Feb 19, 2010

"Vigil for Bolivian Mennonite rape victimes - the least we could do"

On a personal level, when I first heard the news last summer about the horrific “gang rapes” of Bolivian Mennonite women and girls which had happened (and may still be happening) on Manitoba Colony, and others too, I was very disturbed by it and my heart went out to the victims, perhaps especially because I knew from personal experience within our extended family, that sexual abuse can have devastating long-term effects not only on the victims but on the family as a whole especially if there is denial from the perpetrator which there usually is.

Even so, despite the fact that this Colony bears our provincial name, indicating that there are "family roots/connections" with Mennonites here, it all seemed very far away and I didn't know the victims or perpetrators personally, so I didn't allow myself to get too emotionally involved with this until early October when I received a "plea" from long-time friend & former MCC co-worker, Abe Warkentin expressing his deep concern over the "deafening silence" in the Mennonite constituency re these horrific rapes which he felt were desperate cries for help.

His hope was that a women's group or several individuals would adopt this as their cause and somehow raise awareness, compassion and concern within Canadian Mennonite churches for these sisters and brothers of ours who are experiencing such trauma so that longer term programming related to these and other social problems which have plagued some of the colonies for quite a long time, would begin.

So, after agreeing that something needed to be done to break the silence surrounding this very painful and sensitive story, I contacted my friend, Dora Dueck, interim editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald last year--who was also very concerned about this issue and was already planning to do an article on the theme based on Mennonite Brethren Faith & Life Network team reports.

After that, the three of us began brainstorming on how we could get the word out.

Among other things, Dora & I encouraged Abe to go ahead with his plans to meet with and discuss his (and our) concerns with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada leadership people, followed by his brief letter re this to Mennonite editors which appeared in most of the Mennonite periodicals.

By mid-December, in the midst of reading The Magnificat with its emphasis on God's love for the "lowly and hungry ones", we came to the understanding that the very least we could do was to organize a vigil to be held early in 2010, to pray for and express solidarity for the Bolivian women and girls and the whole community who are suffering so grievously.
And thankfully, the planning group (which now included several other volunteers) met on January 6 which "just happened" to be on the day of Epiphany, offering us that hope-filled lectionary text from Isaiah 60:1-5a as a sort of opening blessing:

"Arise, shine, your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you ... Lift up your eyes and look around: ... your sons shall come from afar and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice."

To conclude, the aim of the vigil, which happened on Sunday evening, February 7, was to show love and compassion for, and solidarity with, the abused Mennonite women and girls from Bolivia. It was an opportunity to pray for healing, justice and hope not only for them but also for women and girls everywhere, even in our own midst, who have suffered abuse, and/or are still experiencing it. My personal prayer is that somehow, this event will help to make the world a little safer and better for everyone, including my three young grand-daughters who are just beginning their life journeys.

$3000 was raised for a women's shelter being built by the Evangelical Free Church of Canada Mission in Bolivia.

Leona Dueck Penner
Winnipeg, Manitoba

To read more about this event go to http://doradueck.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/evening-of-prayer/#comments or

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Leona, for passing this story on in this venue -- and for your wonderful leadership of this event. I hope our prayers, and those of many others across Canada, continue to rise to God for our sisters in Bolivia -- I was struck by reading in Isaiah 58 recently about the fast God longs to see us bring -- (end of verse 7) "not turning from our own flesh and blood."