I wanted to be a priest. God answered my prayer.

ISDALIA ORTEGA SANCHEZ — “God heard my childhood prayer to serve as the priest did.” — Courtesy of Isdalia Ortega Sanchez ISDALIA ORTEGA SANCHEZ — “God heard my childhood prayer to serve as the priest did.” — Courtesy of Isdalia Ortega Sanchez

Growing up in Colombia, in a Catholic family with eight brothers, I had to deal with the patriarchal tradition that women had more duties at home than men.

I was not often allowed to go outside to play, and when I did, I could not go alone, because “women are of the house and men are of the street.”

When I was 10 or 11, I rebelled and told my mother I would no longer do all the housework. I would not make my brothers’ beds. They could take care of that.

My mother replied, “We women are tidier and know how to do it better. What would people say if they came to the house and saw unmade beds?”

I said I didn’t care. We could show the visitors my tidy room.

After that, my mother made my brothers’ beds.

Even as a child, I felt God’s call to ministry. I went to a girls’ primary school led by nuns and assisted the priest at Mass. Every time I went up to the altar to help the priest, my heart throbbed. I longed to do what he did.

I asked him if I could study in the seminary and become a priest. He replied that I could not, since the Catholic church does not ordain women. He encouraged me to become a nun.

Later I went to a Catholic girls’ high school, where I had a close relationship with the priest and again helped at Mass. Knowing I longed to serve the Lord, he encouraged me to go to a meeting for those who make religious vows to see if my calling could be found there.

I discovered that it couldn’t, because nuns did not have the same role as priests. They were support people for ministries, usually subordinate to men, priests or bishops.

When I was 19, my parents separated, and I decided I would no longer depend on them financially. I started university studies and got a job as a teacher. It was not easy to work and study, but I was able to do it and also to support my mother with what I earned.

Often, I had to leave home very early and return late at night. I was afraid of the risks that women and especially young girls face in a patriarchal society. Men think they have the right to possess women, abuse them, make “compliments” and even rape them.

Thank God nothing ever happened to me beyond a few unpleasant phrases. But for some of my classmates who had to work and study as I did, the story was different.

At the university, I learned about an evangelical Christian student movement and began to gain more knowledge of the Bible. Little by little, I came to leadership. This movement had men and women at the front in an equal manner. It gave me joy to know that, if I prepared myself and grew in faith, I could be at the front of the local group.

For many years I was part of the student and professional group. Once, I was president of the board. I learned that God calls men and women alike. I found a church where I was allowed to teach teenagers and develop a kind of youth pastorate.

Later I got married and went with my husband to serve in a community where we led some ministries and accompanied others. My husband had also been part of the Christian student movement. In a camp meeting, both of us felt God’s call to further ministry.

We began to look for a church that was more in line with our beliefs of how to follow Jesus Christ and that included both women and men in leadership. That is how we arrived at the Mennonite church.

In other denominations where we served, I would never have been ordained as a pastor. The Mennonite church received us as a pastoral couple. A few years later, the local community requested our ordination. They insisted we both be ordained, because I was also their pastor and I had been called to ministry.

God heard my childhood prayer to serve as the priest did.

The Mennonite Church of Colombia has recognized that God calls women for ordained ministry, but, in general, it continues to pay only the man when a couple serves together.

As a national church, many women have served as directors of ministries and institutions and been paid a salary, which is a great advance compared to many other denominations.

There is still a long way to go, but several women have left footprints so that many more can be recognized with authority as we serve the church.

Isdalia Ortega Sanchez is an ordained pastor, vice president of the Mennonite Church of Colombia and professor of theology and pastoral ministry at the Mennonite Biblical Seminary of Colombia. She is married to Roberto Caicedo, who is also a pastor and professor. They are the parents of Ana Ruth and Juan Daniel.

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