Mennonite Women and AMBS collaborate

International Seminar on Healing
by Rhoda Keener and David B Miller

For three days (March 31-April 2), the Wadsworth Room at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) became something of a microcosm of the global church. Here six couples from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America met together to explore and test new resources and approaches for healing ministry in their contexts. When asked what they hoped to learn from Mennonite Women USA’s  Compassionate Care: Equipping Leaders for Healing Ministry seminar, Patrick Obonde, AMBS student from Nairobi, Kenya said: “I want to learn how to break through the social veneer, traditions, and culture that keep women suffering in silence.”  Shabnam Bagh, India added, “Women don’t speak, especially in the rural areas.”  Jonah Yang, Hmong pastor from Thailand currently living in Minneapolis said, “In my culture men have power over their wives. I want to learn how to break that. We need to reinterpret scripture.”

Read more. 

Celebrate: The Planet

I love the National Geographic documentary “One Strange Rock.” This series highlights incredible aspects of earth, nature, and earth’s inhabitants. Every time I watch an episode, I come away asking myself, Can that seriously be true?

One stunning episode is about how the earth has changed and almost destroyed itself multiple times. The viewer gets to see a rock wall in Bolivia with the footprints of eight or so dinosaur species. The earth there used to be flat—until molten lava underneath the ground folded it and created a wall. I imagine that fateful day: life walked along, minding its own business, when without warning the land beneath it heaved and shifted.

God formed the earth as a living, breathing creation that continues to change and withstand this harsh universe. In Scriptures, we learn about times when God has appeared present and active. Take, for example, the Exodus, when God parted waters and materialized in a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day. But, we also read about God’s long silences. Consider the four long centuries between the Old and New Testaments.

As a pastor, I have often wondered about God’s involvement in our world now. Many of our circumstances tempt me to believe that God is silent, watching and letting life do whatever it’s going to do. These ideas sadden me because they focus on frail humaity and our capacity to hate and destroy.

But then, beautiful reminders such as One Strange Rock remind me that God is not done with us yet. God’s creation is so much bigger and more resilient than human life alone.

Consider the lowly plant. Plants grow in the harshest conditions and find room in the most constricted spaces. They possess the fortitude and inner strength to break through rocks, water, and human-made structures. If one plants a tree too close to a house, the roots will push the foundation. When multiple trees are planted along a body of water, they will over time change the flow and shape of that body of water.

Marvel, then, at God’s sense of humor in creation. Consider how parrot fishes’ waste creates our island beaches. It’s funny as well as surprising! I never knew that when I relax on the beach, I am reclining on fish waste! God must laugh in delight as we encounter such creations!

I also recommend the documentary Life Without People, which shows how the planet might evolve without human interference. Within a relatively short period, the earth would likely return to a type of Garden of Eden: a self-sustaining, ever-evolving, life-producing oasis.

For now, those privileged to witness the marvels of this planet should do so; our earth continues to shift and turn, and we never know when upheaval will happen again. To those who may never leave their small corner of the world, I pray you can at least watch inspiring programming such as One Strange Rock and dream big!

Mennonite Women of Virginia celebrate Annual Missions Day

Mennonite Women of Virginia (MWV) holds an ‘annual missions day’ each spring. This event serves a variety of purposes. For 66 years, women from all around Virginia Mennonite Conference (VMC) gather for fellowship, a meal and to raise funds to share with mission workers and congregations in countries that have roots in Virginia Mennonite Missions (VMM). Food was brought to Ridgeway Mennonite Church by 130 women on February 21.

Grazia de Hernandez led music.

The 2019 theme was “Women Encouraging Women…through Prayer.” For the first time, Hispanic sisters were intentionally welcomed. All parts of the meeting were presented in both English and Spanish. There are four Hispanic congregations in VMC and we want to know and honor each other as sisters in Christ.

Veronica Sanchez (right) shared her call to ministry in Spanish, with Melanie Miller translating.

Angelina Pardini (right) talked about her work in Jordan in English, with Lizzette Hernandez translating.

Lynn Suter, VMM director of international missions, concluded the program with a time of guided prayer. 

Then the fun began – raising funds for sisters around the world.

Directed by Dianna Lehman, MWV missions needs secretary, women took a number representing a VMM mission worker/family or a congregation overseas. Gifts of $25, $50, $75 were soon offered. In the end $5,730 was raised!

The blessings of sharing this annual event together as Anglo and Hispanic sisters were abundant.

It is our goal to continue joining Anglo and Hispanic women in our MWV events. God has led is to this point and will continue to lead.

(Left to right) Gloria Lehman, Joy Gabriel, Aldine Musser

In March 2019, Gloria Lehman and Aldine Musser, MWV past president, traveled to Jamaica. They shared love gifts of $125 to each of the 13 congregations in Jamaica Mennonite Church which will be used for their women’s and children’s ministries. Joy Gabriel, president of the Women’s Department of Jamaica Mennonite Church, graciously receives the gift for her church, Good Tidings Mennonite Church, Kingston.

The delivery of these gifts with hugs and smiles represents “warm money” to our sisters. These resources are used to enhance women’s ministries and provide funds to attend their annual retreat.

Later this year, MWV representatives will share gifts with sisters in Italy, Albania, and Trinidad.

Question: Reject Negativity!

Chicago, Illinois, will inaugurate its first female African American mayor come April 2019. Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot emerged as the top two in the primary elections—so, no matter what, Chicago will be led by an African American woman. This is something to celebrate!

I have watched Toni Preckwinkle’s career as she led the Cook County Board for the past eight years. She has done an excellent job and is clearly a capable leader. Lori Lightfoot is new to the Chicago political scene but seem like a tough, driven woman who would be capable of handling the daunting mayoral responsibilities of such a big city.

So why the negativity?

I was so hoping these two “sistas” would get together and agree to run a positive campaign. I hoped they would stick to their respective agendas and refuse to throw one another under the bus. But, it has turned out to be a typical political campaign. Negative commercials, false or misleading information, and blatant distrust widen the gulf between the two candidates. I am disappointed.

My mother used to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.” I wish Lori and Toni would have followed this time-honored advice. I wanted them to show the country another way of working out challenges for the good of all people. I wanted them to show us that negativity is unnecessary in a campaign and that what voters want is to get to know them and understand their vision and plans. I wanted them to do all they could to help voters to make informed decisions about whether or not they believe in the candidate and what she stands for.

As women, I call on us to stop working against one another. Now. Let us find ways to support and encourage each other. When we disagree, let us show that we are capable of finding positive ways to work through our differences.

As we enter arenas that have been dominated by men, let us not forget who we are and why men need us in the first place. We don’t have to follow the systems designed by men. When we see a better way, we don’t have to play the games of life the way they play them.

Let us show the world the beauty and essence of God that is in each of us women. Let the world see how we are made in the powerful image of the Most High God.

Ponder: The words of King

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that if we are to embody God’s love truly, then we have to decide not to be “compassionate by proxy.” I find this statement timelier than ever as many of us wonder if our world is spinning out of control. 

How can we calm our spinning minds and regain some sense of peace? I believe we need to reject compassion by proxy and embrace compassion in proximity and community.

The first step is simply getting to know our neighbor. It is a remedy to the rampant fear that has been building due to our disconnection from each other, creation, ourselves, and God. Disconnection has caused us to view the Other as a threat to our existence. We have become a people suffering from unhealthy isolation, confusion and—most gravely—fear. 

Only compassion in proximity and community will dismantle the fear that tells us the Other wants to diminish, rob, or kill us. Only this kind of compassion will break down the emotional walls between rural Kansas and Los Angeles, African America and white America, North America and south of the border. We must believe that all people are made for security and peace in nearness with one another. Trusting there can be enough for everyone, we’ll be able to loosen our grip on our “stuff” and relax about what we may lose. Then, perhaps, we can focus on how we can help others and join in creating peace. 

I recently visited a Yakama Reservation in Washington. Learning from a Native American perspective changed my understanding of Native American struggles and showed me similarities with the African American experience. When visiting Kansas, I spent time with a white young man from rural Nebraska. Talking with him about life gave me a different perspective on his needs and concerns. I believe if want to help poor Native American children or families in Appalachia; it would be an entirely different experience if you live among them. How could things change, I wonder, if more of us would offer our entire selves and resources to a particular community or culture? How much different could our world be?

Jesus moved toward people, into proximity and community with people whom others feared and shunned. He went into their spaces and met them at their points of need. Jesus saw their humanity, and—because he was in relationship with them—they also saw his. 

When was the last time you spent time with the Other—someone previously unknown and perhaps even feared? When was the last time you were able to consider or decide something about the Other in light of personal experience with them? When were you able to take into account more than what you heard or read from secondary sources like your pastor or even your parents? 

If we are to truly seek the Kingdom of God on earth, we must develop the kind of compassion that emerges from proximity and community—a compassion so much wiser than compassion by proxy.  

Affirm: Storming the Wall, by Cyneatha Millsaps

Affirm: Storming the Wall

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Todd Miller, author of Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security (City Light Books, 2017), at a gathering in Tucson, Arizona. Todd explained behind-the-scenes realities of people in power and said that climate change is very much on their minds. In Storming the Wall, we learn how climate change, migration, and homeland security are related and serious concerns of those in power. Much of the general population is relatively unconcerned about these issues, and those in power seek to keep it that way until they have secured their future and wealth. Because this strategy is destroying the planet, growing populations are on the move while those that are not are obsessing about guns, guards, and gates. I encourage everyone to read this book and think seriously about what Todd is teaching. If we make real changes in our lives and those of our families and communities, we can save our planet and free ourselves from fear of the other.

I also encourage you to watch these documentaries related to themes in Todd’s book: An Inconvenient Truth and An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power.

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.

Coffee and Conversation

Two weeks ago, women from Emmaus Road and Fairhaven Mennonite Churches gathered on Saturday morning at the Berne Dinner in Berne, IN for fellowship and conversation. The thirteen women, with ages ranging from their 30 to 90-years-old, spent two hours discussing issues facing our children and the churches response. Cyneatha Millsaps, MW USA executive director, led the conversation with concerns of young white males and the messages they are receiving about themselves and how those messages could shape their futures. Cyneatha spoke as an African-American mother who has seen the results of young black males living into negative and disparaging words describing their character. Cyneatha has been warning the church and leaders who seek to bring about a just racial and equitable society to be mindful of how we invite our young people into the conversations. As the conversation deepened, women who work in the local schools shared their concerns for this issue as well. Educators spoke about the levels and numbers of young people dealing with depression, thoughts of suicide, domestic violence, etc. Issues like these and a growing poverty rates demand a response from the church. If you would like to host a coffee and conversation in your area with Cyneatha Millsaps or other leaders of Mennonite Women USA, please contact Cyneatha at 316-281-4395 or the MW offices at 316-281-4396.

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