By Marta Castillo, Leadership Minister of Intercultural Formation
She thought for a moment then pulled off her bright pink scarf and laid it down in the rough form of a cross on the narrow space between the beds. Then she instructed one of us to go outside and get some dirt to place by the cross. The two symbols, the bright pink cross and the dirt lay there together as a powerful visual of life, death, salvation, and freedom. We began to pray, attentive to the Spirit and to our sister, as she talked, wept, and prayed through a process letting go of the crippling guilt she carried after her father’s death five years before. We anointed her with oil and with our prayers of blessings, believing that the power of Jesus would bring transformation and freedom in her life and walk with God. I suppose we could have listened to her story and prayed for her without the symbols but there was power in the visual and physical additions to the accompaniment of her sisters. This is one story of many from a powerful weekend of sisters walking alongside one another.
During the weekend of the Cuidandonos Entre Mujeres (Sister Care) Retreat attended by 72 women from 15 congregations, Pastor Ofelia Garcia filled our hearts and minds with powerful teaching through shared activities and symbols. We walked in each other’s’ shoes, determined the boundaries of our personal space, and committed ourselves to caring for each other in the safety, wisdom and confidentiality of the red tent (a symbolic place of sisterhood and caring for each other we used throughout the weekend). On Saturday night, we dressed up, celebrated our beauty as women, decorated crowns, and then gave our uniquely created crown to a sister in Christ with words of affirmation and blessing. Then on Sunday morning, we celebrated communion together and in a ceremony of blessing we blessed one another. I was reminded of how Jesus used parables, symbols, and ceremony to deeply root the truth in people’s hearts and minds. The holistic ministry of teaching and practice using our spirit, mind, and body will leave an impact greater than teaching alone.
This was the first all-Spanish SisterCare Retreat held in the United States. It was more than we had hoped for, a true experience of the joy of seeing God’s Spirit going above and beyond what we could have hoped for or imagined. Since our own training in Sister Care (in Spanish) with Mennonite Women USA last year, Pastor Letty Castro of Centro de Alabanza de Filadelfia, and I had dreamed of an event where Spanish-speaking women in Franconia and Eastern District could come, relax, share their stories, pray together, and receive teaching about healing and self-care. It was truly a team effort. Pastor Ofelia Garcia agreed to come from Mexico City to be the speaker since she helped develop and present Sister Care materials in many places. Franconia Conference agreed to support our efforts to reach women within the churches of the conference and Eastern District. Congregations like Zion, Salford, Doylestown, Centro de Alabanza, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life supported us with scholarships for women to attend. Pastors helped to get the word out to their Spanish speaking members. A group from Centro de Alabanza worked hard to bring the program and details together. Staff from Spruce Lake Retreat Center supported us through the registration process and retreat planning.
Within hours of being together, women from over fifteen different churches and at least ten different countries were sharing with a depth that took us by surprise. When we shared in small groups, we heard stories of parental and spousal abandonment, verbal, physical, sexual abuse, marriage difficulties, un-forgiveness, anger, loss of a child, and so much more. We heard faith stories of God’s grace and love reaching down to bring forgiveness, freedom, healing, hope, love, and a future. We cried, we smiled, we laughed, we hugged, and we listened. We were encouraged not to give counsel or advice unless it was asked for specifically so we listened some more and we prayed for ourselves and for each other. The space felt safe and we surrendered ourselves to the experience and the community.
The invitation was extended and the women came. We enjoyed the beauty of the mountains, trees, and God’s creation. We stepped away from our work, homes, families, and responsibilities to care for ourselves and others women like us. We shared deeply and encouraged each other. As we left and went home, we will continue to invite each other to “Come, walk with us. The journey is long.”
Luke 10:27 (NIV) He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”