Institutio de Mujer Virtuosa (Spanish for “Virtuous Woman”) is a rigorous six-month training program, in Spanish, for Hispanic Christian Women leaders. Founded by Houston-based ministry leader Sara Reyes, Institutio de Mujer Virtuosa was birthed from Reyes’s own life, in which she gained the courage to leave an abusive marriage and experienced healing and wholeness through her relationship with Christ. She wanted to put into other women’s hands the information they needed to understand their identity as God’s beloved children, worthy of being treated with dignity and respect. Also, she dreamed of providing them with the tools to thrive in every area of life—from physical health and community building to learning about scripture and developing the character qualities and confidence to be godly leaders in their families, churches, and communities—all with the unique considerations of Hispanic contexts in mind.
In fall of 2016, Austin Seminary brought Reyes to campus to prepare a core group of respected Hispanic women to serve as group leaders. The group leaders recruited learners from within their communities and spheres of influence. “We committed to preparing leaders who could extend the reach of the program far beyond what we could have done as a Seminary,” said Melissa Wiginton, Vice President for Education Beyond the Walls. “The model worked. The core group of women seized the opportunity to empower other women.”
The Institutio de Mujer Virtuosa program consisted of eleven small groups who met around Austin; each woman made a six-month commitment to weekly group sessions, viewing training videos and other program materials, engaging in self-reflection, Bible study, group discussion, and attending a mid-program conference of worship and teaching with all of eleven groups combined. In short, these women exhibited high commitment and sacrifice to be part of this program.
None of this would have been possible without the outstanding leadership of EBW associate Monica Tornoe. In collaboration with Wiginton, Tornoe spearheaded the Institutio de Mujer Virtuo program in Austin. An attorney in her country of origin, Guatemala, Monica is now also a graduate of Institutio de Mujer Virtuosa, having served as a group leader. “I’ve seen true transformation happen among these beautiful women,” says Tornoe. “Women came thirsty to learn and grow, and this thirst was quenched through this training.” Tornoe attributes this to the openness in the groups to discuss taboo topics, from personal insecurities to domestic violence. One participant said, “This training has motivated me to go to school and keep studying.” While some have obtained prior degrees, for many women this was their first time to graduate from a formal educational program. Vilma Reséndiz, one of the leaders, is taking classes at Austin Seminary this fall!
On hand for this special graduation were President Ted Wardlaw, Trustee Jesse Gonzalez, and Wiginton. To honor the primary language of the Institutio de Mujer Virtuosa participants, both Wardlaw and Wiginton gave their welcome and congratulatory remarks in Spanish. The ceremony was followed by a reception in the Great Hall of University Presbyterian Church where the ceremony took place. “Consistency, commitment, and love all paid off on graduation day. It was an emotional day and a great reward,” says Tornoe. “Our commitment now at EBW to these women is to keep going, to keep offering practical education that produces true transformation.”
–By Ahna Phillips