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.

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

The Global Connections of Mennonite Women USA :: by Anita Hooley Yoder

This article first appeared in the print version of The Mennonite.
by Anita Hooley Yoder

Now this, I thought, is a real “World Conference moment.” I was having a conversation in Spanish with a woman whose family came from a Low German-speaking Mennonite community in Mexico. Although neither of us was speaking our first language, we quickly connected over our interest in ministry among women—I as the writer of a history project for Mennonite Women USA (MW USA), she in her work with “Old Colony” Mennonite women. We also were both familiar with Sister Care, the program of self-healing and mutual support created by MW USA.

The woman I was speaking with, Anna Giesbrecht, had actually gone through the Sister Care seminar twice. Neither of her Sister Care experiences was led by MW USA personnel. Rather, Giesbrecht received the material from Ofelia García, a Mexican Mennonite pastor, and other Latin American leaders. García was trained at the 2013 Sister Care weekend seminar led by Carolyn Heggen and Rhoda Keener in Guatemala. García has since adapted the material for use in many different contexts, including as weekly meetings and as Sunday school lessons for children of both genders. And now Giesbrecht has taken the Sister Care materials to the Old Colony Mennonite women of Chihuahua.

Giesbrecht guided the women through the Sister Care material in 12 weekly sessions. Two pieces of the material particularly caught their attention: Continue reading

History Project Update from Anita Hooley Yoder

by Anita Hooley Yoder

Much of my research time is spent interviewing women, but I’ve also looked through many books, articles, and archived materials. Generally I find it much more interesting to talk to real people! But sometimes I come across a resource that I find incredibly helpful in providing context for this project. One of those resources is a new work (published in 2014) by Felipe Hinojosa called Latino Mennonites: Civil Rights, Faith, and Evangelical Culture.

Hinojosa devotes a whole chapter specifically to women (much more space than almost all the other conference or regional history books I’ve seen). Continue reading

MW USA Announces New Ministry Name and Coordinator: The Housewarmer Project

MENNONITE WOMEN USA (MW USA) announces a new name and new coordinator for one of their important ministries. The Housewarmer Project ministry provides quilted wallhangings to individuals and families whose homes have been destroyed by disaster and have received a new or rebuilt home through Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).

The Housewarmer Project’s newly appointed volunteer coordinator, Becky Koller, gathers quilted wallhangings from a network of volunteer quilters found across the US. Once gathered, Koller coordinates the distribution of The Housewarmer Project wallhangings with MDS during home dedication ceremonies.

Continue reading

Our History Book Update // by Anita Hooley Yoder

by Anita Hooley Yoder

The past few weeks have been full ones for me. I am grateful for connections made at convention in Kansas City and anticipate making more at World Conference this week. In between these two events, I made a quick trip to Mississippi on other business. I decided to make use of my time there to connect with a few Mennonite women in the area.

I went from the airport in Jackson to the home of Jody Miller. Jody provided some context on the area and helped me understand the diverse and connected nature of Gulf States conference. (This conference is currently in flux due to things happening in the larger denomination.) Continue reading

MW USA History Project Update :: by Anita Hooley Yoder

by Anita Hooley Yoder

Let’s start with some numbers. Since I began this project last September, I have sorted through 29 binders and folders of material from Mennonite Women USA’s previous co-directors. I have read (or at least skimmed) nine books and 15 scholarly articles. I have spent 43 hours in archives and historical libraries and surveyed 40 years of Voice, Window to Mission, and Timbrel magazines. I learned that “two cents a prayer” became a $95,717 Missionary Pension Fund, that over 200 families served by Mennonite Disaster Service have received quilted wall hangings, and that the International Women’s Fund has supported the studies of 86 different women.

But this project is not really about numbers. It’s about people. Continue reading

Women Together I :: Steps for Starting a Women’s Group

Consider the characteristics of your congregation.

Are you:
Small: no women’s group
Large: a mix of full-time homemakers and women working outside the home
Integrated: men and women work jointly on committees, leadership
Traditional: an established women’s group meets some needs very well
Urban: many professional people, possibly a number of university students
New and growing: people of many backgrounds Continue reading