Every organization has a purpose — an answer to the deceptively simple question, "Why?" At Mennonite Mission Network, the answer to that question is: to lead, mobilize and equip the church to participate in holistic witness to Jesus Christ — across the street, all through the marketplaces and around the world.
In this Q&A series, Mission Network asks staff members to think about the role they play in the agency and how they see their daily work joining into what God is doing around the world.
Gisselle Guity reflects on her role as executive assistant to the Mission Network executive director.
What brought you to your role with Mennonite Mission Network?
Mission is what brought me here. I, and five other warrior women, were planting a church in West Palm Beach, Florida. We were called to bring the gospel to the least served, most traumatized people. I did this because I know what rejection is like.
I am Garifuna, and I was born in rural Honduras. My mother sent me, from the interior of the country, to Puerto Cortés, a city on Honduras' northern Caribbean coast, to get a good education. I didn't fit in there because I am Black and spoke heavily accented Spanish. I carried this stigma and distanced myself from Garifuna culture, when I went to New York for university studies in 1988. I embraced African American culture, but I didn't love it. I struggled to survive in the 'hood.' All this searching for belonging led me to prepare for social work and I graduated with a master's degree in this field from Fordham University.
After completing university, I moved to West Palm Beach, Florida, in 2005, and began attending Iglesia Evangelica Garifuna Menonita de Miami (Garifuna Mennonite Church of Miami). At that time, even though I didn't think that Jesus was capable of healing all the trauma I had endured, I and five other women from West Palm Beach regularly made the one-hour trip to attend church in Miami. As time passed, we reduced our travel time and expenses by starting a church in my home. We invited women who were abused; people who lived in temporary housing; Catholics, who had lost trust in Christianity; and some of my former clients — I know it wasn't ethical, but they really needed Jesus in their lives! The six of us didn't really know what we were doing as church planters, but our congregation expanded tremendously, with people from Brazil, Cuba and Peru attending. We outgrew my home and moved the church into a school cafeteria.
Because of our education, the six of us were often chosen to attend church conferences. At those events, I met people with connections to Mission Network, [like former board chairs] Andrew Bodden and Madeline Maldonaldo, [former Executive Director] Stanley Green and [minister for church planting at Mission Network] Mauricio Chenlo. At one of these conferences, I heard Andrew speak about Lydia from Acts 16, as a church planter in the Anabaptist tradition. Lydia's story is my story. My heart opened! Then, Stanley preached a breath-taking sermon about Lydia. These [Mission Network personnel] were people who noticed us as women who love Christ and trusted us to serve Jesus! I fell in love with this faith tradition!
With a master's degree in social work, 10 years of experience as a therapist and my studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, I am now embracing my Garifuna culture and want to help others learn to love who God created them to be, including my two teenage daughters.
My mission is to share God's love in the context of what is positive in each culture and let go of each culture's unhealthy aspects. I love the Anabaptist tradition and want to sustain it.
What is your favorite part of your role with Mission Network?
I had a lack of self-confidence when I first came to Mission Network as an administrative assistant six years ago, but everyone praised my work. When I made mistakes, they kindly redirected me. They put me in a position not to fail. I love to interact with the board of directors. They are patient and compassionate people.
How has your perspective on Mission Network changed during your time with the agency?
I left my community and my well-paying job at a well-known mental health hospital. I had worked so hard to get where I was, overcoming poverty and discrimination. It was a big risk to leave all that I had achieved. I had to break my pride to accept the "assistant" title.
However, I have learned so many things while being part of the Mission Network community, as well as while at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, where Mission Network encouraged me to study as part of my leadership development training. But I still struggle with all the pain and hurt in our society. I can understand that this happens in the outside world, but we should not hurt one another in the church. I want to help Mennonites process and acknowledge that hurt, as many tend to spiritualize their emotions or become passive-aggressive when they are confronted with racism or other forms of injustice.
In my work with patients experiencing addictions and psychoses, I was prepared for difficult encounters, but in the community of God's people, individuals are often trusting and unguarded, which make them more vulnerable to being hurt. I have learned the value of understanding, forgiveness and sharing God's love in all circumstances. If God changed me, God can change anyone.
How do you view your role with Mission Network fitting into God's mission for the church?
At Mission Network, I strive to serve with love, because I was called to this. Mission Network shares this vision for God's mission in the world, that we should love one another.
What is something that has surprised you about your role with Mission Network?
I persist in a job that requires me to write minutes. I despise writing minutes! But I continue to learn so much. I have learned about many types of leadership and that different people have different ways of leading. I have learned to wait patiently for God's promises to be revealed. I have learned to hold onto my faith through times of testing.