This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Sister Care goes to Africa for first time

KISUMU, Kenya — The first Sister Care seminars in Africa introduced new challenges for co-presenters Carolyn Heggen and Rhoda Keener.

Claire Traoré talks with Nancy Frey during the first Sister Care seminar in Africa. — Mennonite Mission Network
Claire Traoré talks with Nancy Frey during the first Sister Care seminar in Africa. — Mennonite Mission Network

Although they have guided about 3,700 women in 15 countries through reflections and group experiences to promote healing and empowerment, this time they struggled to communicate the concept of self-care.
Keener said it became clear most African women work so hard and have so many responsibilities that they haven’t stopped to think about their own needs.

Noëlie Bananzaro of Burkina Faso affirmed that self-care was a new idea for her but one she now sees is necessary.

“If we don’t take care of ourselves, we will not be able to take care of others in the long run,” she said.

The Sister Care seminars — one in Kisumu, Kenya, March 31-April 2 and the other in Dodo­ma, Tanzania, April 7-9 — brought 83 women together from five countries, spanning eastern, central and western Africa. Six agencies, plus individual donors, collaborated to offer the seminars.

Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission and Mennonite Mission Network were represented in Kenya by five women: Noëlie Bananzaro, Nancy Frey and Claire Traoré from Burkina Faso, and Marie Fumana and Thèrese Tudiakuile from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Participants from each of six Mennonite dioceses in Kenya and 10 in Tanzania attended the seminars, along with one woman from Uganda.

Four languages were used: Luo, Swahili, English and French.

God with skin on

Traoré said she learned women can help each other feel the presence of God in tangible ways. She described this kind of experience as “God with skin on” — “someone with whom we can share what is on our heart and who can affirm that she has heard us.”

Bananzaro and Traoré became examples of “God with skin on” to their sisters in three countries.

Immediately upon their return from Kenya they began an arduous monthlong trip through Mali to Senegal to participate in a seminar. Their return to their own country became an evangelism tour as they visited churches along the way. They shared portions of the Sister Care training during a gathering of Mennonite pastors’ wives and are preparing to incorporate Sister Care elements in the national Mennonite women’s retreat in 2017.

Biblical example

During the Kenyan Sister Care event, Nairobi pastor and Mennonite World Conference vice president Rebecca Osiro spoke about the relationship between Naaman’s wife and a slave girl. This story, told in 2 Kings 5, describes how a young girl from Israel and her mistress, the wife of a Syrian army commander, worked together to bring healing to Naaman, a powerful man afflicted with leprosy. This message continued to inspire Frey weeks after the conference.

“The mistress and slave girl overcame barriers of status, race, religion and age to find a solution to their common problem,” she said. “Rebecca’s message was a reminder that women need to bridge the gaps that divide us if we want to make things happen.”

Heggen is grateful to be able to share Sister Care and to develop friendships with Christian women around the world.

As she works in international settings, she sees how women in all cultures have similar needs.

In the next two years, Sister Care has scheduled events in Guatemala, Argentina, Colombia, India and Indonesia.

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