Three Women, Three Windows: Working towards equality

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Timbrel, “Faith and Feminism.”

What is your definition of feminism?

Martinez: My definition of feminism comes from author bell hooks: “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” I use this definition because it’s active—it’s not a passive belief that all gender expressions deserve the same dignity. It is a call to take action to end patriarchy, which hurts everyone, not just women. This definition points out that feminism goes beyond gender equality—it must also include a consciousness of all the contributing factors of our oppression under patriarchy —including capitalism, racism, colonialism, ableism, and more.

Goerzen: As Anabaptists, we take our cues from Jesus, who treated women and other undervalued members of society with dignity and respect, while challenging societal norms that diminished people’s worth. I also believe that when the Holy Spirit descended upon the church, everyone, regardless of who they were, was empowered to proclaim God’s good news. Therefore, to deny or reject the gifts of someone based on gender, race, or class seems to diminish what God is doing through God’s people.

Prothro: My definition of feminism is a hodgepodge from other women like bell hooks and Margaret Atwood. To me, at its core, feminism is a movement that strives for equality of all people. Ideally, feminism dismantles systems of sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression in all forms.

How does feminism influence your faith and spirituality?

Martinez: I grew up in a con-servative church community where women were expected to submit to the men. Realizing I was a feminist meant leaving that community behind and trusting God that I could find a place where all gender expressions were treated with the dignity given to them as God’s creation. I still vividly remember the first time I heard a women preach on a Sunday, and the first time I heard feminine pronouns for God. I remember feeling my heart swell and my eyes water, knowing that God has so much more for us than we ever knew—and that feminism was my gateway to a better understanding of all that our Creator wants for us.

Goerzen: Feminism—or the foundational belief that all people are equally created in God’s good image, equally worthy, and equally called by God—affects all aspects of my life and faith. For example, it influences the language I use for both people and God; it affects the stories and images I choose to use in worship and teaching; and it influences the ways I seek to encourage people to use their gifts within the church and the world. I want everyone to see that there is something of God within them, and that the gifts they have been given are vital to God’s mission in the world.

Prothro: In my spiritual journey, feminism has helped me to realize that I—as a woman—am created in God’s image. It’s such a foundational piece of one’s faith that some take for granted, but I don’t because I lived for so long believing that God was a man and that I was “other.” The greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourself. Recognizing that all women are adjectative of God has empowered me to really love myself so that I am more able to accept and channel my power to love others.

What are your hopes for the future of feminism in the Mennonite Church?

Martinez: I hope that the Mennonite church can be an agent of change in the feminist movement—that based on our understanding of the dignity of God’s creation, the Mennonite church can actively fight sexism, sexist exploitation, and all forms of oppression. That as a church, we recognize that God’s desire is for the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven—a kingdom where there are no such divisions as Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female­—but that while we all have a unique expression of love that honors God, these things make us bigger and more beautiful as a whole.

Goerzen: I hope that the church can explicitly and continually affirm and proclaim the goodness and worth of each person. It is important for the church to teach that every person is equally created in God’s image regardless of gender, race, or social class, as well as that every person is equally called by God for the sake of God’s mission in the church and in the world.

In order to proclaim this, we also need to critique and challenge the ways that the world around us is selling people short of God’s redemptive and equalizing vision. Likewise, we will need to do the hard work of discerning and confessing the ways that we within the church have fallen short of this vision. I have hope, however, as more and more people are engaging in these conversations. We trust that God is already at work and will continue to work so that all may know their deep worth in the eyes of God and have their God-given gifts affirmed for the sake of God’s reign.

Prothro: I have three hopes for the future of feminism in the Mennonite church. The first is that we accept and embrace feminism. Many of us do not yet self-identify as a feminist because of what others have told us it means. Embracing feminism would help us listen to each other better and draw more people into our story as a body of Christ-followers. Second, I yearn for all people, especially girls and women, to recognize they are beloved children of God, created in
God’s image. Third, my hope is that systems of oppression—sexist, heterosexist, racist, classist, etc.—fall by the wayside so we can grow as a community that represents the fullness of who God is. My
sense is that we have not yet come to terms with how rampant sexism and sexual abuse are within our church. Much of what allows these toxic patterns to persist are the sexist and oppressive structures that benefit men and protect abusers. When we dismantle these systems, my hope is that we are all safe to participate in the beauty of Anabaptist calling.

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!”

August Grapevine is Here!

Each month we publish an issue of our digital newsletter, Grapevine. To view the August issue or subscribe, click here.

This month’s issue features a prayer for transitions; news about our July event, “Empowering Women: Claiming Healthy Personal Boundaries” and more!

International Women’s Fund

Mennonite Women USA has a long and rich history. We are starting into our second century having celebrated 100 years 2017. Over the years women have recognized the value of faithful accountability. They have honored their desire for mutual nurture and fellowship. They have followed the call to serve.

As affirmation for women in leadership, and particularly pastoral leadership, emerged in the Mennonite Church, Mennonite Women USA embarked on a new ministry. The organization budgeted to provide scholarships for international Mennonite women studying theology throughout the world. In 2000, the International Women’s Fund (IWF) assisted the first 4 women, each from a different country, with money to pursue theological education. The ministry has grown and in 2018 twenty-eight women from 14 countries were supported through the fund.

After having received her Certificate of Theology, Zaraí Gonzalía from Bogotá, Colómbia, applied again in 2016 for scholarship to begin her studies for her Masters in Theology. In her letter of thanks for the scholarship, Zaraí concludes, “It remains for me to thank the Good Lord for his strength amidst all of you for your company and prayer. God bless you! A HUG!” Since 2016 when Zaraí started her Masters work, she has gone on to serve in the administration of Seminario Biblico Menonita de Colómbia. Find out more about Zaraí here:

Rebecca Osiro, Nairobi, Kenya, was a recipient of these funds in the early 2000’s. She went on to be the first woman ordained in the Kenya Mennonite Church. In 2016, Rebecca was selected as vice president of Mennonite World Conference. Here is a recent blog post by Rebecca:

A first-year student at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and new recipient of an IWF scholarship is Febri Kristiaini. From a small village in Central Java, Indonesia, Febri was “the first person in my village who went out from our village to get a better education. She left the village for middle and high school. She came to the states first as an MCC International Volunteer Exchange Program volunteer, working in Hutchinson, KS. She is now at AMBS to pursue a Master’s program in pastoral care and counseling. Read more about Febri in her own words here.












Pictured: (L-R) Former International Women’s Fund recipients Elisabeth Kunjam and Rechal Bagh from India.

Three Women, Three Windows: Everyday Boundaries

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

Where are you on your journey to claiming personal boundaries?

Littlewolf: I am a work in progress. I make boundaries and then reassess and make revisions. When I first became aware of boundaries as an adult, I realized I was putting up walls instead of fences. Now I tend to think that I put up barbed wire fences—where the fence can poke others and it can poke me. I’m still working on a better analogy for my personal boundaries, but the barbed wire fence gives me a fabulous mental picture of where I am right now.

Groff: Over the past few years, my awareness of boundaries has increased. With friends, my spiritual director, and my therapist, I have processed times in my life where boundaries were crossed and violated. Now I’m considering what I learned from those situations and what I want to pass on to my young daughters. I try to strike a balance between accepting what was not my fault while also embracing the concept that I’m not powerless to set boundaries or to say no.

Staton: Just when I think I have a handle on my boundaries, someone will say, “I hate to ask but I’m really in a bind…could you possibly….?” and whamo, I get hooked. Not that helping someone in need is a bad thing, but it’s a slippery slope for me. People in need are my weakness. My life, my mission and my vocation are about helping people. I’m the campus counselor at a university. So when someone “needs” me, I am tugged by my life’s purpose to jump. But it’s cost me. My first year at my current position, students would tell me, “I’m so busy, I can’t meet at any other time but lunch.” So… I would do it.  And just like clock work, I would miss meals, work long days, get run down, end up with bronchitis and miss several days of work where I had to reschedule 16 to 24 appointments just so I could make room for those few who couldn’t meet any other time but lunch. It turns out the biggest violator of my boundaries, is me. That example is from eight years ago, but I just did it again. So I don’t know that I am where I want to be yet, at almost 49 years old, in my boundaries journey.

What obstacles do you face in setting boundaries?

Littlewolf: One obstacle that I face is that when I am tired, it is easy for me to sway my boundaries or give people the benefit of the doubt at my expense. I also tend to second-guess myself and search for external validation that the boundary I set was “OK”. I also tend to realize I didn’t think through my boundaries until after I realize one has been broken, rather than honoring my boundaries from the start.

Groff: People-pleasing is my biggest obstacle! After I set a boundary, I often second-guess myself or feel the need to justify my decision or overprocess it with a friend or my spouse. Instead, setting a healthy boundary should mean letting go after the decision. Yes, boundaries can be evaluated later, but I think it’s best to move forward confidently.

Staton: Turning down new or exciting experiences is an obstacle for me. I’m good about politely telling someone when I’m uncomfortable in a situation or when something doesn’t feel physically safe. I’m really good about saying no when I don’t want to do something, but quite frankly I like to do stuff that sounds interesting and exciting. When someone asks me to do something I’ve never done before, my boundary-awareness suddenly takes a nap, which can be harmful. For example, today I saw a familiar face and we struck up a conversation that led to my mouth making a commitment that I didn’t fully process. Relive my college years and sing in a coffee shop? Sure, you bet! I probably don’t have time for that. But doesn’t that sound fun and exciting? But if he had asked me to wash his car, I could have absolutely said no. I’m a work in progress.

What is one boundary setting goal you have for yourself this year?

Littlewolf: My goal is to  pre-think, or establish boundaries, before they are broken. Right now, I tend to recognize my boundaries after they are violated, instead of recognizing my needs ahead of time. I want my boundary setting to become a natural way of being.

Groff: I am reading the book Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much this year—one passage a day. This passage on busyness is important for me! “How much of the constant repetitive housework I do is because of my need to keep busy and not because it actually needs to be done?… Often, our busyness is a subtle form of procrastination that keeps us from what we really need to be doing.” This year, I hope to do a better job of setting aside what can wait and embracing the moments of connection in my professional life and life as a new mother.

Staton: Every step backwards gives me the opportunity to re-group and re-examine my choices or im-pulsive decisions that may put me in an unhealthy place, and I really do learn from them. But that doesn’t mean I won’t make them again. In therapy there is a saying that “Relapse is part of recovery” and that applies here too. I won’t ever be perfect. The day I think I have it all under control and let my guard down, will undoubtedly be the day I am most at risk! Who knows what I will agree to then! So I guess my goal would be to remember that I can make mistakes while still moving forward.

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.


This article by Marlene Bogard was originally published in Summer 2018 Timbrel. Marlene will conclude her time with Mennonite Women USA July 31, 2018.

I wish I had known about personal boundaries as a young girl. I wish I had constructed my own space bubble. I wish I had been coached on my Circle of Grace. I wish…

As a second grader, my head was pushed against the rough brick wall of our school. Howard mushed his face into me and pressed his lips against mine. I was a skinny seven- year-old and this incident happened on the playground during recess.  It was not OK. A classmate of mine had decided to kiss me, forcefully.  Not OK. I do not remember reporting to my teacher or my mother. Perhaps I did.

Today I wonder, what would your daughters or nieces or granddaughters do or say if that happened to them? Would they be sufficiently trained and empowered to push away, to yell no, and to report the assault?

In almost every decade of my life, I have experienced harassment, inappropriate touch, unwanted sexualized language and jokes. #youtoo?

When the #metoo movement became prominent, I decided to  recite all the ways  I experienced harassment while my husband and I were on a road trip. I began with the recess incident and carried on to the present. At various points in my monologue, he exclaimed, “Really?” and “Wow!” and then, “There’s more?”

“Yes, “I nodded, “All true.”

And I am not alone. I have minimized or shaken off some of these instances over the years, even chalking them up to my clothing selection or my vivacious personality. I have even said the dreaded, “Boys will be boys, and men will be men.” I am done with that kind of reasoning. It was never my fault. I did not ask for it.  I may have not known how to respond, but I will not bear the responsibility of men and boys acting inappropriately.

I wish I had known about personal boundaries as a teenager. The language of boundaries, of  sense of self, of empowerment was absent. No one (church, parent, school) offered advice or guidelines or about dating, about touch, about sexual activity.  Some things were communicated as taboo, but other than a little information about getting my period, there was a huge void. What did I do to fill that void? Act on impulse, surrender to those more powerful, get caught off guard, be driven by some vague notion of morality?

More than you wanted to know? Too much information? I would wager a guess that most of you reading this have had similar or worse experiences while you were growing up.

Recently, our four-year-old grandson proclaimed, “I have a space bubble around me!” His dad explained how his preschool is teaching about a safety zone around each child. With pleasure, I quickly jumped up and invited him to do the Circle of Grace meditation and motions with me.

Circle of Grace is a Christian safe environment curriculum that helps to form and educate children and youth about the value of positive relationships with God and others.

I will be retiring from my position at the end of July. But not before I help lead an event that is designed to help girls and women understand and claim personal boundaries. Because I am #donewishing and we are now proactively empowering girls and women to understand, claim and proclaim their own personal boundaries. I hope to see you at: Empowering Women: Claiming Healthy Personal Boundaries.

Want to register for our summer event, Empowering Women: Claiming Healthy Personal Boundaries? Click here for more information!


During some website maintenance this evening, a post from April 2013, “The Governance Structure of Mennonite Women USA Adopted February 27, 2002 (last updated April 2013”, was accidentally republished and sent to all of our lovely Mennonite Women USA subscribers. We are sorry for the inconvenience!

Planting Seeds by Shannon Unzicker

Shannon Musselman Unzicker, Benson, Illinois, is an active member of the Mennonite Church of Normal where she serves as a cluster group leader along with her husband, Keith. She teaches a primary Sunday school class and participates in the local Moms in Touch. Shannon is employed as a librarian at Roanoke-Benson Junior High School and is the mother of four children. She serves as the Great Lakes regional representative on the MW USA board.

As I’m writing this post,  I’m enjoying the changes that the season of summer brings. For the last ten years on Memorial Day, our family has attended a summer kick-off event at Menno Haven Camp In Tiskilwa, IL. It is a time to meet the summer staff and learn about what is planned for coming weeks. There is singing, prayers of thanks for God’s faithfulness in years past, and the anticipation of what lies ahead. I’ve heard it said that part of the ministry of a Christian camp is to “plant seeds” in the hearts of those who attend—seeds that grow a desire to learn more about Jesus and what it means to follow him.
There is much similarity in the work of MW USA. Through our publications and social media, we offer stories of how women have been and continue to be hands and feet of Jesus.  Our Sister Care ministry seeks to plant seeds of growth and healing in the hearts of the women who attend each seminar.  Mennonite women continue to plant seeds of God’s love and hope in the hearts of those nearby and far away—even those they will never meet—through the ministries of MW USA. For this we are grateful and thankful, and we pray that these many seeds will continue to grow and advance God’s kingdom here on earth.