La Angostura, Chile – The fifth gathering of Latin American Mennonite Women Theologians took place within the framework of the 15th Southern Cone Anabaptist Mennonite Congress held here January 23-27, 2013, attended by sisters and brothers from the six countries of the region (plus some visitors from Canada, the United States, Zimbabwe, Colombia, Costa Rica and Mexico).
Some 45 women theologians from different countries participated in the gathering. After introductions, Monica Parada, of the Anabaptist Mennonite Church ‘Puerta del Rebaño’ (Concepcion, Chile) led the first of three workshops recounting “Realidades de las mujeres desde el caminar de Jesús” (or Realities women face – realities that Jesus challenged). The dynamic that followed included symbols such as earth, seeds, a pigeon, candle and water. Each woman was invited to plant the seeds of dreams she wanted to see come true.
In small groups the great scourges confronted today by women were examined: ethnic, civilian, domestic and genre violence – physical and symbolic. The latter occurs when it becomes natural, sustained and almost invisible. It seeks subjugation and is present in all relationships. Symbolic violence is coercive, intimidating, imposing the will of one over the other although seeming to be well intentioned. It is the expansive use of physical space, money control, lack of appreciation, disavowal maneuvers, terrorism and paternalism, etc.
The celebration of our first 10 years of existence as a Movement of Latin American Women Theologians (MTAL) came on the next day with the second workshop and participation of the entire assembly. Led by Gladys Siemens we evoked the origins of our movement. Goals and description of activities were shared, such as the World Day of Prayer for women in Latin America, the publication of a book about the liberating message of Jesus to women today, the blog http://teologasanabautistas.blogspot.com and recently our Facebook page.
The support, encouragement and advice offered by Sandra Campos (Costa Rica) and by Linda Shelly (USA) during the past 10 years were recognized.
Two women whose work in their communities is very uplifting and encourages us to keep going shared their experiences. Valeria Alvarenga Taumaturgo (Brazil) pastor of a Mennonite Church in Recife, carries out a strong ministry among women in a favela (a poor area) whose husbands are serving sentences in prison. Aurora Rinaldi, of the Mennonite Church in Trenque Lauquen (Argentina) was appointed one year ago by her community to be their pastor, after being active in the edification of a community of equals.
To bring closure to this fruitful celebration, a ball of yarn was passed along with a blessing to the next woman, thus forming a wide network. We want to grow and continue to build this network of women of peace created by MTAL, and for that purpose the support of each and everyone is needed in unity in Christ to paraphrase our motto, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal.3:28).”
The celebration was closed singing We are one in the Lord, and inviting participants to sign and write good wishes on a large poster that will travel to different meetings to be held in Guatemala, Mexico and Colombia.
On Saturday, the third and final women’s meeting was started with very significant songs, and Noemí Dulci of the Mennonite Church in Salto (Argentina) offered a special reflection.
Monica Parada guided us through a succession of lines of thought in the course of history regarding women, which reveal through culture, politics, family life, religion, etc., impositions about which we have not been critical, and behaviors that became natural for us. On a blanket she placed several objects: three candles symbolizing Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the picture of a family, a root as a symbol of culture, the Bible as religious teachings, and a dish with pebbles). Each woman was invited to place some stones on the symbol that most affected her full potential as an independent woman, thus stripping off impositions and bonds that keep her and us from freely walking with Jesus.
Summing up, this was what we experienced and learned in our meetings, which for many of us may have been revealing, to others liberating, and perhaps for some even surprising or scaring. We trust that the seed was sown. May the Holy Spirit help it to germinate.
Finally we prayed for our Chilean sisters who so lovingly greeted and tended to our needs, and we thanked them with little tokens of appreciation.
Article by Ester Bornes of Argentina, coordinator of the blog and of MTAL Cono Sur (http://teologasanabautistas.blogspot.com). Translated into English by Milka Rindzinski