AIBONITO, Puerto Rico — Two women with roots in Puerto Rico recently brought a Mennonite Women USA seminar to the island.
Carolyn Heggen and Elizabeth Soto Albrecht co-led the Sister Care seminar March 21-22 in Aibonito.
Heggen spent her formative years as a girl in Puerto Rico, the island where her American parents met while they both were serving with different Anabaptist mission organizations.
Soto Albrecht was born in Puerto Rico, came to live in the states when she was a baby and returned to the island as a 12-year-old. After receiving her undergraduate degree at the University of Puerto Rico, she studied at Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico and then finished her degree at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.
Soto Albrecht felt the love of the friends and leaders who helped form her as a leader.
“For me it was a way to give back to my people — for them to see me as a pastor and a leader — and to thank them for all they have invested in me,” she said.
Heggen remembers returning to the U.S. and trying to convey an idea to her cousin, only to realize that there were no English words and no way to effectively communicate what she wanted to share.
“It was an important life lesson to realize that our experience of reality is significantly affected by having words to name and communicate that reality,” she said. “When I began working on issues of power abuse, boundary violation and sexual abuse, I learned that an important early step in healing is giving victims words to name their violation.”
The experiences and stories women work through while attending Sister Care often have common threads. In the Puerto Rico Sister Care, the recurring theme the women shared both with the large group and privately with Soto Albrecht and Heggen centered on loss: the loss of family members leaving the island to find economic footing in the U.S., the loss of loved ones dying too young and the loss of trust in church leaders because of sexual exploitation, abuse and patriarchy.
The event strengthened the relationship between the Mennonite congregations of Puerto Rico and Mennonite Church USA. When MC USA was born in 2001, the Puerto Rico Mennonite Church chose not to affiliate with the denomination for a variety of reasons, one being the feeling that their needs and interests would be overlooked.
After this decision, the conference drifted from Anabaptism and aligned itself more with Pentecostal traditions, a natural place to land given the Puerto Rican approach to worship.
After 10 years and various close connections to Mennonite institutions and people in the U.S., the Puerto Rico Mennonite Church decided to become an associate member of MC USA’s Atlantic Coast Conference. Soto Albrecht is moderator of MC USA, which helps create a trusted, personal connection with Puerto Rico.
Women leaders from the Puerto Rico Mennonite congregations were grateful for the Sister Care manual. They reported that they had never had Mennonite resources specifically for women and that they are hungry for materials written by and for Mennonites.
The Puerto Rico Mennonite Church wants to build a stronger bond with the larger church. Participants believe the bridge Mennonite Women USA created by bringing Sister Care and the materials to the island is a step in the right direction.
Of the 10 Mennonite congregations in Puerto Rico, eight sent participants, for a total of 76 women.
Upcoming Sister Care seminars will share materials in Paraguay, Argentina, Ontario, Trinidad and Cuba.