Women Empowering Women in Mexico

A Letter from Leslie Vogel, regional liaison for Mexico and Guatemala

June 2019

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When María saw that her husband was becoming increasingly violent towards her, she left her home and sought refuge in a safe place. What she never dreamed was that he would also exercise violence against her legally, through gaining custody of their two sons and filing for a restraining order that bars her from her home and the business she built together with him. Homeless, María returned to the congregation she stopped attending when she got married 18 years prior: she was welcomed back, and a church family offered her shelter in their home. Her story is only beginning, as she heals and finds the courage and stamina to challenge the system and regain access to her sons.

I heard María’s story recently in Mexico, while attending a workshop for women church leaders who were learning one another’s stories and preparing a special liturgy on violence against women. Allow me to back up a bit.

In May of this year, I began to get to know our partners and colleagues in Mexico: The Theological Community of Mexico (CTM) and the Mexican Communion of Reformed and Presbyterian Churches (CMIRP). The seminary has a good library, excellent professors and serious students from a number of different denominations, particularly from Protestant, Pentecostal and Anabaptist traditions. The CMIRP is made up of 11 congregations that separated from the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico when the latter severed ties with the PC(USA) over long-time issues of disagreement, especially ordination of women as deacons, elders and pastors, as well as ordination of people who are part of the diversity of sexual expression (LGBTQI+). Many of the CMIRP’s publications are available online. The CMIRP is a member of the Alliance of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches of Latin America (AIPRAL) and is in the process of being accepted into the World Council of Reformed Churches (WCRC).

While on that first visit, I was invited to return in late May to share in a three-day workshop with the Red de Mujeres Libres en Cristo, the women’s network of the CMIRP. The Women’s Network Free in Christ of the CMIRP arose out of a need for safe spaces for formation and training, growth and accompaniment by and for women in the face of diverse situations that women live and experience in society and in churches. The women’s network chose the name “Libres en Cristo/Free in Christ” because Jesus Christ sets us free and empowers women in all ways. One woman from each of the eleven congregations that form the CMIRP came together with other women leaders of the denomination to learn, share and prepare the liturgy that will be celebrated throughout Latin America in September on the Día de Oración por la Mujer Latinoamericana (DOML): Day of Prayer for the Latin American Woman. The Day of Prayer for the Latin American Woman calls on the reformed Latin American and Caribbean family to celebrate women’s lives of dignity, to denounce the violence and death to which many sisters are subjected, and to reaffirm the commitment to the Gospel for all people, male and female. The date chosen to observe this special service every year in our churches is the second Friday of September. The theme chosen by the women of the CMIRP was “Silence Chains us to Violence.”

My thanks to the Rev. María de la Concepción Jiménez, who coordinates the women and gender justice programs of AIPRAL. Please click here to read her description of our time together. The material produced by our Mexican sisters will be presented later this summer as a liturgical booklet along with additional materials so that it can be utilized in the special services of the DOML throughout the continent. Once posted, it should be found at aipral.net/es/justicia/genero.

Because many events I attend rely on outside leadership, I found it particularly heartening that, with the exception of María from Colombia/Venezuela and me from the U.S./Guatemala, all of the people who made presentations, led daily biblical reflections, facilitated the dinámicas (group activities), etc. — even the cooking staff — came from within the congregations of the CMIRP and the Women’s Network Free in Christ. There was a tremendous depth and breadth of gifts, experience and expertise shared by these women. I celebrate that they were utilizing, affirming and building on their already-existing internal leadership rather than emphasizing outside leadership.

We enjoyed wonderful meals, prepared by a non-traditional family who have recently joined a CMIRP congregation: an adult woman, Drusi, who has spent her life in a wheelchair as the result of contracting polio when she was a child; her husband, Ricardo, who is an excellent chef; and their informally adopted son, Carlos, who had been a child growing up on the streets. Drusi and Ricardo provided him a home, family and love that he hadn’t known before.

Each of the three family members contributed to the tasks of preparing and setting out the food, setting and clearing the tables, and cleaning up the dishes. Drusi also joined us for portions of our sessions that were specifically geared toward women sharing together. Her previous church experience had been one of judgment and condemnation — so the warmth, joy, love and inclusion that she experienced during the three days we were together built on her experience in the new congregation that celebrates her different abilities and that accepts her and her family.

As we women worked together in our different sessions, we learned about some of the biblical passages that have been used to exclude, harm and even cause violence to be used against women — in the context of the larger society, the church and the home. We learned about the laws in Mexico addressing domestic violence and other violence against women, including human trafficking and femicide; we learned about the different services and institutions that can help women facing violent situations; and sadly, we also learned about the many ways in which the laws are not upheld and are sometimes even used to perpetrate further violence.

We heard one another’s stories, including those of several women in leadership in their congregations who are themselves survivors of violence from domestic partners, pastors, church leaders or the judicial system itself. We learned from one courageous Presbyterian sister who is a lawyer working in a government institution on behalf of abused and exploited girls, boys and adolescents.

Finally, we learned about situations of some women in the Bible who, like Tamar in 2 Samuel 13 and like the modern-day women whose stories we were hearing, also suffered violence, often at the hands of husbands, fathers, brothers or other relatives, and certainly from the system of discrimination in a society that considers a woman less than a full person.

The Women’s Network is now busy communicating via their social media group to organize when each of them will replicate portions of the workshop in her church, and to coordinate who from other congregations will travel to support their sisters. It is exciting and energizing to witness to and to be a small part of this network, which is a growing sisterhood of Christian women praying for, showing up for and thus empowering one another.

Your support through prayers and financial gifts helps make it possible for me to accompany and learn from the work of the Women’s Network Free in Christ in Mexico, and to accompany the work of the CMIRP and CTM as well. Thank you for your ongoing prayers and support for these important ministries in Mexico, and for my work with them.

Grace and peace,

Leslie Vogel


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