A Christmas Reflection

The first Christmas … a holy event. 

Mary, a young girl — a teenager — was on the threshold of adult life. She was promised to be married. Mary was dreaming of what might be when she receives word that rocks her world: You have been chosen by God to become a mother. And the child she was to bear, she was to share with the world. Imagine Mary— a young girl who was probably excited, likely scared. Honored, to be sure, and confused. And through it all she remained open. Mary was called to host this holy event.

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Postcard & a Prayer :: November Email Newsletter

Enjoy November e-news from Mennonite Women USA!

Check out our new format to get all the latest information, reflections and images that cover all our national and international happenings from our Sister Care seminars to our upcoming Timbrel coverage. We also include a prayer to bless your day, excerpts from women in the greater church and content relevant to Mennonite women everywhere.

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MW USA November Email 2016

Sister Care goes to Guatemala

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.

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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. Continue reading

Postcard & a Prayer :: October Email Newsletter

Enjoy October e-news from Mennonite Women USA!

Check out our new format to get all the latest information, reflections and images that cover all our national and international happenings from our Sister Care seminars to our upcoming Timbrel coverage. We also include a prayer to bless your day, excerpts from women in the greater church and content relevant to Mennonite women everywhere.

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MW USA October Email 2016

Recovery in Jamestown, Colorado

It was a cold, snowy December morning in 2013 when my husband Jeff — a Mennonite Disaster Service staff member — MDS volunteers Gil and Rhoda Friesen and I arrived in Jamestown, Colorado. A September flood had completely washed away 17 homes and had left many more with heavy damage. Ninety-eight percent of the residents had been to be airlifted out of town.

Everywhere we looked, there was destruction.

The little town of 300 was at a standstill. Jamestown’s infrastructure had been severely damaged, and there was still no running water. The town hadn’t gotten much media attention after the flood, so the residents were alone in mourning the loss of their home as they had known it.

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Postcard & a Prayer :: September Email Newsletter

Enjoy September e-news from Mennonite Women USA!

Check out our new format to get all the latest information, reflections and images that cover all our national and international happenings from our Sister Care seminars to our upcoming Timbrel coverage. We also include a prayer to bless your day, excerpts from women in the greater church and content relevant to Mennonite women everywhere.

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MW USA September Email 2016

In Motion with Marlene: Invite Them to Leadership!

This column originally appeared in the summer 2016 issue of Timbrel magazine. To stay up to date, subscribe to Timbrel here.

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With the waters of baptism still moist on my brow and freshly commissioned by the band of Jesus Freaks who nurtured me in my outspoken faith, I decided to step away from a secure nest of Mennonite thought and practice and from my home community of Mountain Lake, Minnesota.

After high school, I searched for an evangelical college, tag-teamed with my Youth for Christ friends and decided on Bethel College (now Bethel University) in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

Here I discovered professors who spoke unabashedly about their faith. Daily chapel services and weekend prayer groups. The Psalms were read at the beginning of every biology class. My friends and I spoke freely of our faith, our longings to be in God’s will and we worked hard to be holy and consistent in our daily quiet time. I was in the best place possible. Plus, I was preparing through my studies to be a missionary!

But then, I met this guy who asked me many questions and then I started remembering.

A conservative Christian, he was questioning faith, affluence, and his worldview. He asked me about what I believed and how I was raised. He wondered about the Mennonites, Anabaptists and discipleship. In our ever-deepening conversations, I realized I was missing some things that had become dormant in my years away from home. I loved my life as an evangelical, but where were the conversations about peacemaking and social justice?

Together we read books that turned both of us on our heads. I remembered how I was raised, the theology of my family, church and tradition; a theology that went beyond personal piety to whole-life discipleship. I once again claimed my Anabaptist, Christian, Mennonite faith. Our friendship blossomed, we fell in love and have now been married almost 40 years.

Since then, Mike has remained committed to the church he was convinced was the right fit for his faith: the Mennonite Church. His path of seminary, pastoring and teaching has been honorable and steadfastly faithful. For me, I have served the Mennonite church as a camp director, area-conference minister, administrator, librarian and presently in my role as executive director of Mennonite Women USA. We have given our adult lives to this church, what is now Mennonite Church USA, but it was not what either of us imagined at age 18. 

The stepping away from what is familiar, the confusion about beliefs, the struggle about identity and life direction in young adulthood, are normal. Those of us who pay attention to the way faith develops throughout the stages of life understand this and expect it. Most of us need to have a time away to test, to re-evaluate what we truly value about our faith and the way we were raised. One of our sons at age 25 reflected, “I am not sure I value where I was raised, but I really do appreciate how I was raised.” He came to this conclusion after being gone from home for six years.   

This past year, I have been privileged to give leadership to three Sister Care for College Women events at Goshen, Bethel and Hesston colleges. One of our sessions provides guidance on answering the question: “What shall I do with my one precious life?” In each group, I ask the college women to reflect on what they wanted to be when they were 10, compared to what their aspirations are as 18- to 21-year-olds.

As girls, some envisioned being glamorous adults: ballerinas, athletes, actresses. But the majority of the women answer that presently they are studying for helping professions. We will be blessed with excellent social workers, nurses, teachers, psychologists and ministers. We will have faithful engineers, veterinarians and writers.

As the next decade rolls in, I believe these young adult women will indeed be leaders in their chosen professions. But let’s not lose sight of what they might be for our church as well. Encourage them to ask questions, let them wonder, listen to them, and most importantly, invite them to leadership. That’s what happened to this Jesus Freak from the 1970s. I was given opportunity to both fail and thrive. I was encouraged and mentored and invited to be a leader.

And I said yes.

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Marlene Bogard is Mennonite Women USA executive director. Previously, she served as Minister of Christian Formation and Resource Library Director for the Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA for 25 years. She currently lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband Mike.

Postcard & a Prayer :: August Email Newsletter

Enjoy August e-news from Mennonite Women USA!

Check out our new format to get all the latest information, reflections and images that cover all our national and international happenings from our Sister Care seminars to our upcoming Timbrel coverage. We also include a prayer to bless your day, excerpts from women in the greater church and content relevant to Mennonite women everywhere.

Sign-up today, stay connected each month!

MW USA August Email 2016

Mennonite Women USA Hires New Communications Manager

Mennonite Women USA, a constituency group of Mennonite Church USA, is pleased to announce that Dawn Araujo-Hawkins of Kansas City, Missouri, has been appointed communications manager, following the resignation of Claire DeBerg.

Araujo-Hawkins, a member of Rainbow Mennonite Church in Kansas City, Kansas, has a degree in magazine journalism from Ball State University and a master’s in religion from Cincinnati Christian University. She has worked as a religion journalist since 2010, freelancing for a variety of publications and most recently serving as a staff writer for the Global Sisters Report — a special project of the National Catholic Reporter.

In 2015, Araujo-Hawkins was named a Handa Fellow in Interreligious Communication, and in June 2016, she won the American Academy of Religion’s award for best in-depth newswriting on religion. She is a member of the Religion News Association and the International Association of Religion Journalists.

Araujo-Hawkins comes to MW USA with a strong desire to promote women’s voices within Mennonite communities.

“I am a fan of women’s ministries, regardless of church or denomination,” she said. “However, as my personal faith journey has led me to Mennonite Church USA, I have felt increasingly called to serve with an Anabaptist organization and publication.”

Araujo-Hawkins will assume the role of communications manager on July 18, 2016.

Our “Faith Travels” Bible Study Guide Author, Marlene Kropf published on MC USA

This year’s Bible study guide from Mennonite Women USA Faith Travels was written by Marlene Kropf. We’re thrilled to see her featured on the Mennonite Church USA’s Menno Snapshots blogs with her piece “Pilgrimage in Any Season” originally published here.

In spring, Chaucer wrote, “folk long to go on pilgrimages.” Nowadays, the desire to go on a pilgrimage might erupt in any season of the year. Ironically, as church attendance continues to decline in the West, the number of people – Christian and otherwise – who go on pilgrimages continues to increase.

Ancient Irish Christians understood that to go on a pilgrimage was “to seek the place of one’s resurrection.” Pilgrimage was an embodied prayer, an engagement of the entire person – body, mind, heart and spirit. Wherever they traveled, pilgrims opened themselves to the movement and direction of God’s Spirit, seeking transformation into Christlikeness.

Recently someone pointed out to me that a pilgrimage has six identifiable stages:

  1. An initial yearning or longing invites us to a particular place or experience.
  2. Then comes preparation for the journey: reading, prayer and discernment, conversation with other pilgrims, checking out websites and deciding what to take along.
  3. We establish an itinerary for our journey: where we will travel, when, with whom and why.
  4. As the journey begins, we eagerly anticipate our arrival, even though we must first endure leaving behind what is known and familiar in order to enter the promised future.
  5. The sacred experience includes the events, encounters and solitude of the journey in which God’s call to new life is made known to us.
  6. At last, we return to our homes – refreshed, transformed and sometimes chastened by all we’ve experienced. Re-entering our familiar lives, we seek to integrate new images and learnings into our call to daily discipleship.

We need not travel far to reap the spiritual fruits of pilgrimage. Favorite places of spiritual pilgrimage today include the Camino in Spain; Celtic sites in Scotland, England and Ireland; the Holy Land; Assisi or Rome; early Anabaptist centers in Switzerland and Holland; or contemporary American settings connected with historical events such as the Civil Rights movement or the forced migration of Native Americans on the Trail of Tears. New pilgrim paths emerge as the desire to encounter these sacred stories continues to grow. For example, in Ireland one can literally walk across the land in the path of Saint Brigid or Saint Patrick. In Scotland and England one can walk on the path of Saint Columba, Saint Cuthbert or on the Canterbury Trail. As people listen deeply to stories of the past, they discern in fresh ways how God’s Spirit is calling us to live today.

Choosing to bike or walk on a Sunday morning to our place of worship can be a spiritual pilgrimage as we pass through familiar or unfamiliar neighborhoods, listening intentionally to the voice of God’s Spirit along the way.

Perhaps one of the richest benefits of pilgrimage is new relationships: encounters with strangers or deepened communion with fellow pilgrims. Praying together morning and night, sharing meals, enduring the rigors of travel and reflecting together on both the inner and outer journeys bonds people and strengthens their faith. They catch a vision of what ordinary church life might be like if the same practices were engaged at home.

Perhaps spiritual pilgrimages can be a key to spiritual renewal in our time.

Just as other spiritual practices in the past called the church to greater faithfulness, it may be that the embodied prayer of pilgrimage is one way the Spirit is working to transform the church today.

If the Spirit is calling you to go on pilgrimage, listen well!