Sister Care offers healing touch in Cuba

Feb 14, 2018 by

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Two years after Sister Care seminars were first presented in Cuba, two American women returned Jan. 25-Feb. 1 to find the program’s impact has multiplied.

Carolyn Heggen, a psychotherapist specializing in trauma healing, and Rhoda Keener, Sister Care director for Mennonite Women USA, visited Havana to bring advanced materials and training for women who had attended a previous seminar.

Ruth Mariet Trueba Castro and Indira Herrera Gutierrez of Havana anoint one another in a closing blessing ritual. — Carolyn Heggen/Mennonite Women USA

Ruth Mariet Trueba Castro and Indira Herrera Gutierrez of Havana anoint one another in a closing blessing ritual. — Carolyn Heggen/Mennonite Women USA

They were inspired to hear that since 2015, these 28 women had taught more than 600 others.

“I learn much from Cuban women about courage, tenacity, and faithfulness,” Heggen said. “They give me an increased appreciation for our global family of faith.”

Sister Care seminars provide women with tools for personal healing and for responding more effectively to the needs of others.

Keener and Heggen traveled in a 1958 Volkswagen van to Palmira in central Cuba to teach Sister Care’s basic level to an Anabaptist group of 36 Brethren in Christ women who had not participated in 2015.

This connection was facilitated by Jack and Irene Suderman of Ontario and Bonnie Klassen, Mennonite Central Committee area director for South America, Cuba and Mexico.

One of the participants in Palmira, Deyli Milían Pérez, a pastor from Caibarien Villa Clara, was touched by Heggen’s teaching about healing from sexual abuse.

“It was very helpful when Carolyn reminded us that when God heals us we can see ourselves as much more than just victims of sexual abuse and we can use our own painful experience to help others heal,” said Perez, who was sexually abused by her stepfather as a child.

“I appreciated that we were taught a new way of praying without words to imagine an inner sanctuary where I can feel that Jesus is right there with me and I am safe and loved.”

Many women commented at the two seminars that they rarely have the time and encouragement to think about their own life story. They were glad to learn God can use both their sad and happy experiences to deepen their ability to care compassionately for others.

The challenges in Cuba have not lessened since 2015. Women spoke about the problem of families being separated as many have migrated to the United States. This creates lifelong challenges and grief.

People continue to struggle to obtain basic necessities. The Cuban government’s monthly food allocation for each person is not sufficient, and wages are low. Even when there are funds, the U.S. embargo has blocked availability for many needed imports.

One woman said she often has to go to two or three stores to find one that has toilet paper, and sometimes there is none.

A pastor who attended the Havana workshop saved portions of the food she was served at the retreat center to take home for her children. She said that unless people have relatives in the United States to send them money, it is difficult to survive.

Women celebrated at the end of the seminars with spontaneous dance and music.

The Havana event was sponsored by the Cuban Council of Churches with leadership from Midiam Lobaina. The Sudermans and Klassen organized the Palmira BIC event. The Schowalter Foundation, MCC and individual donors funded MW USA’s expenses and the lodging, food and travel costs for participants in both Havana and Palmira.


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