by Twila King Yoder, Harrisonburg, Va. Twila is the East Coast representative on the Mennonite Women USA board of directors. She is a member of Harrisonburg Mennonite Church where she serves as Team Leader for her Sunday school class. She works as the Assistant to the President and Corporate Secretary to the Board at Eastern Mennonite University. Twila and her husband, Steve, are the parents of four adult children and have four grandchildren.
In 2016 I will complete my second term on the Mennonite Women board. Eight fruitful and meaningful years that have blessed me in so many ways. These years have been fruitful as MWUSA launched Sister Care. I remember the intense and deep discussions as Rhoda Keener shared the vision God had placed in her heart… a vision that women would have the opportunity to learn how to care for one another in healthy and meaningful ways. I remember the times of prayer and searching as we deliberated over the feasibility of such an endeavor, both in terms of the monetary cost, as well as the physical, spiritual and emotional costs of those who would ultimately lead the seminars.
And what a fruitful ministry it has become!
Just a few short years ago we could not have imagined that Sister Care would be provided in every MCUSA conference – in some more than once, and that Sister Care would become a sought-after training and ministry opportunity that would travel to the far reaches of the globe! It has been exhilarating and humbling to realize what God has done and continues to do as a result of those earlier tentative steps of faith, and the way God continues to provide the resources necessary to carry out this ministry. We will never know fully the impact of Sister Care on the global Mennonite Church and beyond.
At one of the first meetings I attended, MW held a strategic planning retreat, inviting a wonderfully diverse group of women from across the country, representing a wide range of ages, racial ethnic groups and walks of life. In our time of discernment, it was noted that women seemed to be losing ground in terms of filling leadership roles. The discussion was reported in the church press and ultimately resulted in a women in leadership audit and the Women in Leadership Project. That conversation took place in 2009 and continues to be a relevant concern across the denomination.
I also found deep meaning in the work of MWUSA when, in 2009 Mennonite Women USA partnered with Mennonite Central Committee and the Peace & Justice Commission of MCUSA to bring a resolution on human trafficking to the Mennonite Assembly delegate body. When the resolution was presented I was sitting at a table with a delegate from the Phoenix area. I was deeply moved as she shared about her work “on the ground” with victims of human trafficking in her own community. The relevance of the resolution took on new meaning.
My invitation to serve on the MW board came at the urging of a dear friend, Evie Hertzler.
Evie preceded me as the East Coast representative on the board. She and I lived in the same community and attended the same church, Harrisonburg Mennonite, but our paths had crossed many years before. When I was growing up in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s in West Liberty, Ohio, Evie was a school teacher there. She and her family attended one of the other Mennonite churches in town, but she and my mother, who was active in the Women’s Mission and Service Commission (WMSC) learned to know each other. Some years later, when my parents moved to Illinois to take a pastorate there, my mother was looking for someone to take her role as president of the Ohio Conference WMSC. Mother invited Evie, who responded and became deeply committed to the work of WMSC and later Mennonite Women USA. When Evie and Don moved to Harrisonburg, Va., Evie and I connected and developed our own meaningful friendship. It was devastating when Evie was diagnosed with Lou Gerig’s disease in the Spring of 2007. By the time she was diagnosed, the speech impairment was already obvious. But she continued to do all that she possibly could to live life to the fullest each day.
At the time of Evie’s diagnosis, she was serving on the Mennonite Women board; the third year of a 4-year term. Her husband, Don, devoted all his time and attention to making sure Evie was able to accomplish everything her heart desired. I’ll never forget seeing the two of them at the Mennonite Assembly in San Jose in July 2007. In the few short months since her diagnosis, Evie’s mobility was beginning to decline. But with Don’s assistance, she not only traveled across the country to attend, but navigated the mammoth convention grounds, from the dining tent to the main session halls. At one point, I stepped out of a session and happened to meet Evie in the hallway, accompanied by a couple other women from the MW board. She was beaming! In her hand, she held a purple gift bag. With a smile from ear to ear, a moist gleam in her eye, and intensity in her voice, she reached in the bag and said, “LOOK what they gave me!!” It was a purple prayer shawl that the MW board had presented to her just moments before. She was overcome with gratitude and joy.
Evie died in early June 2008, almost a year after that encounter in the hallway, and after many visits and times of sharing together. It would require another blog post to tell the story of Evie’s insistence (and persistence!) that I be invited to serve as the East Coast representative on the MW board when her term expired, even though some questioned whether I would be too busy to serve. But the invitation was extended, and I said yes. What a gift that has been to me!
And after Evie died, Don gave me the well-worn purple prayer shawl. What a treasure! And what a reminder of God’s provisions: for a fruitful and meaningful life for Evie; for guidance in the work of MWUSA.