Guatemala City, Guatemala – The seminar “Active and Compassionate Listening”, given by Carolyn Holderread Heggen and Rhoda Shenk Keener of Mennonite Women USA was held in Guatemala City, Guatemala, at the Latin American Anabaptist Seminary (SEMILLA) on Monday, 11 February. This was the intensive day for both men and women together, mostly pastors as well as SEMILLA students.
Very early Tuesday morning with great expectations we 60 women from the Mennonite Church and other related organizations got ready to participate in the Sister Care workshop. What happiness! All the countries of Central America and Mexico were represented in the group with the exception of Belize. After the welcome, we began our training. Each country had a time to lead morning devotions with singing, poetry, drama and prayers in very creative ways.
Some sisters shared the following in their testimonies: “The training took place amid powerful stories of pain. Many tears were shed and there was an opportunity to think deeply about important issues, such as accepting ourselves as beloved of God, taking care of and understanding ourselves, learning to set boundaries, listening with compassion and managing stress. It was a healing space for many of us.” – Gloria Chacón (Costa Rica)
“The workshop was definitely great, something to be lived, very real. For many of us what we achieved was beyond our expectations, and we returned with much deeper human qualities. We are ready to help others more effectively, and hopefully in the future we will give serious follow-up because in reality it’s what we need.” – Albania Molina (Honduras)
“What did I see and what did I hear? Sixty-one women praising, singing, telling stories of suffering and of pain, yet recognizing the presence of the Spirit of God in their lives. I saw and heard two women (Rhoda and Carolyn) share their experiences accumulated over the years, and address the participants’ questions with love, compassion and wisdom. I saw groups of women reflecting on and studying the word of the Lord and responding to questions on the topic. I saw women sharing joys and sorrows. I saw hugs and women growing closer with each other. I heard deep dialogue, sharing of knowledge, mutual support, friendship, and loving care among all. I heard words of gratitude and encouragement for the seminar, for the organization and administration. I saw SEMILLA staff always willing to serve, so that everything would go well and with the presence of our good Lord.” – Olga Piedrasanta
I personally experienced something different among us: new courage and energy to continue breaking new ground for women and men in each region. Hope and strength upon seeing that we are not alone on this path of the life that is ours to live. Beside us is our sister, friend and companion, also taking up the challenges of the Kingdom of God. Each is so different and yet we have so many things in common. This space was used to heal pain, express things that perhaps had been stored for a long time. It was a space created with freedom and confidence. The greatest impact of Rhoda and Carolyn has been open hearts, speaking from their own experiences, without masks.
In this setting we also celebrated the ten year anniversary of the Latin American Anabaptist Women Theologians Movement.
The history of the journey we have been on was recounted. This was very positive because many women said they were not acquainted with it. Since 2005 when the movement was brought to Latin America by women who took part in the Mennonite World Conference, Latin American women have been organizing and redefining their place in the church, learning what the Bible says about equality and justice. By putting forth great effort they have requested and have achieved increased participation of women in regional meetings, and more women in leadership positions.
We took part in a communion service with gratitude and happiness. The visual symbolism for our liturgy was a path made of grains of corn and lighted candles. These symbols helped us be grateful that Jesus, one with God, faithfully sustains us and always walks with us, supplying our needs and illumining our path with his Light. The bread yields life in each one and the cup, abundant life for two.
We do this in memory of God’s love, in memory of Jesus agreeing to the shedding of his blood and the breaking of his body for each woman and each man. We recall that whoever comes to the table to partake in the bread and the wine is invited to maintain just relationships with her neighbor. At the same time we remember Christ’s love and justice in including us in Christ’s plan of mission and also Christ’s call to take care of one another. We continue to expect Christ’s second coming and the consummation of Christ’s kingdom. In this way we minister to one another in a mutual commitment.
The next day we had a time of closure in which we listened to the commitments that each one of us took with us to our own countries. We were able to experience the moving of God’s Spirit bringing renewal and hope within each one of us. Many, like the 17 Honduran women who made up the largest group present, had to work hard at a number of fundraising activities in order to be able to come.
Many of the women that took part in this workshop are pastors or wives of pastors. They made a commitment to lead this workshop in their own congregations. While some women focused on self-help, the majority focused on working to bring changes. Some women, such as the Kekchi’ sisters of the province of Coban in Guatemala, face a double challenge: sexism and racism.
The activities planned by the women mainly centred in reproducing the workshop to spread Jesus’ liberating message for women. We envisioned putting a link on the women theologians’ blog where we could collect and publish writing that has already been done by women working in different areas within their own settings. We thought of the need to write new articles and publish them. These dreams have brought some women to experience profound changes such as learning to use technology and writing their experiences and testimonies.
Latin American women theologians have broken their isolation. We are very happy to be in contact with women of other countries and organizations. This workshop provides the opportunity for full, generous recognition of our sisterhood as women, the outburst of feeling, and the affirmation of experiences as sisters who are members of the Mennonite church body.
We express appreciation to all the institutions that cooperated in making this activity possible, especially Mennonite Central Committee, the Latin America Committee of the Council of International Anabaptist Ministries, and Mennonite Women USA, for the support given to Latin American women theologians and, of course, to Mennonite World Conference for giving us their coverage.
Ofelia Garcia, MWC Mission Commission. Translated from Spanish by Anna Mary Yoder.