Not even a pandemic shutdown and back-to-back hurricanes can stop women’s ministry leader Maria Pa of Guatemala from connecting with her Kekchi support circle across distant regions.
Pa is communicating with five other women’s ministry leaders and mission worker Deb Byler, who make up her support circle, on her new smartphone, loaded with WhatsApp. The app is connecting the group through phone calls during a time when in-person meetings are not possible.
These women are regional leaders of the Kekchi Mennonite Church. They travel long distances — by foot, minivan or on the back of a truck — to support women in other Mennonite churches. They encourage, teach and help organize women who have weekly meetings in each church. Byler said that the women these leaders serve appreciate and respect them, as they reach out to women in those churches and in their community.
The option of using WhatsApp to communicate arose when Byler, serving with Mennonite Mission Network, brainstormed alternative ways for connecting with the six women, who now form this support circle, individually. Travel had been unsafe due to COVID-19 even before Hurricane Eta hit the region in November — followed, two weeks later, by Hurricane Iota. Flooding further squelched in-person visits to the women with whom Byler partners in the Kekchi Mennonite Church’s 140 congregations in mountainous north central Guatemala.
“My retired mission worker brother, Dan Byler, wondered if I could use WhatsApp to communicate with the women when I couldn’t travel,” Byler said. “They had older cell phones that couldn’t handle WhatsApp. Mission Network agreed that using funds I would have ordinarily used for travel to buy smartphones would meet some of the same purposes as my travel.”
Latin America director Linda Shelly said buying phones fits with the recommendations of Issa Sadi Ebombolo of Zambia in a presentation during virtual meetings of the Council of International Anabaptist Ministries on Jan. 12-14. He encouraged agencies to invest in communications and technology with partners to make it possible for more people to participate in virtual communications.
During their calls, the women study the Bible, share joys and concerns and pray for one another. Byler enjoys learning from their insightful comments.
“Even before the pandemic shutdown, these leaders often felt isolated,” Byler said. “They are often criticized within their communities for breaking the stereotypes that females shouldn’t be leaders and shouldn’t travel. Mutual support is important.”