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.

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

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.

Carrying our message internationally

Rhoda Keener is the Sister Care director for Mennonite Women USA and a former MW USA executive director. She lives in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania with her husband Bob. Rhoda is the co-editor of She Has Done a Good Thing: Mennonite Women Leaders Tell Their Stories.

I remember receiving an email from Jana Oesch in 2010 asking me to speak at a women’s retreat in Idaho. I wrote back saying, “The speaking I am doing right now is Sister Care. Would you like to host a Sister Care seminar?” A year later Carolyn Heggen and I led our first seminar together in Caldwell, Idaho. One email can change so much.

I am often amazed as I work from my home in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, that I am communicating with people all over the world. I can correspond via email with Elisabeth Kunjam in India, Milka Rindzinski in Uruguay, Sun Ju Moon in South Korea, Pamela Obonde in Kenya, or Tran Diep in Vietnam.  Without the Internet, I don’t know how Sister Care International could exist and grow.

The Latin American Sister Care seminars began through Carolyn Heggen’s personal friendship with Olga Piedrasanta, an instructor at SEMILLA, and then continued with assistance from Linda Shelly of Mennonite Mission Network. Linda’s relationships with the women leaders in Central and South America enabled her to guide the planning of another nine seminars.

When Carolyn and I arrived in Havana in late January of 2018, our host, Midiam Lobaina from the Cuban Council of Churches, asked if we needed a projector and screen for our presentations. When we said, “No, we are quite low tech,” she breathed a sigh of relief. It is the photos that we share on Facebook and other social media platforms that connect the Sister Care ministries around the world.

After teaching an Enrichment seminar in Bogota last spring attended by women from five countries, I received an email from Linda Shelly sharing what women in Rumococha, Peru are doing with the Sister Care material.  Cielo Arguelo attended the Bogota seminar; then taught women and children in Rumococha that they are beloved daughters of God by creating a motto that says, “Soy una mujer amada por Dios” or “I am a beloved woman of God”.

A ministry is only as strong as the love and trust that form its base. Much can be built and sustained with long distance electronic communication, but there is no substitute for face-to-face conversations and time together.

Whatever form of communication we use, what remains important is that we know and believe we are beloved daughters of God.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Timbrel, Faith Formation in the Digital Age. To subscribe to Timbrel, click here.

Sister Care strengthens women leaders in Cuba

Two years after Sister Care seminars were first presented in Cuba, Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing, and Rhoda Keener, Sister Care director for Mennonite Women USA, returned to Havana, this time to bring the level 2 Enrichment materials and training for women who had attended a previous seminar. It was inspiring to hear that since 2015, these 28 women had taught over 600 others.

Keener and Heggen also traveled to Palmira in central Cuba (in a ’58 VW van) to teach Sister Care level 1 to an Anabaptist group of 36 Brethren in Christ (BIC) women who had not participated in 2015. This connection was facilitated by Jack and Irene Suderman, Ontario, and Bonnie Klassen, MCC Area Director for South America, Cuba, and Mexico.

One of the participants in Palmira, Deyli Milían Pérez, a pastor from Caibarien Villa Clara on the northern coast of Cuba, shared her story with Keener as Klassen translated. Continue reading

After 5 years, Sister Care returns to India and Nepal

This article was originally published by The Mennonite via TMail.

It was “Meena’s story” that most intensely touched the hearts of the 325 women at the All India Mennonite Women conference in 2012. Although it used a fictitious name, “Meena”* was the real-life story of a pastor’s wife whose husband became verbally and physically abusive to her, especially on weekends when he started to worry about the Sunday service.

Many women responded to the story, saying with tears, “I am Meena.” Indian women leaders advised Sister Care teachers, Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing, and Rhoda Keener, Sister Care director for Mennonite Women USA, to teach that violence against women is a sin and that it is not a Christian wife’s duty to submit to her husband’s violence. Participants said they had never before heard this. Continue reading

Weaving a network of leaders, healing, and hope

The article was originally published by Mennonite Mission Network. 

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

When Hispanic women gather, big things happen.

Hispanic female leaders from across the United States gathered April 7-8, 2017 at Portland (Oregon) Mennonite Church. They came as strangers and acquaintances and left as friends and a network, trained as Sister Care presenters for Hispanic women in the United States. Sister Care is a ministry of Mennonite Women USA that gives women the tools for ongoing personal healing and for responding more effectively to the needs of others. The seminar was taught in Spanish by Carolyn Heggen with Rhoda Keener teaching through a translator.

Continue reading

Women urged to shed masks and fly

This article was originally published by Mennonite Mission Network. 

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

For the past four years, Hyacinth Stevens has envisioned a Sister Care seminar designed for the reality of African-American women. On Apr. 21-22, her dream was realized when she co-led such an event with Cyneatha Millsaps at the Mennonite offices in Elkhart, Indiana.

Sister Care is a ministry of Mennonite Women USA. The Elkhart seminar was made possible through a grant from The Schowalter Foundation and partnership with African American Mennonite Association and Mennonite Mission Network.

Continue reading

Sister Care Enrichment for Latin American Leaders

Portions of this article were originally printed in the February 13 issue of Mennonite World Review

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

We sat around the dinner table at a YMCA retreat center near Buenos Aires: 12 women from nine different countries. We asked how the Sister Care seminar has been shared with others in their countries of Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Paraguay — and how this material has impacted their lives.

From the United States, Carolyn Heggen, a psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing and a Sister Care co-presenter, asked questions in Spanish, while Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network Latin American director, translated them into English as I typed the conversation. What we heard amazed us: In the last three years these nine women have worked with others to share Sister Care with more than 2,300 others.

Continue reading