By Patty Villarreal, LMSW
The word strength conjures up images of power and confidence. God provides people, women and men, who cross our path with strength which maximizes our God-given potential. Power and confidence give us courage to pursue an action towards our dream.
As women we sometimes tend to gravitate more towards other women, our sisters. In my case, similar to Alicia Zorzoli, who wrote last month’s blog, I did not have blood sisters. Growing up, I was envious of my female friends who had sisters. I watched those special bonds between them. They always had a companion when they went places. They shared intimate secrets and protected each other. Yes, they fought but what siblings don’t. I always wondered what it was like to have a sister.
By the grace of God, He gave me lots of “sisters” when I became a Christian. Immediately, I inherited a world of hermanas (sisters). I have the privilege of sharing special bonds with many of these “sisters”. I have hermanas who I confide in and they confide in me, who protect me and I protect them. I have hermanas who walk with me in my relationship with Christ and I walk with them to live life more abundantly. My life is blessed with my hermanas.
My dream and strong desire has always been to encourage the best in others. In my years as a leader and in my profession of social work, I come across people who aren’t aware of their gifts and talents. I encounter those who lack self-confidence, and the limited perception of themselves hinders their ability to see how valuable they are to God.
My life mission includes “elimating barriers that hinder God-given potential in children and their families”. The Lord has allowed and guided me to do that in the lives of individuals, families, churches, and in systems. Thankfully, I didn’t do this in isolation. I am often a part of a group of colleagues, or a community who is working on ways to eliminate those barriers for families, and many times I am doing this alongside of my hermanas.
This is a blessing in itself! However, the extra blessing comes when I walk this journey with other believers. Often, it is with and through my hermanas who come from the same framework and understanding of Christ’s love for us and others. Mis hermanas bring a Christ-like perspective in the work of encouragement and elimination of barriers. Often times, it’s a learning process for women of God who are seeking God’s will together.
The Christian Latina Leadership Institute (CLLI) was birthed that way. From the desire and vision to bring out the best in others and in communities. The seed of the CLLI began in collaboration with a like-minded sister, Dr. Nora Lozano. Through the beginning of a friendship and sisterhood, two Latina leaders in the Fall of 2005 began to dream and fashion a movement to help other Latina leaders maximize their God-given potential. God used divine conversations, our networks, and encouragement of each other as Dr. Lozano and I traveled the journey together to create and develop the CLLI.
We did not do this alone, in these last 14 years, God has led friends, advisors and faculty to work with us.
The initial concept of CLLI has now matured into a non-profit, an executive director, and a CLLI board that now lead the organization. We not only teach Latinas but also Latinas-at-heart, from whom we also learn. They are gifted women who always bless us as we continue to fine-tune the Institute.
My friendship and sisterhood with Nora Lozano continues to grow in ways beyond our ties with the Christian Latina Leadership Institute. I came across this quote from Sabrina Newby, CEO and founder of the Coastal, Georgia Minority Chamber, which describes our relationship:
“I’m proud of her; she’s proud of me. There is no competition animosity, envy, or jealousy. We’re just secure, confident women doing our thing while supporting each other. I call that a SiSTARship and it is the essence of a Smart Woman Achieving Greatness. (SWAG).”
SiSTARship is a program which empowers women to lead. I pray that those reading this blog have a SiSTARship type of relationship with others – “confident women doing our thing while supporting each other”.
I believe that it is almost impossible to be the best that you can be if you are not a part of a community of hermanas. This sisterhood is a divine gift from God. A sisterhood is made up of women who are connected by genetics or by their faith in Christ, who are ready and able to walk alongside you, build you up, share confidences, and protect you.
The Bible speaks wisely about the importance of living and serving in community: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 This passage goes on to say, “Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecc. 4:11-12. The power of community is certainly important in the Bible.
If you are blessed to have a SiSTARship community around you, give thanks to God, and keep nurturing it. If you do not have one, pray for a community of sisters. Take initiative and start being a good sister to other women, and eventually, with God’s blessing, you will enjoy the riches of having an hermana or a community of hermanas surround you.
At the CLLI, we strive to be this community of leaders –a SiSTARship– that encourages each other in the journey of leadership. As we continue offering training at different sites, please consider joining us and becoming part of this community that bonds together to achieve excellence in God.
Patty Villarreal LMSW, is the Co-Founder of the Christian Latina Leadership Institute, and Adjunct professor at the Baptist University of the Américas.