by Carolyn Heggen and Rhoda Keener
The Pilgrim House retreat center located in a beautiful mountainous region near Chuncheon, South Korea, was a fitting place to hold a Sister Care leaders’ training seminar. Attendees traveled from the southern and northern regions of South Korea to attend the three-day seminar held November 7-9, 2019, and coordinated by Sun Ju Moon, graduate of AMBS and director of the Korea Anabaptist Center. The 35 participants ranging in age from 20’s – 60’s came from Mennonite, Anabaptist (non-Mennonite), Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, and Quaker denominations. The seminar was taught by Carolyn Heggen, psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing and Rhoda Keener, Sister Care director for Mennonite Women USA.
South Korea is a country the size of the state of Indiana with a population of 51 million; Indiana has about 6 million people. They have long lived with war and division; many still experience long-term separation from family members and friends who live in North Korea. When asked what the problems or challenges are for women in the Korean churches and communities, women noted the issue of women’s role, in part because more women are choosing not to marry and Korea now has the lowest birth rate in the world. Other problems reflected the challenges of living in a patriarchal society with men filling most of the leadership roles in the church even when women are theologically trained, women doing the majority of childcare and household work, and cultural misogyny and devaluation of women. Participants expressed appreciation for hearing the Bible stories told from women’s perspective.
The seminar’s emphasis on inner healing, self-care, and setting personal limits was particularly well received in this competitive and highly structured culture. Many women commented on Heggen’s teaching about how to create an inner sanctuary of peace. One woman said, “I will never forget the experience of going into my ‘safe space’ and hearing Jesus’ voice.”
South Korea has four groups of Mennonites who gather for worship, mutual support and ministry. Together they number less than 100 but are active in ministry and outreach. The Peace Building in Seoul is a place for worship and for trainings and outreach in conflict transformation and restorative justice. They run a coffee shop and English language school to finance their ministries. The Korean Anabaptist Center in Chuncheon provides resources for peace building and Christian education and houses the MCC office. Mennonites and visitors gather in this building for worship and a communal meal on Sundays.
The Sister Care manual was translated into Korean by Sun Ju Moon and 500 copies were printed. Each woman took additional copies home to share with others in her congregation and community. As we left Moon said, “I am pretty sure that your visit and this seminar will bring a wonderful and powerful change and transformation in Korean women’s society at church.”
South Korea is the 19th country where the Sister Care seminar has been shared and the manual has been translated into 16 languages. The seminar was funded by contributions from individual and group donors in the US and the Korean Mennonite Church.