Latin American Methodist Women’s Encounter—Confirming Our Dignity

Encuentro de Mujeres Metodistas en Latinoamerica—Reafirmar Nuestra Dignidad

Rosanna C. Panizo, North Carolina Annual Conference

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I am originally a Peruvian woman who grew up as a Methodist in Callao, the main port of Peru, where the first Methodist church was established in 1889. I remember spending the summers at Luisa’s house, my Methodist grandmother who used to live a couple of blocks from the beach, the Pacific Ocean. We used to walk to the beach almost every summer day after lunch and stay there to enjoy the sunsets. My other grandmother, Lastenia, was a fervent Roman Catholic, as was 90 percent of the Peruvian population.

Last January (summer in Peru), I was facing that same Pacific Ocean with my naked feet in it. This time, it was not my grandmother’s hand holding mine. My hand was held by several other women, hermanas (sisters) from all over the Americas, who were attending the “Encuentro de Mujeres Metodistas en Latinoamérica” (Latin American Methodist Women’s Encounter).

I was ordained as an elder in my home country more than twenty-five years ago. About seventeen years ago I moved to North Carolina to attend Duke Divinity School after serving ten years in the Methodist Church in Peru. I began doing ministry in the North Carolina Annual Conference, among English-speaking United Methodists. After four years under that appointment, I began doing ministry among Latina/Hispanic families. In the beginning, my task was just to listen, to listen carefully to their stories: their pain and their hopes and their dreams for their children. The majority of these stories came from first-generation immigrant women from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, and Honduras. These women came to the United States looking for a better life; running from poverty, misery, and violence, not only on the streets but at home as well.

And so, after seventeen years of living in the United States, I became part of the U.S. delegation attending the Encuentro at Kawai, Peru. I was there as part of the leadership team of the Latina Methodist Clergy Association in The United Methodist Church, ACLAMEN. Our delegation was pretty diverse in its racial and generational components, with representatives from the Upper Room, United Methodist Women, and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. I was proud to be part of this diverse group: brown, black, white, and yellow women, younger and older women, lay and clergy women. Retired Bishop Linda Lee preached and led Holy Communion in the closing worship. The participants from Latin American countries were diverse as well: mestiza (mixed race) and indigenous women, urban and rural women, older and young women, Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, and Portuguese-speaking women. It was fascinating that within this diversity, we shared a common thread: being women and United Methodists (I am using United Methodists because the Methodist churches in Latin America are autonomous from The UMC).

The Encuentro happened when our ears and eyes were open, and we were willing to listen to one another’s stories, to one another’s pains, to one another’s dreams and hopes: for ourselves, for our families, for our churches, for our countries, and for our world. One intense moment I experienced in our working teams occurred when we were answering a question about our dreams. A young, indigenous woman, carrying her baby on her back, said, “My dream is that I will learn to read and write.” A big silence followed that declaration. I felt naked in that moment. Naked and ashamed, yes, as in the story we find in the book of Genesis. Naked and ashamed because I feel that we still live in a sinful reality. Our sin causes death, not only physical death but also spiritual death. Our sin kills the potential of human beings—in this case, women—when they don’t have access to education, health care, employment, and so on. We need to do much more; our church needs to do more, our communities need to do so much more, so that my sister, our sister, and many others in our communities will be able to reach her/their/our dreams, their/our desires for a better life.

For an Encuentro to be meaningful, it needs to transform us. You know, as in the biblical stories of Jesus encountering women and other characters: stories such as the woman at the well, the Canaanite woman, the women at the tomb, the woman with the hemorrhage. Without this transformation, an Encuentro will be just another “nice” sort of tourist taste of culture, a gathering without further consequences.

We had the opportunity to be led in a workshop of mascaras (masks), by a couple of extremely talented Methodists, the Correa sisters, who founded the Peruvian theatrical group Yuyachkani. During the workshop, participants were able to work on our deepest feelings related to discrimination and marginalization within church structures and our societies, as well as expressing ourselves in role-playing through short plays that the different groups put together. This was a powerful way to denounce the patriarchal systems that we are part of and, at the same time, articulate our frustrations using music, humor, body expression, dance, and theater.

We also had powerful presentations from Dr. Dora Canales, a Chilean woman who is rector of the Wesleyan Seminary of the Methodist Church of Peru; Dr. Violeta Rocha, a New Testament scholar from Nicaragua and professor at the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica; the Rev. Dr. Cristian De La Rosa (the first United Methodist Latina clergy woman to have obtained a Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics), professor at Boston University School of Theology; and myself. We heard and talked about the history of the women’s movement around the world; the violent colonization of the Americas, especially how women and children suffered under it; how the Bible and Christian theology can be used as an instrument of either oppression or liberation; our experiences as women in our denomination. We faced how we discriminate among ourselves because of age, ability, sexual orientation, education, and economic class. We lamented and mourned. We prayed, and we sang. We talked about our own stories from the depths of our hearts. And we also celebrated life and faith and cultures and families—and the great rich diversity among us—with joy!

Latin American Methodist Women are organized as a federation, with representatives from the numerous churches in the region: Chile, Argentina, Peru, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, among others. The leaders of the federation were part of the Encuentro. We enjoyed a long evening of rich cultural expressions and an exchange of gifts among all the talented participants in our last night. Our delegation performed and sang a medley of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with “Cielito Lindo,” under the leadership of our younger members: Dorlimar Lebron, Patricia Bonilla, and Erica Granados-De La Rosa. New friendship relationships were established and old ones were deepened.

All of this was possible thanks to the sharing of resources through our United Methodist connection. The next Encuentro will happen in Chile. . . . I hope to see you there!

 

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