NEWTON, Kansas (Mennonite Mission Network) – In January 2015, Mennonite Women USA's Sister Care training sparked a fire that created an explosion of interest among women in Brazil.
A few women from northeastern Brazil traveled several long days by bus to reach the training held in Curitiba in the south. Yet no distance was too far for them to endure to be trained in better ministering to each other. Now they are reaching out to a team in the Brasilia region to travel to the Northeast to help expand their impact.
The energy and passion of the Brazilian women hinted at the "fire" that was to come for developing women's ministry in their country. However, no one predicted the huge explosion of Sister Care ministries that would erupt to provide warmth and healing of God's love and hope for more than 1,000 Brazilian women since that initial training, said Linda Shelly, Mennonite Mission Network's director for Latin America.
The women who participated in Curitiba and the interest were so great that leaders from the Brasilia region felt compelled to create a team to carry on the ministry, she said. Sister Care Brasilia team members Deusilene Milhomem, Rosalina Vasco, Irene Naves, Rebeca Milhomem, Elizângela Fernandes, and Karla Milhomem are spearheading these women's ministries in Brazil as part of the broader Movement of Anabaptist Women Doing Theology from Latin America (MTAL).
MTAL is one of several developing Anabaptist women's networks around the globe that is striving to empower women in their context through leadership training and other initiatives.
"It is wonderful to see and follow how God acts in the life of each person and in the lives of women in a unique way," Deusilene Milhomem said. "Only [God] knows what is in the heart of each one and in ours also."
Fernandes said the leaders seek to be channels of blessings in the lives of the women they serve. "Women who have been abused as children and have carried these traumas throughout their lives have begun to experience a transformation in Sister Care," she said.
Indeed, Sister Care Brasilia is bringing [much] transformation in areas of intense challenge – including abuse and a hyper masculinity (machismo) that hinders women's freedom and growth, said Sister Care co-presenter Carolyn Heegen, who with co-presenter Rhoda Keener led that first 2015 gathering in Brazil.
"It leads to a belief that only men can be leaders in the church, and that women in the home should be subject to them," Heegen said. "This is a heavy burden for women and hampers their freedom to grow and to use their gifts. Sister Care gives women teachings and resources to know that they are God's beloved daughters, and that God values women and calls them to use their gifts, just as men are called to use theirs. Women in Brazil are energized by seeing the freedom that comes with following Jesus' example."
After that first training, the Sister Care Brasilia team has held 12 workshops in five of the six regions of the Aliança Evangélica Menonita (AEM) with total participants numbering well over 1,000, Shelly said. In October they will reach the sixth region. These numbers, however, only include the work of this team; other participants also continue sharing what they have learned in other venues.
Fullness of life is being conveyed through other themes besides abuse, as well, Shelly said. For example, Sister Care Brazil is developing two more seminars, one on the Seasons of Life and another on the Fruits of the Spirit, emphasizing the call to use the gifts that God has given to each person.
A new frontier for the team is expanding their work to men and children. "While it's important for women to have a separate time to share deeply together, if the men and children are also learning, the impact for families and the church as a whole is even greater," Shelly said. "When men and children are present, some sessions are for everyone, and others are separate."
Heegen and Keener have dreamt that through Sister Care, women around the globe would grow, heal and be better equipped to minister to each other. The dream has become reality, as Mennonite Women USA has presented seminars in 18 countries around the globe and have distributed the Sister Care manual in 15 languages. At each international seminar, additional manuals are given to leaders so they can then become teachers.
Mennonite Women USA has shared the seminar with 4,500 women, and international women have shared it with thousands more around the globe. Keener said the growth of ministries through Sister Care Brasilia would have been unthinkable if it were not for many partners working together.
"The energizing partnership and synergy of Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Women USA, and Sister Care Brasilia has made this movement in Brazil greater than the sum of its parts," she said.