Weekly Reflections: Ate Henie: a servant of God and of the People


“It was faith that made Abel offer to God a better sacrifice than Cain’s. Through his faith he won God’s approval as a righteous man, because God himself approved of his gifts. By means of his faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.”— Hebrews 11:4

Ate Henie

Many would call her Ate Henie, but she is more than an Ate to my wife Pearl and I; she is a mother to us in many ways than one. I was still a young seminary student at Union Theological Seminary (UTS) when I first met her. She was then serving as a Kindergarten Teacher in an early childhood school on campus.

Ate Henie’s husband, the Rev. Erme R. Camba, who later on became Bishop and General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), was at the time our professor of Church and Society, a course on the sociology of religion, providing us some basic orientation on our social responsibilities as Christians. It is a course that helped a lot in raising our consciousness on the various issues confronted by the church in relation to our contemporary society and how we should deal with these issues from the perspective of our Christian faith.

Rev. Camba was also in charge at the time of the inter-seminary exposure program, bringing together students from various seminaries of different church denominations and exposing them to the various communities: urban, rural, and tribal communities, as well as, providing them training on Clinical Pastoral Education in different hospitals in the country. The inter-seminary program is theology in action; students learn their theology by immersing themselves with the people. The program also exposes seminary students to grassroots ecumenism.

The Cambas left UTS when Rev. Camba was elected Bishop of the UCCP, then later on as UCCP’s General Secretary.

I was already married to Pearl and returned to UTS for my Master of Theology Program, preparing myself to be faculty of UTS while serving as pastor of Sambahan sa Nayon, a church on campus, when Ate Henie together with Ate Ruth Cortes came over and asked me to join the Institute of Religion and Culture (IRC) as staff in charge of publication and formation programs. I was quite hesitant, but Ate Henie was able to persuade me to join the Institute.

Institute of Religion and Culture

Ate Henie, later on, became our Executive Director after the passing on of the Rev. Nathaniel Cortes, our former Executive Director and co-founder of IRC. And she had been our Executive Director since then up to last April 11, 2018 when she finally retired for health reasons. And we elected her husband, Bishop Erme R. Camba, to take over the responsibilities as Executive Director of the Institute. Ate Henie’s long years of service as Executive Director were interrupted only when Rev. Marma Urbano took over the responsibilities very briefly before she decided to migrate to the US.

Under Ate Henie’s leadership, IRC’s programs and services grew by leaps and bounds. IRC is one of the ecumenical institutions put up during the Martial Law years to address the issues and needs of churches in the context of Martial Law. Through its publication and formation programs, IRC tries to raise people’s social awareness and to deepen their faith in God. Our in-house magazine Kalinangan became popular as a resource reading material among ecumenical churches and schools. We have developed training modules on the Bible, on women, children and youth, and marriage encounter and counseling. Hundreds of trainings and seminar-workshops on these modules were conducted throughout the country.

Bible-in-Context modules are the most popular among the modules developed. Apparently, people are in need not only of social awareness, but more importantly of a deeper and wider understanding of the Christian faith in order to face the various issues and challenges of church and society. There were times during the Martial Law years when we had to conduct almost a hundred Bible-in-Context seminar-workshops in one year throughout the country.

Ate Henie is not only a good administrator, she is also a visionary. She envisioned that there would come a time when funding partners will run out of resources and we may not be able to sustain our programs and services. And so, she convinced our funding partners to help us acquire properties and put up retreat houses: one in Luzon, one in the Visayas, and another one in Mindanao. That’s one of the reasons why IRC is still going on even when funding partners had stopped sharing their financial resources. For we have had other sources of income generated locally.

Faith in the Service of the People

But the main reason why IRC continues to exist is because of the firm conviction that faith must be in the service of the people. As a matter of fact, this is the motto of the Institute: “Faith in the Service of the People.” And Ate Henie tried very hard to put this conviction into practice. I wrote a song with this title which we sang for the first time during the tenth founding anniversary of the Institute. But faith must not only be in words or in writing or even in song. There must be concrete expressions of our faith in the service of the people. And so, she initiated a lending program in Dumaguete to help vendors and tricycle drivers earn a living and freed from being victims of loan sharks. Many poor families in Dumaguete were benefited by this program. They are able to send their children to school, acquired their own tricycles, and even put up houses of their own.

Indeed, those whose lives have been touched by Ate Henie’s life will never forget her. She will forever live in their memories. My family and I will never forget Ate Henie. Personally, I will forever be grateful to her for persuading me to join IRC and for giving me opportunities to develop myself. My work experiences and exposures at the Institute had prepared me for greater responsibilities ahead. As a matter of fact, I learned from the Institute the non-traditional approach to theological education that we are now implementing at the Ecumenical Theological Seminary that we established in 1996 in Baguio City.

Ate Henie is a genuine servant of God and of the people. Her passing on is a great loss for us. But we are comforted by the thought that she continues to live because of her faith lived in the service of the people. The Book of Hebrews says, “It was faith that made Abel offer to God a better sacrifice than Cain’s. Through his faith he won God’s approval as a righteous man, because God himself approved of his gifts. By means of his faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead” (Heb. 11:4). # nordis.net


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