Sister Parish understands that people of faith are called to love and serve each other as people of God. As people of faith we reach out to our brothers and sisters in Latin America and realize that they are also reaching out to us. Sister Parish is an ecumenical, nonprofit organization which offers participants an inter-cultural faith experience and long-term, transformative relationships with people in Latin American faith communities. The goal of Sister Parish is to foster mutual understanding and commitment to peace and justice among people in North and Latin America. Key to the program is delegation travel to the North and South with home stays, which enhance awareness and understanding and nurture closer relationships.
To accomplish its goal, Sister Parish establishes linkages between churches in the United States and faith-based communities in Latin America as well as along the Texas-Mexico border. The linkages are based on direct, person to person contact between members of the sister communities. Both communities learn something about the conditions and culture of the other and visits are made, usually begun by the U. S. community sending a delegation to Central America, Mexico, or to the Texas-Mexico border. The two communities work together on building relationships of trust and mutual respect. As the relationships develop, the sistered communities may choose to work together on a clearly defined project and continue to grow in their partnership, valuing the gifts and uniqueness of each community. Emphasis on projects is secondary to the relationship building; linkages work on community building as a first step, and then community development in ways that are mutually upbuilding and where there is equality in leadership and decision-making.
The goals of Sister Parish, as affirmed by both northern and southern partners are:
- Conscience-Raising. We seek to transform the world by sharing each other’s experiences so that we can better understand and overcome the sources of injustice and oppression.
- Solidarity. By putting ourselves in the reality of others and by building an interdependent community of brothers and sisters within and among countries, we will promote mutual respect and dignity for all people, advocate for human rights, and work for social and economic justice for all.
- Reconciliation. We will live in peace with one another by finding the courage to recognize our own failings and to forgive each other despite the history of violence that has caused so much pain.
- Ecumenism. We will accept each other and respect each person’s beliefs and practices, as we unite to work together so that all may share equally in the fullness of God’s creation.
Sister Parish believes that these linkages affirm dignity, deepen faith, reflect a shared spirit, build understanding of issues and give a new world view to both sister congregations. Sister Parish delegations travel as peacemakers and guests, who identify with marginalized people, recognizing that we are all one in Christ. In building long-term friendships between cultures through visits and on-going communication, delegations hope to become catalysts for change in the systems that produce poverty of spirit and flesh.
Sister Parish has staff in the United States and in Latin America. Most of them are paid, and the staff is augmented by volunteers. The Southern staff includes Jacqueline Arreaza, who is the Administrative Associate for the sister churches in Meso America (Central America and Mexico) and lives in Guatemala, Walter Arreaza who is the North Eastern Guatemalan coordinator, Ruth Garrido, the Central and Western Guatemalan coordinator, Nicolas Guardado in Chalatenango in El Salvador and Paul Riek and Tere Martinez who are coordinators for the region of Oaxaca in Mexico.
The North American staff includes Linda Mashburn, Executive Director, who resides in North Carolina. She provides staff and volunteer coordination, relates to the board of directors, and is responsible for the overall administration. Brenda Herb, at the central office in Terre Haute, Indiana provides North American office back-up for the organization, coordinating information flow, handling mailings, maintaining the data base, forms, files, and administrative details.
The process of establishing a linkage requires that both sisters make a commitment to participate. Each group must learn about the culture and situation of the other. Participants struggle together with what it means to be part of the Sister Parish vision and how to maintain and strengthen their relationships.
To enable this linkage, the coordinators introduce the concept to prospective groups in both North and South. From among the groups making a commitment to proceed with a linkage, communities are matched and initial steps are taken toward the establishment of the relationship. Sister Parish assists with communication, orientation for both groups, scheduling of visits and travel arrangements. To receive the North American groups, the Sister Parish team provides transportation, housing, food, language translators, guides, etc. After the visits the staff works to help maintain and deepen the sister parish relationship over thousands of miles, across national boundaries and through cultural differences.
Sister Parish Inc. became a reality in 1988, and continues to grow. About 40 linkages have been part of Sister Parish, all at various stages-some in the discernment stage and others which have completed their commitment. The impact that the linkages have had on the participants has been transformative. An increasing number of linkages are now inviting the southern sister parishes to the north, which has served to deepen and strengthen understanding and given a strong sense of spirituality to the relationships.
To support this work, Sister Parish receives income from the North American congregation in proportion to the number of people sent on the delegations. In addition, an initial registration fee of $500 is requested, with an ongoing annual fee of $500. These fees help with general overhead costs for preparation of groups in the South and North, including travel, communications, etc. Our work is very labor and resource intensive, so a great deal of work goes on between delegation visits that the delegation costs do not cover. These fees help pay a portion of those expenses. Delegates pay between $750-850, (not including air transportation) to participate in a trip. The price depends on number of days and location. Visits are typically 8-10 days.
Recommended reading is “En La Buena Lucha – in the Good Struggle; the Sister Parish Movement”, by Richard Fenske. The author is the co-founder of Sister Parish and he gives a good overview of the development of Sister Parish and its on-going vision and work. The cost is $9.95 (plus $2 for postage) and may be ordered through Sister Parish, Inc. at the address noted.
The model and vision of Sister Parish is relationship building, education, awareness raising, celebrating as children of God and working together to bring about a society that is just for all people.