Tag Archives: Sistering committee

A Community of Sisters for the Journey/Una Comunidad de Hermanas en el Camino

By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation

She thought for a moment then pulled off her bright pink scarf and laid it down in the rough form of a cross on the narrow space between the beds.  Then she instructed one of us to go outside and get some dirt to place by the cross.  The two symbols, the bright pink cross and the dirt lay there together as a powerful visual of life, death, salvation, and freedom.  We began to pray, attentive to the Spirit and to our sister, as she talked, wept, and prayed through a process letting go of the crippling guilt she carried after her father’s death five years before.  We anointed her with oil and with our prayers of blessings, believing that the power of Jesus would bring transformation and freedom in her life and walk with God.  I suppose we could have listened to her story and prayed for her without the symbols but there was power in the visual and physical additions to the accompaniment of her sisters. This is one story of many from a powerful weekend of sisters walking alongside one another. 

During the weekend of the Cuidandonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) Retreat attended by 72 women from 15 congregations, Pastor Ofelia Garcia filled our hearts and minds with powerful teaching through shared activities and symbols.  We walked in each other’s’ shoes, determined the boundaries of our personal space, and committed ourselves to caring for each other in the safety, wisdom and confidentiality of the red tent (a symbolic place of sisterhood and caring for each other we used throughout the weekend).  On Saturday night, we dressed up, celebrated our beauty as women, decorated crowns, and then gave our uniquely created crown to a sister in Christ with words of affirmation and blessing.  Then on Sunday morning, we celebrated communion together and in a ceremony of blessing we blessed one another.  I was reminded of how Jesus used parables, symbols, and ceremony to deeply root the truth in people’s hearts and minds.  The holistic ministry of teaching and practice using our spirit, mind, and body will leave an impact greater than teaching alone. 

This was the first all-Spanish SisterCare Retreat held in the United States. It was more than we had hoped for, a true experience of the joy of seeing God’s Spirit going above and beyond what we could have hoped for or imagined.  Since our own training in Sister Care (in Spanish) with Mennonite Women USA last year, Pastor Letty Castro of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, and I had dreamed of an event where Spanish-speaking women in Franconia and Eastern District could come, relax, share their stories, pray together, and receive teaching about healing and self-care.  It was truly a team effort.  Pastor Ofelia Garcia agreed to come from Mexico City to be the speaker since she helped develop and present Sister Care materials in many places. Franconia Conference agreed to support our efforts to reach women within the churches of the conference and Eastern District.  Congregations like Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life supported us with scholarships for women to attend.  Pastors helped to get the word out to their Spanish speaking members.  A group from Centro de Alabanza worked hard to bring the program and details together.  Staff from Spruce Lake Retreat Center supported us through the registration process and retreat planning. 

Within hours of being together, women from over fifteen different churches and at least ten different countries were sharing with a depth that took us by surprise.  When we shared in small groups, we heard stories of parental and spousal abandonment, verbal, physical, sexual abuse, marriage difficulties, un-forgiveness, anger, loss of a child, and so much more.  We heard faith stories of God’s grace and love reaching down to bring forgiveness, freedom, healing, hope, love, and a future.   We cried, we smiled, we laughed, we hugged, and we listened.  We were encouraged not to give counsel or advice unless it was asked for specifically so we listened some more and we prayed for ourselves and for each other.  The space felt safe and we surrendered ourselves to the experience and the community.

The invitation was extended and the women came.  We enjoyed the beauty of the mountains, trees, and God’s creation.  We stepped away from our work, homes, families, and responsibilities to care for ourselves and others women like us.  We shared deeply and encouraged each other.  As we left and went home, we will continue to invite each other to “Come, walk with us. The journey is long.” 

Luke 10:27 (NIV)  He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Por Marta Castillo, Ministro de Liderazgo en Formacion Intercultural

La pastora pensó por un momento, luego se quitó la bufanda rosada brillante y la tendió en forma de una cruz en el espacio estrecho entre las camas. Luego, ella nos pidió a una de nosotras que saliera y consiguiera algo de tierra para colocar junto a la cruz. Los dos símbolos, la cruz de color rosada brillante y la tierra yacen juntos como una poderosa imagen de la vida, la muerte, la salvación y la libertad. Comenzamos a orar, atentas al Espíritu y a nuestra hermana, mientras ella hablaba, lloraba y oraba para dejar ir la culpa paralizante que llevaba después de la muerte de su padre cinco años antes. La ungimos con aceite y con nuestras oraciones de bendición, creyendo que el poder de Jesús traería transformación y libertad en su vida y caminaría con Dios. Supongo que podríamos haber escuchado su historia y haber orado por ella sin los símbolos, pero había poder en las adiciones físicas y visuales al acompañamiento de las hermanas.  Esta es una historia entre muchas historias de un fin de semana poderoso de hermanas acompañando una a la otra. 

Durante el primer retiro (solamente en español) de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres asistieron 72 mujeres de 15 congregaciones, la Pastora Ofelia García llenó nuestros corazones y mentes con una enseñanza poderosa a través de actividades y símbolos compartidos. Caminamos en los zapatos de los demás, determinamos los límites de nuestro espacio personal y nos comprometimos a cuidarnos mutuamente en la seguridad, la sabiduría y la confidencialidad de la tienda roja (un lugar simbólico de hermandad y cuidando una a la otra que usamos durante el fin de semana).  El sábado por la noche, nos vestimos, celebramos nuestra belleza como mujeres, decoramos coronas y luego entregamos nuestra corona de creación única a una hermana en Cristo con palabras de afirmación y bendición. Luego, el domingo por la mañana, celebramos juntas la comunión y nos bendijimos mutuamente con una ceremonia de bendición. Recordé cómo Jesús usó parábolas, símbolos y ceremonias para enraizar profundamente la verdad en los corazones y las mentes de las personas. El ministerio holístico de enseñanza y práctica que usa nuestro espíritu, mente y cuerpo dejará un impacto mayor que la enseñanza sola.

Fue más de lo que esperábamos, una verdadera experiencia de la alegría de ver al Espíritu de Dios ir más allá de lo que podríamos haber esperado o imaginado. Desde nuestro taller de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) con las Mujeres Menonitas EEUU el año pasado, la pastora Letty Castro de Centro de Alabanza, Filadelfia y yo habíamos soñado con un evento en que las mujeres de habla hispana en Franconia y el Distrito Este pudieran venir, relajarse, compartir sus historias, orar juntas y recibir enseñanza sobre la curación y el cuidado personal. Fue realmente un esfuerzo de equipo. La pastora Ofelia García aceptó venir de la ciudad de México para ser la presentadora porque ella había apoyado el desarrollo de los materiales de Cuidándonos Entre Mujeres y tenía mucha experiencia en presentarlos en diferentes países. La Conferencia de Franconia acordó apoyar nuestros esfuerzos para alcanzar a las mujeres dentro de las iglesias de la conferencia y el Distrito Este. Congregaciones como Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza y Nueva Vida Norristown New Life nos apoyaron con becas. Los pastores ayudaron a correr la voz a sus miembros que hablan español. Un grupo del Centro de Alabanza trabajó duro para reunir el programa y los detalles. El personal del Spruce Lake Retreat Center nos apoyó a través del proceso de registro y la planificación del retiro.

A las pocas horas de estar juntas, setenta y dos mujeres de más de quince iglesias diferentes y al menos diez países diferentes compartían con una profundidad que nos sorprendió. Cuando compartimos en pequeños grupos, escuchamos historias de abandono de padres y cónyugues, abuso verbal, físico, sexual, dificultades matrimoniales, falta de perdón, enojo, pérdida de un hijo y mucho más. Escuchamos historias de fe de la gracia y el amor de Dios que se acercan para traer perdón, libertad, sanidad, esperanza, amor y un futuro. Lloramos, sonreímos, reímos, nos abrazamos y escuchamos. Nos animaron a no dar consejos ni sugerencias a menos que se pidiera específicamente, así que escuchamos un poco más y oramos por nosotras mismas y por los demás. El espacio se sintió seguro y nos entregamos a la experiencia y la comunidad.

Se extendió la invitación y llegaron las mujeres. Disfrutamos de la belleza de las montañas, los árboles y la creación de Dios. Nos alejamos de nuestro trabajo, hogares, familias y responsabilidades para cuidarnos a nosotras mismas y a otras mujeres iguales que nosotras. Compartimos profundamente y nos animamos mutuamente. Cuando nos fuimos y regresamos a casa, continuaremos invitándonos mutuamente a “Ven, camina con nosotros. El viaje es largo.”

Lucas 10:27 (NVI) ….“Ama al Señor tu Dios con todo tu corazón, con todo tu ser, con todas tus fuerzas y con toda tu mente”, y: “Ama a tu prójimo como a ti mismo”

Darkness Unfolding As Light

On April 14 approximately 80 women from across Franconia and Eastern District Conferences joined together at Towamencin Mennonite Church for the annual Sister Care Gathering. The theme was “Darkness Unfolding as Light,” with the book of Ruth as the Biblical text.  Cathy Spory, Elementary Principal at Johnstown Christian School, took on the character of Naomi and gave insightful first-person monologues.  Marilyn Bender, one of four co-pastors at Ripple Church in Allentown and Rose Bender Cook, Marilyn’s sister-in-law and a bi-vocational pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church, shared their personal and Biblical reflections including speaking of the illness and loss of Marilyn’s husband John, Rose’s brother.

The women were invited to string beads, with knots representing the rough places and the iridescent beads representing those light-filled moments. There was time for conversation and prayer with each other at our tables, and an opportunity to experiment with different ways to pray including praying with color, walking prayer, healing prayer and anointing.

Pastor Letty Cortes from Centro de Alabanza led the women in activities to get to know  one another. There was much singing together and the women enjoyed a delicious lunch including a wonderful cake gifted to them from MCUSA out-going Executive Director, Ervin Stutzman, from his retirement party the night before.  It was bi-lingual day, with everything presented in English and Spanish, and was a deeply moving day, culminating in the women giving testimony as to where God had unfolded their darkness into light.

Many thanks to the planning committee: Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator; Pastor Donna Merow; Pastor Doris Diener; Pastor Letty Castro; and Pastor Marta Castillo. Special thanks to Pastor Marilyn Bender, Pastor Rose Bender Cook and Cathy Spory for all their energy and all they shared with the women of our Conferences.

Carrying Grandmother’s Purse

by Anne M. Yoder

On March 18, 2017, I had the privilege of meeting with a large group from area Mennonite churches at the 6th annual Eastern District and Franconia Conferences’ Women’s Gathering. Every year at this event I think about who will attend, what joys they will have experienced in the last year and what difficulties they may have encountered. I pray for us all that we may meet the Lord in and through each other when we gather. And each year I am again greatly heartened by being among so many sisters in Christ.

Once again the hard work of the planning committee and especially our miracle-working God made a way where there seemed to be no way, and we were able to enjoy a sacred day of fellowship, worship, and learning. We had the biggest group ever, with 80 registrants from 15 different churches. The largest contingent of over 20 women came from Centro de Alabanza de Fildelfia.

The theme for the gathering was “Carrying Grandmother’s Purse”, a metaphor for the views and messages we often carry from our families and culture that may or may not help us to be the women God created us to be (see the meditation here for more on the metaphor). Our speaker was Pastor Tami Good from Swamp Mennonite Church, who led us in looking at several Biblical women who needed to hear new messages about themselves in order to live abundantly. First they had to shed some of the messages they had heard in the past about themselves, setting aside “Grandmother’s Purse,” as it were before they could accept the messages Christ had for them.

We were asked to reflect on three questions throughout the day: Who do they (culture, family, etc.) say that I am? Who do I say that I am? Who does God say that I am? Pastor Tami told about her own journey of letting go of some of Grandmother’s purse as she stepped into God’s calling on her life to be a pastor.

Probably the most moving for all of us was hearing stories from those who shared candidly about their struggles and their hopes for the future, and time spent praying in groups of two or more for each other. In the morning we had blue paper purses that we named as our grandmothers’, and in them we placed slips of paper on which we had written things we had heard about ourselves through our lives that we wanted to release. Part of our prayer time was taking those purses up front to a basket where they joined all the others to be discarded. In exchange for these “old” purses, we were given change purses on a keychain in which we had placed positive messages to remember in the future including scripture verses reminding us of God’s messages to us.

We were blessed by songs of worship led by women from Centro de Alabanza de Fildelfia, expert translation between Spanish and English by several women, wonderful snacks donated by a dozen registrants, a delicious luncheon prepared by Marta Castillo, and by the faith witness of those who attended.

As one participant wrote, when asked what they found most meaningful about the Gathering: “Connecting with sisters of a different culture and learning from their examples – I noticed how many shared, and how they usually began with ‘God is good’ even as they described hardship in their lives.” Similarly, another wrote in answer to the same question: “Joining of all cultures, all sisters, seeing tears, prayer, and sincerity.”

All in all, it was a delightful and very meaningful day. We look forward to gathering together again next year.

Much gratitude goes to all who helped make the day possible, including Pastor Mike Clemmer for his generosity in helping to set up and clean up Towamencin Mennonite Church before and after our use of the facility, and the members of the Eastern District and Franconia Conference Sistering Committee who helped plan this year’s event: Pastor Letty Castro (Centro de Alabanza de Fildelfia), Doris Diener, Pastor Tami Good (Swamp Mennonite Church), Pastor Marta Castillo (Nueva Vida Norristown New Life), and Anne Yoder.

Women Meet to Tell Their Sacred Stories

By Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator, EDC/FMC Sistering Committee
On March 12, over 35 women met together for a Day Apart, held at Towamencin Mennonite Church. Attendees came from various Mennonite churches in Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences. A large group coming from Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, a South Philadelphia congregation that is made up primarily of immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and Latin America.

This gathering was a bilingual retreat that gave the oSistering1pportunity to reflect on the theme “Sistering for Life.” The term “sistering” refers to a practice in carpentry in which structural repairs are made by attaching new wood beams to weak (sagging, cracked or twisted) joists to make the original stronger. All of us are strong at times and can help those who are weak; all of us find it difficult to make it on our own at times and need others to support us. Sistering is a gift that we embody as God’s women who are following Jesus throughout our lives.

The program’s theme was fleshed out in various ways. Songs were led in Spanish and English by a team from Centro de Alabanza and by Dorothy Beidler from Norristown New Life. A meditation was given by Ana Rosa Hernandez, a member at Centro de Alabanza, on Proverbs 17:17 (“A friend loves at all times, and a [sister] is born for a time of adversity.”) and Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”) Four women — Linda Esh, Dania Hernandez, and Ligia Canavan, from Centro de Alabanza, and Jenny Duskey of Ambler Mennonite – were designated to tell a story of being sistered. From them came accounts of loss, sexual abuse, stepping into unknown territory during a move, and finding faith in the midst of struggle, along with the spiritual, emotional and physical help they found along the way.

Sistering3A children’s story, “Four Feet, Two Sandals”, was read to illustrate how something as simple as sharing a pair of sandals at a refugee camp can build sisterhood. Leticia Cortes, pastor at Centro de Alabanza, led us in activities that required teamwork and seeing how we felt in each other’s shoes. A sandal was given to each participant to decorate and to write a message on; these were then exchanged with another woman, with whom a prayer and blessing were shared.

Throughout the day we sat in table groups getting to know six or seven other women in a deeper way as we reflected together on our experiences of being sistered by Jesus and by girls/women at different stages of our lives. Women who could interpret between Spanish and English were each assigned to a table so that all of us could understand each other.

Sistering4I felt great joy in spending time with the women who gathered on March 12th. Not knowing Spanish, I had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be in the minority for once, but also to listen to a beautifully expressive language. Hearing the stories of women often moved me to tears and to laughter, and I marveled at the deep, and often exuberant faith that has emerged in spite of, or perhaps because of, difficult circumstances in their lives. Each year, this event challenges my faith journey and stretches my world-view. The Holy Spirit is alive and well and very evident as we meet. It is a privilege to take part in creating a holy space for this gathering to happen and to take part in it.

The Sistering Committee is working to hold annual gatherings like this and are planning for another one in 2017 Keep watch for announcements about it!

The Sistering Committee is especially grateful to Mike Clemmer and his team at Towamencin Mennonite Church for allowing us to use their facility and giving so much help in bringing our event to fruition. And I, Anne Yoder, want to thank the other members of the Sistering Committee for their wisdom and prayers and efforts: Marta Castillo, pastor at Norristown New Life, Leticia Cortes, pastor at Centro de Alabanza, and Doris Diener, of Franconia Mennonite Church.

The Sistering Committee represents Mennonite Women USA for eastern Pennsylvania (and the conferences’ outlying congregations) and looks forward to serving the women of our area. If you are interested in serving on the committee, please contact Anne Yoder at ayoder1@swarthmore.edu.

SisterCare Offered Time to Encounter God in Each Other in Spanish & English

By Marta Castillo, associate pastor Nueva Vida Norristown New Life & Franconia Conference board member

Marta CastilloMirror, mirror, what do you see?
Women made in the image of Thee
Woman, woman, what do you see?
I see You in me.

Rarely do I get a chance to see God orchestrating events in such a way as for the Women’s Gathering this spring  “Shattering our Mirrors, Reclaiming Ourselves”.  I imagine that the Sister Care planning committee faithfully and purposefully chose the theme, the location, the date, and carefully planned for speakers and program.  At some point in the process, the Holy Spirit began nudging them towards attempting to be more inclusive and intercultural.  It all began by the simple decision to send out the event information in Spanish.

Intercultural efforts and events have a way of stripping away our illusions of control and allowing us to “let go and let God.”  When the flier went out in Spanish, God moved quickly in a new direction and from my viewpoint, the planning committee with some uncertainty yet graciously followed the Spirit’s lead as their well organized plans went sideways.  Very quickly over 20 Spanish-speaking women had eagerly signed up but many of them could not attend without the provision of childcare during the event.  The committee had decided not to provide childcare during past events or even this year but willingly obedient to the flow of the Spirit, they agreed to try to provide childcare.  God provided people who volunteered to help care for the children but now they realized the original space was too small for all the children and a meeting place for the women.  Very close to the date of the gathering, the committee had to consider an alternative space that could accommodate everyone.

Reflecting2aAfter a visit and several conversations with me, the Sister Care Committee settled into moving the whole event to Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.  I couldn’t have been happier.  I could see that God was doing a new thing and I was honored to be a part of it.  For several years, I had carried a desire in my heart to see a repeat of the original event, in which Spanish-speaking women participated and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  I wanted to see an event that I could invite all the sisters of color in my church to participate in.

The nudging of God’s Spirit continued.  Since there were as many Spanish-speaking women signed up as English-speaking women, why not make it a fully bilingual event?  With translated documents, side-by-side translation, and sharing from everyone in Spanish and in English.  Why would more than half of the women sit there with ear buds waiting for the Spanish to come through while the English speakers talked on and on without pause?  Kudos to the committee members, speakers, and presenters who said “Yes”, they would be willing to try a new method.  Thanks be to God who provided translators!  One of the comments on the evaluation sheets expresses the importance of making languages equal.  “I liked everything because there were no divisions of languages because we are equal before the eyes of God and thank you for the word.”

TestimonyaOn the day of the event, women came early, with eager hearts and a hunger for time spent in the company of sisters in Christ.  From the greeting, to the worship, the meditations, the sharing, and the final prayer of blessings, English and Spanish words flowed back and forth like a beautiful dialogue.  Sandy Drescher Lehman talked about her calling as a pastor, shared her story of her beautiful skirt made from her father’s ties, and encouraged us to go down deep but to emerge in a new place.  Table groups talked and shared about the things that hinder them from knowing themselves and God and things that help them draw closer to God and know themselves better.

After a shared meal of tostadas, Christine Waanders walked us through a process of better getting to know ourselves and our personalities.  The culminating event of washing each others’ hands brought tears, hugs, love, prayer, and laughter to many women as well as the bittersweet feeling that a day of blessing, healing, and sisterhood was about to end.

Afterward, I received a card signed by 20 of our sisters in Philadelphia, thanking the committee again for the invitation, the experience, and expressing thanks to God.  “The time we spent together was glorious.  Thank you.”  As tears of joy sprung again to my eyes, I am amazed how God orchestrated the events as my faithful sisters chose to follow the leading of God’s Spirit.

Franconia Conference & Eastern District Women Gather  

by Doris Diener 

TestimonyaOn the morning of Saturday, March 7, approximately fifty women joined together at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation to “set the day apart” for worship, learning, and fellowship. The theme of the day was “Shattering Our Mirrors,” releasing the false image we see and embracing the image God sees when our Creator looks at us. Sandra Dresher-Lehman shared that God’s creativity in His creation of women may not always fit the mold the community has prepared for us and encouraged each to be authentic followers of Jesus. Christine Waanders challenged each to own her personality and to see positive possibilities in what may considered our downsides.

Reflecting2aOther speakers included Kristi Wile, Donna Merow, and Ana Giron. Thanks to Marta Castillo and Karisa Barlow who translated, everyone was able to understand. During the time together, the women learned to know new friends, made origami boats, sang, discussed, prayed, looked inside themselves and were challenged on their journeys of faith, washed hands together, and blessed each other. The women enjoyed a delicious lunch, provided by the congregation, over lots of chatter and laughter. What a refreshing, insightful, delightful day!WorshipDancea

The conference Sistering Committee is made up of Anne Yoder (chairperson), Donna Merow, Bobby Smisko, Kristi Wile, and Doris Diener. This event was the fourth Franconia/Eastern District Conference Women’s gathering since the 2012 Sister Care event.