women in particular have been chosen to be suffering servants.

After the seminars in East Africa, one woman wrote, “I have learned that God loves me the way I am.”  Another, “I have learned that God does not discriminate.”

I encourage each of us to embrace the radical simple assertion that women and men are equally beloved by God just as we are.   

Sister Care in Cuba

At the Sister Care Level 2 Sister Care training in Havana, Cuba in January 2018, artist, Ruth Castro (above), shared a painting (left) she created of the “Sister Care women” standing together on the island of Cuba. Describing her art that embraces women’s diverse life experiences, she said, “You will see that on my painting, one of us is pregnant, one has a cane, and one is a little fatter. We want you to know that we are here in Cuba!”

Healing resources strengthen personal boundaries

This article was originally published in Summer 2018 Timbrel, “Empowering Women: Claiming Healthy Personal Boundaries.”

Sister Care seminars have consistently recommended and often provided several resources to help deepen women’s capacity to set clear personal boundaries as part of self-care. Two of these resources are available free of charge from Mennonite Central Committee (MCC):  Created Equal: Women and Men in the Image of God by Linda Gehman Peachey and “Home shouldn’t be a place that hurts” brochure. The third is Carolyn Holderread Heggen’s book: Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches.

These resources provide information about domestic violence and sexual abuse, and new ways to understand biblical teachings regarding women and men. It is significant that all three were written by Mennonite women, and the personal stories in Heggen’s book are all from Mennonites whose abuse happened in the context of Christian homes and churches. The book states that sexual abuse can involve verbal, visual, and psychological contact as well
as physical contact. The information in these resources enables women to realize the scope of abuse.  This awareness contributes to healing and setting limits.

“Created Equal” addresses scriptures that have often been interpreted to give greater power to men than women. How women understand biblical teachings on equality, submission, and suffering makes a difference in their ability to resist abusive behaviors. As it says in the unit titled. “I am God’s beloved daughter” in the Sister Care manual, “Any religious teaching that isn’t Good News for women and children and those with the least power in our community is not teaching the truth that Jesus came to bring.”

At each Sister Care seminar, each participant receives the “Home shouldn’t be a place that hurts” brochure. Internationally, when language is a barrier, a few leaders receive the brochure so  that they can adapt the information for their context. Participants are encouraged to place these brochures in a bathroom so women can pick them up privately.

Last summer I received an email from Linda Herr, MCC’s Training Development coordinator in Akron, Pennsylvania.  She had received a call from a woman, who, while at a garage sale, went to a nearby church for a restroom and found a “Home shouldn’t be a place that hurts” brochure. She called MCC asking for help, and I was able to recommend local resources that Linda communicated to her.  I have often wondered if those brochures were placed there following a Sister Care seminar.

Knowledge gives power. Let’s continue to share resources to strengthen our ability to set personal boundaries.

Carrying our message internationally

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.

I remember receiving an email from Jana Oesch in 2010 asking me to speak at a women’s retreat in Idaho. I wrote back saying, “The speaking I am doing right now is Sister Care. Would you like to host a Sister Care seminar?” A year later Carolyn Heggen and I led our first seminar together in Caldwell, Idaho. One email can change so much.

I am often amazed as I work from my home in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, that I am communicating with people all over the world. I can correspond via email with Elisabeth Kunjam in India, Milka Rindzinski in Uruguay, Sun Ju Moon in South Korea, Pamela Obonde in Kenya, or Tran Diep in Vietnam.  Without the Internet, I don’t know how Sister Care International could exist and grow.

The Latin American Sister Care seminars began through Carolyn Heggen’s personal friendship with Olga Piedrasanta, an instructor at SEMILLA, and then continued with assistance from Linda Shelly of Mennonite Mission Network. Linda’s relationships with the women leaders in Central and South America enabled her to guide the planning of another nine seminars.

When Carolyn and I arrived in Havana in late January of 2018, our host, Midiam Lobaina from the Cuban Council of Churches, asked if we needed a projector and screen for our presentations. When we said, “No, we are quite low tech,” she breathed a sigh of relief. It is the photos that we share on Facebook and other social media platforms that connect the Sister Care ministries around the world.

After teaching an Enrichment seminar in Bogota last spring attended by women from five countries, I received an email from Linda Shelly sharing what women in Rumococha, Peru are doing with the Sister Care material.  Cielo Arguelo attended the Bogota seminar; then taught women and children in Rumococha that they are beloved daughters of God by creating a motto that says, “Soy una mujer amada por Dios” or “I am a beloved woman of God”.

A ministry is only as strong as the love and trust that form its base. Much can be built and sustained with long distance electronic communication, but there is no substitute for face-to-face conversations and time together.

Whatever form of communication we use, what remains important is that we know and believe we are beloved daughters of God.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Timbrel, Faith Formation in the Digital Age. To subscribe to Timbrel, click here.

Sister Care strengthens women leaders in Cuba

Two years after Sister Care seminars were first presented in Cuba, Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing, and Rhoda Keener, Sister Care director for Mennonite Women USA, returned to Havana, this time to bring the level 2 Enrichment materials and training for women who had attended a previous seminar. It was inspiring to hear that since 2015, these 28 women had taught over 600 others.

Keener and Heggen also traveled to Palmira in central Cuba (in a ’58 VW van) to teach Sister Care level 1 to an Anabaptist group of 36 Brethren in Christ (BIC) women who had not participated in 2015. This connection was facilitated by Jack and Irene Suderman, Ontario, and Bonnie Klassen, MCC Area Director for South America, Cuba, and Mexico.

One of the participants in Palmira, Deyli Milían Pérez, a pastor from Caibarien Villa Clara on the northern coast of Cuba, shared her story with Keener as Klassen translated. Continue reading

Remembering Maxine Fast

I remember meeting Maxine Fast on my second trip to Newton, Kansas in November of 2000. I was just starting as the Mennonite Women executive director and knew very little about denominational organizations, or the General Conference (GC) or Mennonite Church (MC) women’s organizations. I was 49 years old and had just left a job as a psychotherapist so I could work in the Mennonite church.

As a former MC member, I didn’t know anyone in the GC church offices where the Mennonite Women office was located. With lots of doubts swirling through my head about why I gave up my job in mental health to do something so nebulous as attempt to lead a denominational women’s organization, I found my way to the home of Maxine and Orlando Fast in Newton, Kansas.

Maxine and Orlando often hosted out-of-towners and their home became my regular place to stay in Newton, sometimes for a week or longer. Each arrival was met with a warm welcome. I joined their morning ritual of a devotional reading and prayer before breakfast and then set out for my day at the office. Maxine was always ready to greet me with genuine questions about how my day went when I returned in the evening. Our emerging friendship became more special when we discovered we shared the same birthday, June 15. We talked about the differences in the ways we grew up in the MC and GC churches, particularly in regard to beliefs and practices regarding the role of women in the church. Continue reading

Sister Care Enrichment for Latin American Leaders

Portions of this article were originally printed in the February 13 issue of Mennonite World Review

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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.

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Kansas Sister Care Seminar Draws Women from Five States

from Mennonite Women USA

Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing, and Rhoda Keener, Sister Care Director for Mennonite Women USA, led a Sister Care seminar at Bethel College Mennonite Church for 74 women from Colorado, Indiana, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Marcene Entz and Karen Andres portray the Mark 2 dramatic monologue, “Carrying Our Friend to Jesus.”

Marcene Entz and Karen Andres portray the Mark 2 dramatic monologue, “Carrying Our Friend to Jesus.”

Participant, Elizabeth Raid, shared with her congregation, Bethel College Mennonite Church, her response to the seminar, saying:

“While I’m very comfortable speaking in front of large groups, as an introvert I often resist large gatherings, especially where women are somehow supposed to bond or have a grand time together. The Sister Care seminar had a different feel. Rhoda Keener and Carolyn Heggen provided a worshipful, inspirational setting and facilitated an environment where vulnerability, trust and truth-telling emerged. By sharing their personal experiences and examples during the seminar, they gave credence to what they said and opened the door for others to share more personally around the tables. I experienced and witnessed healing permeating hearts and creating commonality. The oil in my lamp has been replenished. I’m grateful! In an in-between time of my life, I feel renewed and open to what God has in store next for me.”

Participants at the Kansas Sister Care seminar.

Participants at the Kansas Sister Care seminar.

Heggen and Keener will lead Sister Care seminars in Kenya and Tanzania in April, Winnipeg in May, Indonesia in June, and an advanced leadership training in Guatemala in October. Marlene Bogard, MW USA executive director, provides leadership for the Sister Care for college women ministry. She led a seminar at Bethel College in February and will lead a similar event at Hesston College in March. Heggen and Keener hope to lead a Sister Care Level 2 retreat in the USA in November. Areas interested in scheduling a seminar or retreat should click here to email Rhoda Keener.

Sister Care: Level 2 “Going Deeper” Coming to Harrisburg, PA

by Rhoda Keener

A Sister Care: Level 2 “Going Deeper” retreat will be offered for the first time this fall. The retreat will be held October 2-4 at Camp Hebron located 20 miles north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Carolyn Heggen and I cannot count the number of times we have heard women say during a Sister Care Level 1 seminar, “I need more time to process all that we have covered,” or “I wish we had more time at our table groups,” or “make this a full week-end retreat.” Here’s a description of the week-end from the brochure:

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The Marlene Effect

by Rhoda Keener, Sister Care Director

Marlene Bogard began her work as executive director of Mennonite Women USA a month ago on April 13. For the five weeks between the time that Ruth Guengerich retired on March 8 and Marlene began on April 13, I assumed the “Interim Executive Director” role.

One would think a person would not organize nearly every closet in her house during this busy interlude, but that’s exactly what I did; I began calling it the “Marlene effect.”

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