Raising Our Race Consciousness by Malinda Berry :: Timbrel Winter 2016

by Malinda Berry Malinda is an educator-activist-doer. She’s had teaching roles at Goshen College, AMBS, and for the last five years at Bethany Theological Seminary, Richmond, IN. Her scholarship endeavors include being one of three founding editors of the Prophetic Christianity book series, a project focused on cultivating the scholarship of those connected to the Black Church, the Historic Peace Church and progressive Evangelicalism.She calls herself an “epicurious localvore,” she enjoys worship and prayer that involves our senses, and she loves to knit. This piece originally appeared in Timbrel magazine’s Winter 2016 issue on race.

Race is a quirky thing. We both want to talk about it and don’t want to talk about it, all at the same time. I have learned a lot about race over the past twenty-plus years, and one of the lessons I keep coming back to is how important it is for each of us to develop and raise our “race consciousness.”

Consciousness-raising is a phrase from the 1960s associated with gatherings of women where they would share their stories about their lives about discrimination and oppression they were enduring because they had been born into a sub-culture linked to broader Western culture in which women are necessary but of lesser economic, political, and cultural value than men. Women wondered why her brothers and male cousins were allowed to do what they wanted. Why did the congregation affirm her spiritual gifts but decide not to affirm her to be an elder? Why didn’t anyone, especially her own mother, believe her that the neighbor had molested her?

“Discrimination” and “oppression” are hard words. Hard to speak, hard to hear, hard to chew, swallow, and digest. Why? Because we tend to begin our explanations for life’s difficulties with personal responsibility. This isn’t just a societal or cultural tendency; as Christians we do this all the time. We have baskets full of scriptural references to our moral obligation to accept individual responsibility for ourselves, some more indirect than others: “spare the rod, spoil the child” based on Proverbs 13:24, Jesus’ words in John 6:44 that “no one comes to the Father except through me” (NIV), and Ezekiel’s delivery of a “word from the Lord” in 18:20 that clarifies “The person who sins shall die. A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child” (NRSV). And yet… Continue reading

Undoing Racism: A Conversation :: Timbrel Winter 2016

by Cyneatha Millsaps and Annette Brill Bergstresser (this conversation originally appeared in the winter 2016 issue of Timbrel magazine.

Cyneatha Millsaps (right) is lead pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois. She’s also a consultant for Illinois Mennonite Conference; coordinated Central District Conference’s 2014 women’s retreat, “Black Mennonite Women Rock”; and was a speaker for Mennonite Church USA’s KC2015 convention. Cyneatha is a graduate of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She is married to Steven; they have seven children and 19 grandchildren. Annette Brill Bergstresser (left) serves as editorial director for Mennonite Church USA and as communications assistant for Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana. She has helped organize and lead learning events on undoing racism in various settings. She has a certificate in theological studies from AMBS. Annette, her husband, Deron and their two daughters are part of Faith Mennonite Church in Goshen.

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Cyneatha Millsaps and Annette Brill Bergstresser learned to know each other in February 2012 as partners on the Sankofa Journey, a 1,800-mile cross-racial prayer journey by bus to historic Civil Rights sites across the South. (“Sankofa” is a West African word meaning “looking backward to move forward.”)

Let’s start with the hard question. How do you want to be identified? Black? African-American? White? Caucasian? Anglo?

Cyneatha: I prefer African-American. I don’t mind if people say Black, but to me Black is a color, and African-American is an identity. I want to identify not only with my people of origin but also with who I am here in America—part of a group of people who have suffered and who continue to overcome many different challenges.

Annette: I usually identify as white or Anglo, and as German-American, since my parents emigrated from Germany and that heritage has shaped me significantly.

Many people don’t know how to talk about race. What are practical ways people can be prompted to safely discuss issues of race and racism?

Cyneatha: The Sankofa Journey leaders invited us to be open and honest with ourselves, and their approach has helped me lead conversations on race—trying to get people to a space of just being comfortable. I tell people not to worry about whether they say something the right way, but to just say what’s on their mind, and together we’ll work through their question, thought or concern. The Sankofa leaders made it clear we couldn’t keep tiptoeing around race; we’d just have to talk things through. Continue reading

Sister Care in Cuba

by Mennonite Women USA

Shortly before presenting the first of two Sister Care seminars in Cuba, Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing, and Rhoda Keener, Sister Care Director for Mennonite Women USA, visited an art museum in Old Havana. They talked briefly to the two dignified women in charge; as they left, one women asked, “Do you have any soap?” Heggen, having been in Cuba before and knowing how scarce and precious soap is, did have two small bars of soap and gave them to the women.

On this lush and beautiful island country, the needs of the people for basic necessities form a stark contrast to Cuba’s outstanding educational system which provides free education for all. Four lane highways with modern busses and Chinese cars travel beside restored 40’s and 50’s Fords, Buicks, and IMG_8470Chevys, all on the same road also traveled by horse-drawn wagons and carts.

The Sister Care seminars held in Camaguey and Havana November 23-28 were hosted by the Cuban Council of Churches. Ninety women participated from 17 denominations including Methodist, Baptist, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Salvation Army, and Quaker churches.

Heggen and Keener began each seminar by asking women to work in small groups to compile a list of the challenges faced by women in Cuba. Continue reading

Coloring as a Spiritual Practice AND Upcoming Podcast!

Adult coloring books are all the rage. They are relaxing and enjoyable, either individually or as a group. But have you ever considered how coloring might be a kind of spiritual practice? What? Doodling as a way to pray?

I have long been on a mission to help folks claim their own “spirituality style.” Each of us gravitate towards connecting with God in different ways. Some of us love to participate in worship through congregational singing, others would rather be amidst ferns and trees on a woodsy path. Some of us spend hours in silent meditation and prayer, others of us thrive in group discussions, or when baking or cooking. Some of us read and ponder, others of us thrive in the midst of color and design with artistic tools.
All of these spirituality preferences grow out of an inner yearning to relate to God in the way that feels most comfortable, in ways that make us feel most alive. And all of these ways reflect our own personal style of creativity, our inspiration DNA, if you will.
“Me? Creative?” I am often alarmed at the dozens of people who tell me they are not creative. Wait, couldn’t that be offensive to God? Continue reading

#GivingTuesday Results :: WOW and THANK YOU!

What can we say but: Wow!

Your giving as part of the international day called #GivingTuesday was truly remarkable! We asked to raise money to specifically go towards our International Women’s Fund which disperses $10,000 each year to women around the world training for church leadership.

What we love most is that your gifts directly and powerfully affirm women and their goals of theological study. Women like Fabiola who is seeking education in Colombia so she can continue to effectively serve her community she loves so much. Or Priyanka who is focused her studies to equip her for teaching Mennonite women at the collegiate level in India.

Thank you for your gifts! We raised $2,936!

Women receiving these scholarship funds are able to pay for things like tuition fees, purchase books and buy materials to start, continue or complete their studies. You have made a way for women to succeed and for that the only words are: thank you.

Worldwide, the #GivingTuesday movement raised $116 million dollars in donations to the organizations who participated and we were part of that–YOU were part of that–thank you for your generosity.

(Missed out on #GivingTuesday? That’s okay! You can always contribute to the 2015 #GivingTuesday drive for the IWF scholarships here.)

 

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

Mennonite Women USA Joins the Global #GivingTuesday Movement

We are overjoyed to join #GivingTuesday this year–a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide.

Mennonite Women USA wants to raise $5,000 for our International Women’s Fund. Occurring this year on December 1, #GivingTuesday is held annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday to kick-off the holiday giving season and inspire people to collaborate in improving their world and to give back in impactful ways to the charities and causes they support.

Why #GivingTuesday?

Continue reading

“We Remain Committed to You, Mennonite Women” MW USA Responds to CLC Question

by Marlene Bogard, Executive Director, Mennonite Women USA

Mennonite Women USA is a constituency group of Mennonite Church USA. Basically, this means we are strongly affiliated and collaborate with the denomination, but we do not receive any funding. MW USA has its own budget, mission statement, staff and programming. The MW USA Board Chair and Executive Director are invited to the twice-yearly gatherings of the Constituency Leader’s Council (CLC) for discernment of matters pertaining to the entire denomination. Prior to the fall gathering of CLC on October 19-21, 2015, all participants were asked to respond to this question:

To what extent has the delegate assembly (decisions) at Kansas City affected your group/conference’s relationship with Mennonite Church USA?

And here is our response: 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