By Emily Kraybill
You are currently on the steering committee for the Mennonite Church USA Women in Leadership Project. Why did you choose to serve on this committee? Why is it important for the Mennonite church to examine women in leadership?
I want the Latina members of Mennonite Church USA to have a voice and to be taken into consideration when there are broad statements or decisions concerning gender inclusiveness being made. Our Latino Mennonite, Mennonite Brethren and Brethren in Christ churches continue to grow, and the benches are being filled with primarily women. Latina women are an important part of the body of Mennonite Church USA.
Tell me about your background and family experience growing up?
I was born in Saginaw, Mich., and lived there for a few years. Because the majority of my family lived in Goshen, Ind., I grew up there until I was 10 years old. Family was, is, and will always be an important part of my life. I grew up around, aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. The house was always full of people at all hours of the day, and that was the way we liked it. We did everything together with the extended family, no matter how big or small the task. To this day, an empty house is an uncomfortable feeling to me. When I was 10, my mother remarried, and we moved to New Holland, Pa.
My mother’s marriage was how we, a very culturally Catholic family, were introduced to the Mennonite Church. My mother’s new husband was related to a Mennonite bishop of the Spanish-speaking Mennonite churches. When we moved to Pennsylvania, we immediately attended the New Holland Spanish Mennonite Church. It was quite a transition, and I was put off in the beginning by how different it was from what I was comfortable with. But after some time we adjusted. At 16, I was baptized into the church. The New Holland Spanish Mennonite Church is my home church to this day.
You currently work for Mennonite Health Services Alliance (MHS Alliance) as the Program & Member Services Manager. What was your road to getting this position?
After graduating from Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite High School, I went to Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., where I received my B.A. in Social Work. After college, my husband, Dionicio Acosta, and I went to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, for a little over a year with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), working with the local churches and social service agencies in the area. Upon my return, my first job was a short-term assignment with MCC U.S. in their Peace and Justice Office working in what was then called the Women’s Concerns department.
I next transitioned to casework with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lancaster. Upon completion of my Masters of Social Work from Temple University in Philadelphia, I began a new job as a school-based therapist with Pennsylvania Counseling in the School District of Lancaster. This was a challenging and rewarding job as I realized that these were no longer case studies I was reading but the real lives of people that I was privileged to walk and work with.
After this job, I transitioned to MHS Alliance. I had felt I was ready to regroup and step away a bit from the direct services approach. I wanted to grow in my professional life and more specifically in my leadership skills. MHS Alliance has definitely not disappointed. I continue to learn a great deal about leadership and other areas that had been more challenging for me.
What have you learned through your work at Mennonite Health Services Alliance about leadership and your broader role in service as a Mennonite?
I have learned that no matter what role you play in your job, leadership is always a part of it. My supervisors have been wonderful examples of team work, efficiency and accountability. I have learned that there is a difference between leading and managing and that you need to be inspirational for people to want to follow you because of a shared vision.
From your experience, in what ways has the Mennonite Church been supportive of Latina women? In what ways can the Mennonite Church be more supportive?
For me, it was important to see the support that Juanita Nuñez received when she was elected moderator of Iglesia Menonita Hispana (IMH). As I mentioned before, Latina women are great in numbers and have a variety of talents and gifts, but I am not sure that that is always recognized, not only in Mennonite Church USA churches but our own IMH churches.
What energizes and encourages you in your work?
My Lord and my husband and children give me all the drive I need to wake up every day and live life to fullest! As a social worker, I am also energized by my interaction with people. MHS Alliance is a member organization of more than 70 health and human service organizations, and the opportunities I get to interact with our members and the people they serve, remind me of the wonderful network of believers we have in MHS Alliance and Mennonite Church USA.
I am also energized by my co-workers. I cannot say enough how I feel blessed, and that God has put me where I need to be. The beauty of our working relationship is that we all share a passion for the mission of MHS Alliance and its members, and we are ready to work hard to fulfill the mission, egos aside, and with a helping of humility, understanding that we need each other to get the job done.
Emily Kraybill is the Women in Leadership Project intern with Mennonite Church USA this summer. Each month this column of Equipping features input from a woman leader in Mennonite Church USA. The column is an initiative of the Women in Leadership Project. If you would like to learn more about the Project or get involved, please contact Joanna Shenk at email@example.com.