“With the help of God’s Spirit, the retreat has been the means to open and free our hearts of knots and situations that prevent us from fully being women in every sense of the word,” says Gladis Velásqez Maldonado.
Velásqez Maldonado is part of an emerging worldwide network of Anabaptist Women Theologians inspired at the 2003 Mennonite World Conference Assembly in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Leaders in Latin American organized MTAL Movimiento de Mujeres Anabautistas haciendo teología desde América Latina (MTAL Movement of Anabaptist Women doing Theology in Latin America), a continental group of women theologians.
Velásqez Maldonado experienced this sister solidarity at the 13–15 August 2018 Central American MTAL meeting in Lake Yojoa, Honduras, where 36 women gathered from Mennonite churches in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Colombia and the United States.
Devotionals, workshops, plenary presentations and space for interactive participation marked the event.
“I can testify to the progress that the Lord has allowed over the 15 years since the movement began,” says participant and presenter Ofelia García de Pedroza. “We have made changes and reoriented the original plans that we had and it has been a great lesson to see how the Spirit of God moves where it wants to and guides us towards fulfilling God’s purposes.”
Due to the cultural and structural violence prevalent in many of their homelands, women experience physical, emotional and spiritual health problems that hinder them from developing their gifts and building healthy communities.
The meetings allowed women to process some of this trauma in a safe environment.
“I was able to share things that I had never talked about to anybody before... It was freeing to feel listened to and to be able to hear suggestions and ideas from other sisters about how to face these situations,” says Velásqez Maldonado.
Meeting with other women in similar ministry situations from different countries, “we completely understood the words that were spoken from the heart. We expressed ourselves in a safe environment,” says García de Pedroza. “To be there was to experience God’s mercy, overflowing love, limitless compassion and holistic peace.”
MTAL offers opportunity for women in leadership “to talk about what my heart felt was a heavy burden, to allow myself to be loved and allow others to care about me, to be encouraged through hugs, in essence… to be vulnerable and to enjoy the company, the nature around us, the food that is laughter, the lake, the coffee, the rainy afternoons,” says García de Pedroza.
—Mennonite World Conference release