Mennonite Women USA pilots Sister Care seminar at Goshen College

Carolyn Heggen, of Mennonite Women USA, speaks to a group of Goshen College students on March 21 during the first Sister Care workshop specifically designed for college-age women. (Photo by Shina Park)

Mennonite Women USA presented the first Sister Care seminar specifically for college students on March 20-21 at Goshen College, offering a workshop for young women to explore personal healing and recovery in light of faith.

Sister Care focuses on four components of caring ministry—claiming an identity as God’s beloved, caring for self and others, compassionate listening, and transforming loss and grief. Rhoda Keener, director of Mennonite Women USA, founded Sister Care in 2009 with Carolyn Heggen, a psychotherapist specializing in trauma recovery and a member of Mennonite Women USA. The workshop explored topics such as self-worth, body image, healthy relationships, stress management and decision-making.

“I have been Mennonite my whole life and have experienced sexual abuse,” said Keener. “I wanted to find a way to bring my faith into healing because I was angry at the church and theology, which made women more susceptible to submit to sexual abuse and unable to identify it.”

The seminar was the first designed specifically for college-age women. Snacks and meals prepared by women from local Mennonite churches were served, intending to cultivate maître, a Buddhist term meaning “having tender and loving compassion for ourselves.”

“Many women have not been given permission to look at their lives and ask, ‘Where has God been present and how has God been leading me?’” said Heggen. “Sister Care provides a chance to think about our lives intentionally.”

On Friday, March 20, Keener and Heggen introduced the topics of self worth and body image, initiating group discussions on societal standards of female beauty and behavior. After observing and analyzing media portrayals of women and its profound impact, the students were led through self-appreciation practices.

One such activity was the body prayer, inspired by a Mennonite chiropractor, in which the students collectively chanted, “God be in my thoughts, in my heart and in everything we do.” This part of the program identified the multidimensionality of the issue and redefined femininity, relying upon biblical scripture rather than the media, a mirror of the current patriarchal society.

“Sister Care encouraged me to re-evaluate my attitude towards myself and to appreciate myself more,” said Angeliky Santos, a history and Bible and religion double major from Goshen. “Also, it provided a safe, confidential space to share experiences of frustration, suffering and grief as women in a male-dominated society. I found God through other women, which is what Sister Care is about.”

Saturday morning was devoted to the topic of healthy relationships, examining both friendships and dating relationships. This was followed by an in-depth discussion on rape and a viewing of the film “Beyond the News: Sexual Abuse,” which featured both male and female individuals who shared their experiences with date rape.

The seminar concluded with a traditional water ritual, in which students anointed one another with water from both a dented and a glass bowl, which signified the need for personal healing and Christ’s guidance in recovery.

Heggen highlighted the need to implement the vision of Sister Care in college settings.

“I would love to provide these seminars on every Mennonite campus and to train someone on campus in student services or pastoral care to catch the vision,” Heggen said. “We want it to have a life of its own.”

– By Shina Park