MW USA's eNewsletter

November 1, 2023

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The Whole Story

For a long time, I wrote off fairy tales. I resented being a part of the generations raised on stories that reinforce unequal gender roles, celebrate wasteful luxury, and reward aggressive violence. Now I like them. There is a plethora of fairy tale rewrites, and I am delighted to share them with my daughters—even to revisit their original versions. 


The new fairy tales connect to the old ones but change the value system. They use what’s familiar to cleverly enable new ways of thinking. The offbeat is made beautiful, victims are empowered, compassion grows for villains. These subversive lessons not only make fiction fun, but also reveal how stories can be a powerful tool for peacemaking. Just think of all the ways we grow in understanding when we actively consider a new perspective. 


Mark that you [get out there] with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

Ephesians 4:3 MSG 


This part of the Bible goes on to say we’re one but different ones. We’re to work together but not identically. With that said, more than one perspective can be tricky to manage. It’s often easier, or even feels more natural, to carelessly dismiss a difference as incorrect, boring, or useless. That’s what I did when I wasn’t imaginative enough to reenvision fairy tales.  


Were you also taught that non-fiction is real and fiction is fake? Despite my great appreciation for children’s literature, I only recently learned a new way to think about the stories I love to share with my kids. An elementary schoolteacher explained that non-fiction is learning by information and fiction is learning by imagination. I’m so grateful to have words for what I’m experiencing: Storytelling isn’t just entertainment, but another way of activating our growth.  


Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given [their] own gift.

Ephesians 4:6-13 MSG 


MW USA’s sisterhood is informed by the diversity of stories everyone has to share. We know from experience that releasing our truths brings us closer together and uncovers what needs mending. At its core, this is an expectation of a variety of experiences. MW USA finds clarity, hope, and vision in the possibilities unleashed by revealing that variety. As Cyneatha put it at recent gathering,


“Our stories are different. I know myself a whole lot better once I hear yours too.”  


Jesus spoke in stories too, of course. And our greatest story of reconciliation is of Jesus’ very life. Other religions have different stories using different symbol systems. And our beautiful Anabaptist tradition of service has taught us that closing ourselves off to people who retell those different stories does nothing to house and feed and lift up those who need it.  


God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other.

Ephesians 4:15 MSG 


Learning by imagination gives us a way to mature in our faith. Hearing each other's experiences teaches us to know ourselves better. Exploring our uniqueness together unites us in caring for one another. Sharing stories gives us new, shared experiences of growing up “healthy in God, robust in love (Ephesians 4:16 MSG).” So, we can further mutual well-being by way of our very differences. 


Written by Suzanne Ayer Lay

MW USA Communications Director


Today is All Saints Day: A day to honor those who have gone before us, showing us inspiring ways to live God's love. Taking time to appreciate lives and legacies of faith gives us a glimpse into the kingdom of God taking root in our world. Hebrews 11 lists many "people ... still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth." Today we honor people of faith who passed in the current year and generously gave to Mennonite Women's ministries for the promise of fellowship that heals, empowers, and restores justice.

 

We celebrate these beloved saints and give thanks for their lives well lived. We commit to passing on the gifts they gave, and we will model our lives after the ways they selflessly lived. Even though they are no longer here in body, they continue to encourage us. In their memory we will persevere. And like these beloved saints, we will depend on God’s love and grace to faithfully move in Jesus’ way. 


Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV

Seven women, eight monks, and a hot air balloon is what you get when you hang out with Mennonite Women USA. This year at our annual retreat we spent three days in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the Norbertine Abbey. We set atop the desert having morning prayers with the brothers of the Abbey, watching hot air balloons ascend, and walking the labyrinth. The beauty of starting our morning this way prepared us for our annual planning. The peace of this place reminded us of the power of our Creator and the power within each of us.


We were joined by Lisa Stenger (below, far right), a new author of the True Reflection Bible study. Lisa is a member of Deer Run Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania. With her own powerful story, Lisa is currently writing a 5-part Bible study for young women. We spent each evening going through a section of the Bible study and processing our own connections to the message, giving feedback to Lisa about how we were experiencing the information. Mennonite Women USA looks forward to helping Lisa promote her True Reflection Bible study and retreat when she is finished.


We are so grateful for the work we did together at the Abbey. We renewed our commitments to ministries like the International Women’s Fund and gatherings like Coffee and Conversation. We seek to expand new ministries like creating a podcast and starting a book club. The biggest thing we hope for Mennonite Women is to either create a new annual women’s conference or partnering with other Mennonite women’s groups to strengthen ways in which women gather.


We are looking towards 2024 with a big vision, more women, and probably a lot of hot air. We hope you will join us on the ride!

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2023 Annual Gathering in ABQ

In October, Carolyn Heggen and Rhoda Keener taught two Sister Care seminars in Thailand, one with 42 participants held in the Isaan area of northeast Thailand and the other with 25 participants in Cha-am on the southern peninsula. Twenty women traveled 8-10 hours from Laos to attend the Isaan seminar. Both workshops were held in local churches and were hosted by Christine and Tom Poovong, Mennonite Church Canada mission workers. Women participated enthusiastically in singing, prayer, individual and small group activities, drama, and group discussions. After working on her life story in the timeline exercise, one participant said,


“I came here with a heavy heart. Thank God I came to this seminar. God is still healing me, one layer at a time.”


A Cha-am participant, Esther, is pictured (below, far left) holding a Thai Sister Care manual translated by Christine Poovong who also interpreted the two seminars into Thai as Heggen and Keener taught. Christine is pictured in the group photo (above) directly behind Carolyn and Rhoda (seated 3rd and 4th from right) with beautiful bougainvillea flowers behind the group. Keener said,


“We are very grateful for the ways Thai church leaders assisted women with travel and also meal preparation throughout the workshops.”

 

Expenses were funded through a grant from the Schowalter Foundation and individual donations for Sister Care International.

Empower Sisterhood

MWUSA donors enable women to come together in hope, healing and solidarity. We circle around the Bible guided by women-authored Study Guides. We are part of an international gathering of women who reflect on self care and each other care through Sister Care. Pooling our support for IWF Scholarships makes new spiritual leadership possible every semester. God moves in our Conversations and Moves Us to places of growth. Every time we come together in person and online we make ever more links so our gifts and networks can bind the world in God's love.


We make a difference so our sisters can make a difference. Donating makes a difference.

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