International Women’s Fund: Eliver’s Story

Eliver Omondi is an International Women’s Fund Scholarship recipient.

Glory be to the living God, my sisters in the diaspora. 

I am indeed overwhelmed by God’s grace that has allowed me to be a part of your scholarship program. It has been well with me in my studies. My course title, Higher Diploma in Psychological Counselling, at Kenya Institute of Professional counselling, Kisumu Campus, has impacted me mightily. 

During the week, I work as a teacher. On Saturdays, I go to college and then come back to prepare for church on Sundays. I am 51-years-old and the mother of five young-adult children (two sons and three daughters).  I am sometimes overwhelmed by my family responsibilities. Nevertheless, in Africa we believe that women are strong multi-taskers.

Eliver Omondi (left) presents during a Sister Care seminar in Musoma, Kenya.

I was ordained as a pastor in July 2018; I am the National Women’s Secretary General. Women’s ministry is my passion; my team and I have integrated Sister Care into our agenda. 

My husband, who is also a pastor, supports my ministry. Despite many challenges, we love the Lord and profess God as our saviour. May I thank International Women’s Fund [Mennonite Women USA] for what God has put into your hearts. We appreciate the work.

Thank you,
Eliver Omondi

This letter has been edited for clarity

Healthy Boundaries conference in Colombia

Read Mennonite Mission Network’s article on this event by Danielle Klotz.

Blessing each other: Ester Bornes and Alix Lozano forefront

The Movement of Anabaptist Women Doing Theology from Latin America (MTAL) hosted a conference on Healthy Boundaries November 6-9 attended by 33 women from the Andean region of South America.  The workshop was led by Alix Lozano and Ely Soto who adapted materials from Faith Trust Institute.  The workshop included developing an understanding of the importance of healthy boundaries in ministry, especially in preventing sexual harassment and abuse. As a group of women leaders, the participants thought both about the limits that they need to draw and keep in their own leadership roles, and also how they work with their churches in processes of establishing practices that help keep everyone safe and are understood by both leaders and the congregations.

33 women attended the conference.

Linda Shelly, MMN Latin American Director, said, “Having worked with Sister Care and hearing many women’s stories of harassment and abuse makes this Healthy Boundaries work with MTAL a natural step in many contexts. I anticipate that the work the MTAL women have done in experiencing and sharing Sister Care will help them to multiply this in many different ways.”

Mennonite Women USA and Dove’s Nest partnered to provide a conference on Healthy Boundaries held in Nebraska in July 2018. 


Celebrate by Cyneatha Millsaps

Christmas is the season when we celebrate the birth of a king. The Christ child entered this world to save everyone and every living thing. I often think of what it meant for Mary to know that she was responsible for this important little life. She was given the assignment for all generations. I am sure Mary worked extremely hard to raise a compassionate, intelligent and loving young man. Our family has welcomed another little one into our clan; Ava was born September 10. I think of her mother (and father) and wonder if they truly grasp the responsibility that has been given to them. Every child born should be considered, the child that will save a nation. The child that will free a people. How much different would our world be, if everyone saw every child as the Christ child? I encourage all of us to begin to see our children as not simply gift for us, but shepherds for the world. How would you prepare them for the important task ahead?

 

Women Doing Theology by Cyneatha Millsaps

Earlier this month, I attended my first Women Doing Theology (WDT) conference, “Talkin’ bout a Revolution”. I found this Women in Leadership event to be informative and refreshing. It was great to see young women in leadership gathering together. Having a conference designed for women makes it easier for us to see and hear ourselves. The conference also shows the new leaders of the church and it is hopeful. I felt like my prayers for the last ten years were being answered.

It is always great to gather with friends. Women have such busy schedules that we don’t often find time for ourselves. WDT gives women a platform to step away from family, community and work to simply take in the gospel. I like to compare WDT to the women’s retreats that were created years ago. Several years ago, I organized a “Black Mennonite Women Rock” retreat in Michigan. The idea was to get the younger generation to the camp sites. But I knew in order to get them, they would need substance, not just relaxing. So we created a combination of retreat space and educational space. WDT has capitalized on this kind of gathering, where women gather for a purpose.

I look forward to the next WDT conference and encourage other women to attend.

Question | Self-preservation? by Cyneatha Millsaps

I have had the pleasure of speaking with young men from rural and urban spaces in the past month. I am amazed that both see to the issue of guns from the same point of view: self-preservation. In the various conversations, all the young men thought that carrying a gun was not only necessary but also a call to duty. One young man, at a mission’s fundraiser, said that he had is firearm in case something jumped off. My husband asked, “At a church fundraiser?” He then proceeded to tell the young man to leave and remove the gun from church premises. Another young man posed this scenario: if you were in a convenience store with a gun on your hip it could deter a possible assailant. I asked, “How do we know who the good guy or the bad guy is?” If self-preservation is the main point, then how do we decide whose life is more valuable? And what does that say about us as Christians? Jesus followers don’t seek to save their lives but lose them for the sake of the good news. If your Christian witness starts with self-preservation from “the other” regardless of whom that might be, chances are you are not a Christ follower.

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Mark 8:35-36

Cyneatha Millsaps

Honoring our history, celebrating the present by Denise Nickel

Denise Nickel is the Central States representative for the Mennonite Women USA board. Denise is a member of Tabor Mennonite Church in Newton, Kansas. She is active with the worship team, children’s ministries, deacon and women’s Group. She is secretary to the principal of Goessel Elementary School. She and her husband, Elton have three children and seven grandchildren.

As I near the completion of eight years on the Mennonite Women USA Board, I have been reflecting. Our programs sometimes change or even end in order for us to grow as an organization. One of these is the Sister Link program, which bridged Sisters in the U.S. with those in Central America. It was time to bring that program to completion and continue those relationships in other ways. Another change is MW USA leadership; the former board chairs and executive directors have been instrumental in shaping our organization. We are now anticipating the gifts that Cyneatha Millsaps, our new executive director will bring.

The Sister Care program, developed by Rhoda Keener, former MW USA Executive Director and now Sister Care Director, has gone international. The program has also ministered on our college campuses and Sister Care Enrichment has been developed to take foundational Sister Care seminars to a deeper level. Former executive director, Marlene Bogard, embraced the celebration of MW USA’s Centennial year in a number of ways. One way that MW USA has been visible was the publishing of our history in “Circles of Sisterhood” by Anita Hooley Yoder. It is a must read!

There are a number of women in the Bible we can see as our model for Mennonite women. One of these women is Phoebe. In Romans 16, Paul says that Phoebe has been proven as a leader for others and for him. She was a deacon in her church who exemplified leadership skills, faith, integrity and maturity. Her material wealth was a tool for ministry, as were her personal gifts and abilities. She had a servant’s heart. She gave so that others could grow. Following Phoebe’s example, the MW USA Board strives to discern ways we can help others, whether it is raising money to fund further studies for women theologians through the International Womens’ Fund, sewing wall hangings for the Heartwarmer project with Mennonite Disaster Service, encouraging Conference level women and women’s groups, or giving a prophetic voice through Timbrel and wisdom from the Bible Study Guides and Grapevine. We know from Phoebe’s story that even a small act of service can have a tremendous impact on someone else.

Just like the ministry of Phoebe and other women in the Bible can inspire us, the Mennonite women who came before us have influenced us. If you have read the book “Circles of Sisterhood”, you will have noticed that our history is rich proof that Mennonite Women have NOT been quiet. We are proof that a trail of impressionable footprints have been left behind and have paved a way for the present and those coming in the future. The singer LeAnn Womack has stated, “if we want to be remembered and leave legacies to those whom we’ve touched and will be leaving behind, the difference we can make is showing love, one person at a time.”

Women’s groups have evolved from sewing circles into unique (Sister) Care groups. Some groups have disbanded; some have a new focus, but even those that have disbanded keep some form of service and sisterhood relationships through their church or conference. MW USA strives to provide resources and develop programs that will meet the needs of older women, younger women and the future for girls in a variety of cultures and in many areas of life.

Ponder, Celebrate, Question and Affirm

My prayer for the Mennonite Women blog is to offer women weekly nuggets of thought. I pray that together we can discuss important messages facing our community and world together. This blog is not a place for anger and negative feedback. Any messages that are not positive will be removed immediately and blocked.
I encourage everyone, to read, respond and offer prayers.

 

Something to ponder

One week ago, James Garrett, a 19-year-old senior at Butler Prep Academy in Chicago, Illinois, was shot and killed while attending a vigil for a friend that was killed in an automobile accident. James was a good student and had been accepted to a couple of different colleges already. James was reported as having a passion for life and was looking forward to leaving Chicago to pursue higher education.

I was struck by the words of his mother. James’ mother said that she had moved neighborhood to keep her children safe. She drove them everywhere, to make sure they would not be victims of street violence. And despite all her attempts to keep her children safe, she lost her son while attending a vigil for a friend. Someone drove by the vigil and began shooting into a crowd of around 100 people.

I wonder what, if anything else, this mother could have done? What is wrong on the streets of America where there seems to be no respect for human life?

The city of Chicago has seen 432 homicide so far this year. This is just one city in the U.S.

Today I invite you to offer a prayer for the Garrett family. But also, a prayer for peace and a call for the respect of human life.

Cyneatha Millsaps

Una Comunidad de Hermanas en el Camino // A Community of Sister in the Journey by Marta Castillo

El Comite de Hermandad de las Conferencias de Franconia y Distrito Este patrocinó un taller de Cuidándonos Entre Hermanas (las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU) en español presentada por la Pastora Ofelia Garcia de Mexico en el Centro de Retiro Spruce Lake el fin de semana del 21-23 de septiembre, 2018. El siguiente es un artículo por Marta Castillo sobre el taller.

Scroll down for the English version!

La pastora pensó por un momento, luego se quitó la bufanda rosa brillante y la tendió en la forma de una cruz en el espacio estrecho entre las camas. Luego, ella nos pidió a uno de nosotras que saliera y consiguiera algo de tierra para colocar junto a la cruz. Los dos símbolos, la cruz de color rosa brillante y la tierra yacen juntos como una poderosa imagen de la vida, la muerte, la salvación y la libertad. Comenzamos a orar, atentos al Espíritu y a nuestra hermana, mientras ella hablaba, lloraba y oraba para dejar ir la culpa paralizante que llevaba después de la muerte de su padre cinco años antes. La ungimos con aceite y con nuestras oraciones de bendición, creyendo que el poder de Jesús traería transformación y libertad en su vida y caminaría con Dios. Supongo que podríamos haber escuchado su historia y haber orado por ella sin los símbolos, pero había poder en las adicciones físicas y visuales al acompañamiento de sus hermanas.  Esta es una historia entre muchas historias de un fin de semana poderosa de hermanas acompañando una a la otra.

Photo by Marisa Smucker

Durante el primer retiro (solamente en español) de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres, la Pastora Ofelia García llenó nuestros corazones y mentes con una enseñanza poderosa a través de actividades y símbolos compartidos. Caminamos en los zapatos de los demás, determinamos los límites de nuestro espacio personal y nos comprometimos a cuidarnos mutuamente en la seguridad, la sabiduría y la confidencialidad de la tienda roja (un lugar simbólico de hermandad y cuidando una a la otra que usamos durante el fin de semana).  El sábado por la noche, nos vestimos, celebramos nuestra belleza como mujeres, decoramos coronas y luego entregamos nuestra corona de creación única a una hermana en Cristo con palabras de afirmación y bendición. Luego, el domingo por la mañana, celebramos la comunión juntos y nos bendecimos mutuamente con una ceremonia de bendición. Recordé cómo Jesús usó parábolas, símbolos y ceremonias para enraizar profundamente la verdad en los corazones y las mentes de las personas. El ministerio holístico de enseñanza y práctica que usa nuestro espíritu, mente y cuerpo dejará un impacto mayor que la enseñanza sola.

Fue más de lo que esperábamos, una verdadera experiencia de la alegría de ver al Espíritu de Dios ir más allá de lo que podríamos haber esperado o imaginado. Desde nuestro taller de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) con las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU el año pasado, la pastora Letty Castro de Centro de Alabanza, Filadelfia y yo habíamos soñado con un evento en que las mujeres de habla hispana en Franconia y el Distrito Este pudieran venir, relajarse, compartir sus historias, orar juntas y recibir enseñanza sobre la curación y el cuidado personal. Fue realmente un esfuerzo de equipo. La pastora Ofelia García aceptó venir de la ciudad de México para ser la oradora porque ella había apoyado en el desarrollo de los materiales de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres y tenía mucha experiencia en presentarlos en diferentes países.  Pastora García recibió por primera vez la capacitación de liderazgo de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres en Guatemala en 2012, enseñada por Carolyn Heggen, una psicoterapeuta especializada en curación de traumas, y Rhoda Keener, directora de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) para las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU, quien desarrolló el ministerio de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres. Heggen dice: “Ofelia es una maestra talentosa y creativa. Estamos encantados de que ella haya compartido estos materiales con niños, con mujeres de la Colonia Mexicana en Chihuahua y ahora con mujeres hispanas en los Estados Unidos “.

La Conferencia de Franconia acordó apoyar nuestros esfuerzos para alcanzar a las mujeres dentro de las iglesias de la conferencia y el Distrito Este. Congregaciones como Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza y Nueva Vida Norristown New Life nos apoyaron con becas. Los pastores ayudaron a correr la voz a sus miembros que hablan español. Un grupo del Centro de Alabanza trabajó duro para reunir el programa y los detalles. El personal del Spruce Lake Retreat Center nos apoyó a través del proceso de registro y la planificación del retiro.

A las pocas horas de estar juntas, setenta y dos mujeres de más de quince iglesias diferentes y al menos diez países diferentes compartían con una profundidad que nos sorprendió. Cuando compartimos en pequeños grupos, escuchamos historias de abandono de padres y cónyuges, abuso verbal, físico, sexual, dificultades matrimoniales, falta de perdón, enojo, pérdida de un hijo y mucho más. Escuchamos historias de fe de la gracia y el amor de Dios que se acercan para traer perdón, libertad, sanidad, esperanza, amor y un futuro. Lloramos, sonreímos, reímos, nos abrazamos y escuchamos. Nos animaron a no dar consejos ni consejos a menos que se pidiera específicamente, así que escuchamos un poco más y oramos por nosotros mismos y por los demás. El espacio se sintió seguro y nos entregamos a la experiencia y la comunidad.

Se extendió la invitación y llegaron las mujeres. Disfrutamos de la belleza de las montañas, los árboles y la creación de Dios. Nos alejamos de nuestro trabajo, hogares, familias y responsabilidades para cuidarnos a nosotros mismos y a otras mujeres como nosotros. Compartimos profundamente y nos animamos mutuamente. Cuando nos fuimos y regresamos a casa, continuaremos invitándonos mutuamente a “Ven, camina con nosotros. El viaje es largo “.

Lucas 10:27 (NVI) ….“Ama al Señor tu Dios con todo tu corazón, con todo tu ser, con todas tus fuerzas y con toda tu mente”, y: “Ama a tu prójimo como a ti mismo”


 

The Sistering Committee of the Eastern District and Franconia conferences hosted an all Spanish language Sister Care seminar featuring Pastor Ofelia Garcia as a speaker at Spruce Lake Retreat Center on September 21–28, 2018. The following is an article by Marta Castillo about the seminar.

She thought for a moment, then pulled off her bright pink scarf and laid it down in the rough form of a cross in the narrow space between the beds. She then instructed one of us to go outside and get some dirt to place by the cross. The two symbols, the bright pink cross and the dirt laid there together as a powerful visual of life, death, salvation, and freedom. We began to pray, attentive to the Spirit and to our sister, as she talked, wept, and prayed as she processed letting go of the crippling guilt she carried after her father’s death five years before. We anointed her with oil and with our prayers of blessings, believing that the power of Jesus would bring transformation and freedom in her life and walk with God. I suppose we could have listened to her story and prayed for her without the symbols but there was power in the visual and physical additions to the accompaniment of her sisters. This is one story of many from a powerful weekend of sisters walking alongside one another.

During the weekend of the Sister Care Retreat, Pastor Ofelia Garcia filled our hearts and minds with powerful teaching through shared activities and symbols. We walked in each other’s’ shoes, determined our personal boundaries, and committed ourselves to caring for each other in the safety, wisdom and confidentiality of the red tent (a symbolic place of sisterhood and caring for each other we used throughout the weekend). On Saturday night, we dressed up, celebrated our beauty as women, decorated crowns, and then gave our uniquely created crown to a sister in Christ with words of affirmation and blessing. Then on Sunday morning, we celebrated communion together and blessed one another. I was reminded of how Jesus used parables, symbols, and ceremony to deeply root the truth in people’s hearts and minds. The holistic ministry of teaching and practice using our spirit, mind, and body will leave an impact greater than teaching alone.

Pastors Letty Castro and Ofelia Garcia

This was the first all-Spanish Sister Care Retreat held in the United States. It was more than we had hoped for, a true experience of the joy seeing God’s Spirit going above and beyond what we could have  imagined.  Since our own training in Sister Care with Mennonite Women USA last year, Pastor Letty Castro of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelphia, and I had dreamed of an event where Spanish-speaking women in Franconia and Eastern District could come, relax, share their stories, pray together, and receive teaching about healing and self-care. It truly was a team effort. Pastor Ofelia Garcia agreed to come from Mexico City to speak because of her previous experience in developing and presenting Sister Care seminars. Pastor Garcia first received Sister Care leadership training in Guatemala in 2012 taught by Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing, and Rhoda Keener, Sister Care Director for Mennonite Women USA, who developed the Sister Care ministry. Heggen says, “Ofelia is a gifted, creative teacher. We are delighted she has shared these materials with children, with Mexican Colony women in Chihuahua and now with Hispanic women in the US.”  

Franconia Conference agreed to support our efforts to reach women within the churches of the conference and Eastern District. Congregations like Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life supported us with scholarships for women to attend. Pastors helped get the word out to their Spanish speaking members. A group from Centro de Alabanza worked hard to bring the program and details together. Staff from Spruce Lake Retreat Center supported us through the registration process and retreat planning.

Within hours of being together, women from over fifteen different churches and at least ten different countries were sharing with a depth that took us by surprise.  When we shared in small groups, we heard stories of parental and spousal abandonment; verbal, physical, sexual abuse; marriage difficulties; mercilessness; anger; loss of a child; and so much more. We heard faith stories of God’s grace and love reaching down to bring forgiveness, freedom, healing, hope, love, and a future. We cried, we smiled, we laughed, we hugged, and we listened. We were encouraged not to give counsel or advice unless it was asked for specifically so we listened some more and we prayed for ourselves and for each other. The space felt safe and we surrendered ourselves to the experience and the community.

The invitation was extended and the women came. We enjoyed the beauty of the mountains, trees, and God’s creation. We stepped away from our work, homes, families, and responsibilities to care for ourselves and other women like us. We shared deeply and encouraged each other. As we left and went home, we will continue to invite each other to “Come, walk with us. The journey is long.”

Luke 10:27 (NIV)  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”