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.

Weaving a network of leaders, healing, and hope

The article was originally published by Mennonite Mission Network. 

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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.

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Women urged to shed masks and fly

This article was originally published by Mennonite Mission Network. 

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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.

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Sister Care Enrichment for Latin American Leaders

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

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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.

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Walking in the Light of God

Sister Care was in Argentina last week for an enrichment training. On Saturday, Jan. 21, the 31 women from eight countries sang “Walking in the Light of God” and also marched as Martha Basualdo read Carol Penner’s “A Prayer for Times Like These” in Spanish, which you can read below.

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Sister Care goes to Guatemala

Sister Care co-presenters Carolyn Heggen and Rhoda Keener were in Guatemala October 18-21, to lead an advanced Sister Care training. A version of these reflections from Carolyn Heggen first appeared in the Albany Mennonite Church newsletter.

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What excitement there was last month as 34 women leaders from the eight Central American countries (Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Mexico and Guatemala) as well as Cuba and Puerto Rico gathered on at Semilla, an Anabaptist seminary in Guatemala City.

The participants arrived by airplane, by public bus and in the back of pickup trucks. The indigenous women from Panama had walked several hours from their villages in order to take a four-hour ferry and then a bus to Guatemala City. A number of the women said this was their first trip out of their own country. A mother of a 9-year-old daughter told us it was the first time ever she’d been away from her daughter overnight. Continue reading

Postcard & a Prayer :: September Email Newsletter

Enjoy September e-news from Mennonite Women USA!

Check out our new format to get all the latest information, reflections and images that cover all our national and international happenings from our Sister Care seminars to our upcoming Timbrel coverage. We also include a prayer to bless your day, excerpts from women in the greater church and content relevant to Mennonite women everywhere.

Sign-up today, stay connected each month!

MW USA September Email 2016

In Motion with Marlene: Invite Them to Leadership!

This column originally appeared in the summer 2016 issue of Timbrel magazine. To stay up to date, subscribe to Timbrel here.

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With the waters of baptism still moist on my brow and freshly commissioned by the band of Jesus Freaks who nurtured me in my outspoken faith, I decided to step away from a secure nest of Mennonite thought and practice and from my home community of Mountain Lake, Minnesota.

After high school, I searched for an evangelical college, tag-teamed with my Youth for Christ friends and decided on Bethel College (now Bethel University) in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

Here I discovered professors who spoke unabashedly about their faith. Daily chapel services and weekend prayer groups. The Psalms were read at the beginning of every biology class. My friends and I spoke freely of our faith, our longings to be in God’s will and we worked hard to be holy and consistent in our daily quiet time. I was in the best place possible. Plus, I was preparing through my studies to be a missionary!

But then, I met this guy who asked me many questions and then I started remembering.

A conservative Christian, he was questioning faith, affluence, and his worldview. He asked me about what I believed and how I was raised. He wondered about the Mennonites, Anabaptists and discipleship. In our ever-deepening conversations, I realized I was missing some things that had become dormant in my years away from home. I loved my life as an evangelical, but where were the conversations about peacemaking and social justice?

Together we read books that turned both of us on our heads. I remembered how I was raised, the theology of my family, church and tradition; a theology that went beyond personal piety to whole-life discipleship. I once again claimed my Anabaptist, Christian, Mennonite faith. Our friendship blossomed, we fell in love and have now been married almost 40 years.

Since then, Mike has remained committed to the church he was convinced was the right fit for his faith: the Mennonite Church. His path of seminary, pastoring and teaching has been honorable and steadfastly faithful. For me, I have served the Mennonite church as a camp director, area-conference minister, administrator, librarian and presently in my role as executive director of Mennonite Women USA. We have given our adult lives to this church, what is now Mennonite Church USA, but it was not what either of us imagined at age 18. 

The stepping away from what is familiar, the confusion about beliefs, the struggle about identity and life direction in young adulthood, are normal. Those of us who pay attention to the way faith develops throughout the stages of life understand this and expect it. Most of us need to have a time away to test, to re-evaluate what we truly value about our faith and the way we were raised. One of our sons at age 25 reflected, “I am not sure I value where I was raised, but I really do appreciate how I was raised.” He came to this conclusion after being gone from home for six years.   

This past year, I have been privileged to give leadership to three Sister Care for College Women events at Goshen, Bethel and Hesston colleges. One of our sessions provides guidance on answering the question: “What shall I do with my one precious life?” In each group, I ask the college women to reflect on what they wanted to be when they were 10, compared to what their aspirations are as 18- to 21-year-olds.

As girls, some envisioned being glamorous adults: ballerinas, athletes, actresses. But the majority of the women answer that presently they are studying for helping professions. We will be blessed with excellent social workers, nurses, teachers, psychologists and ministers. We will have faithful engineers, veterinarians and writers.

As the next decade rolls in, I believe these young adult women will indeed be leaders in their chosen professions. But let’s not lose sight of what they might be for our church as well. Encourage them to ask questions, let them wonder, listen to them, and most importantly, invite them to leadership. That’s what happened to this Jesus Freak from the 1970s. I was given opportunity to both fail and thrive. I was encouraged and mentored and invited to be a leader.

And I said yes.

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Marlene Bogard is Mennonite Women USA executive director. Previously, she served as Minister of Christian Formation and Resource Library Director for the Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA for 25 years. She currently lives in Salem, Oregon with her husband Mike.

Postcard & a Prayer :: April Email Newsletter

Enjoy April e-news from Mennonite Women USA!

Check out our new format to get all the latest information, reflections and images that cover all our national and international happenings from our Sister Care seminars to our upcoming Timbrel coverage. We also include a prayer to bless your day, excerpts from women in the greater church and content relevant to Mennonite women everywhere.

Sign-up today, stay connected each month!

MW USA April Email 2016

Postcard & a Prayer :: March Email Newsletter

Enjoy March e-news from Mennonite Women USA!

Check out our new format to get all the latest information, reflections and images that cover all our national and international happenings from our Sister Care seminars to our upcoming Timbrel coverage and giving tree. We also include a pertinent prayer, excerpts from women in the greater church and content relevant to Mennonite women everywhere.

Sign-up today, stay connected each month!

MW USA March Email 2016