DSS. EMMA CANTOR-ORATE is a member of the Board of Trustees of Harris Memorial College. She is presently serving as an International Missioner with Women, Children and Youth with the United Methodist Women of the United Methodist Church. She is assigned to East Asia/Pacific region to facilitate ministries on leadership development, organizational strengthening, gender training and journeying with women, youth and children in the Asia Region. She works with women, and youth leadership on various needs and major life concerns. She works with different networks and link with programs.
How would you describe your calling to the deaconess ministry?
My grandfather was a well-known pastor before the war. Knowing God in childhood, I was nurtured in faith by four more deaconesses, my teachers in Sunday school one year at a time: Lydia Lasam Miguel, Carmelita Ancheta, Irma Jurado, and Remedios Esposo Siriban. They led me to various Sunday school activities. I was an angel at Christmas play, attended regular Daily Vacation and Sunday school before I became a teacher at the age of 12. I was a youth leader. After high school, age 16, I was called to study at Harris Memorial College which I never knew. I was on scholarship by a woman missionary who hails from our village whom I never met. I sought for her in the US but she died before we ever met. Harris students were sent to mission work every end of school year. I work with indigenous communities for two summers, taught at School for Christian Youth Development (summer school for young people) for another two summers to complete my summer internship requirements.
My experiences in childhood, youth age and as student led me to know and embrace God’s mission with people in church, community and world. After graduation, consecration and commission, I worked at local churches, with the Annual Board of Discipleship ministries, and Youth coordinator for several years. Harris Memorial College shaped me, a deaconess and a mission person in journeying and accompanying people’s movement.
My work sends me deeply into the ocean as Peter was called to do. The travelling mission work led me further to ecumenical institutions, at the Institute of Religion and Culture, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, engaged in creating women’s spaces at the Institute of Religion and Culture with the Leadership of like BATIS Center, children and youth like ECPAT, with the Association of Women in Theology and Christian Conference of Asia’s women’s programs. I was sent to Beijing 95 by the Women’s Division with the leadership of Aurora Cudal, then WSCS National President. Bishop Daniel Arichea called me back to the United Methodist Church, to lead the Board of Women’s Work, the Philippines Central Conference agency for women and youth programs.
How did you become a missionary?
The Board of Women’s Work, led me to the missionary journey. The Women’s Division invited me to Korea for Asian women leadership training with other Asian women’s leaders. I met Karen Prudente for the first time and requested me to search for a person to work with the Women’s Division for Asia. I promised to give the names in three days’ time. After three days, she asked me to join instead, with my pending hesitation. It took me 9 months to decide but with urgency. The application form was 12 pages long and there were 500 questions to answer. I was accepted. Then I was told that the mission will be a wider area, but not too different to what I have been doing. In my new journey, I had deep reflections discerning why I landed up deciding to become one. I remember my mother used to host pastors and deaconesses in their evangelistic initiatives. Joining them at age 6, kneeling in prayer under a tree in twilight glow for lack of electricity, a memory cascaded in me. Now, many things have changed. Missionaries are no longer white people. I was deeply a shy person, and afraid meeting them before my formation years at Harris Memorial College and at Church Annual Conferences. Missionaries have big hearts, full love and full life. To be “never unprepared” for God’s call is something I never knew until I was ready to plunge in to God’s leading to mission. Like Peter I was led to go into the deep. Being a missionary is plunging deep into the lives of people in different realities and conditions far and near. I am glad I made the decision.
How has mission impacted your life?
My life is transformed into deep compassion. Deep compassion to people is a necessity in leading people. Giving life, hope, love and do action is the embodiment of compassionate living. I need to believe that my life as a deaconess is a vessel field up with the energy of life, overflowing like a stream in the desert. The call to mission made me as if I live in tents with my suitcases every time I travel to mission areas, and prayer makes all the difference. I make my departing and arriving like a spiritual dance, and long travels like a retreat, listening to myself, talk to myself, expanding the inner self, towards self-understanding and self-remembering (Thomas Anderson p. 35). I remember Jesus, who did not have any space to rest himself. I hear him saying travel light. I feel the Christ walks with me, live in me every time in helping people, mostly I never knew before. I found the passion for mission in the labyrinth of life amongst people, in the life of poor children, in the lamentations of abused mothers, in the silent unspeakable grieving of widows of war, in the emptiness of the belly, in listening to the sobs, laughter, worries and joys of migrants in search for wellbeing and life, and in the emptiness of skyscrapers and luxurious living. In the walks of mission, I need to learn discipline, the root of the word disciple. I practice that there is no impossible in the way of love, from which we all exist. This Christ has taught me, the cross bears it all. Living with strangers, journeying with them in search of life made me fully understand what it meant to live. The mind is healed from fragmentation to the truth of oneness (Marrianne Williamson, p. 28) becomes my mantra as I served in a much diversified continent. Compassion awakened me in a new dimension of seeing and feeling. Only compassion and deep respect of life leads the way with grace of God every day. God’s compassion and grace change lives. This, I am, in the walks of mission, the deaconess in me for since I vowed to take the missionary path, I changed.
Would you encourage deaconesses to engage in mission work?
The deaconess is a missionary wherever she is at any given moment of her lifetime: to serve the needy, the poor, the afflicted… Luke 4:18-19 at any time at any given place all her life. Just like John Wesley’s principle: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”
Whatever happened to you in your lifetime as a deaconess, never falter for God has called you. Deaconesses are special persons, formed, transformed, loved, called to minister and do God’s mission….and no one else except you in God’s eye…Be delighted in God’s ways, guidance and grace…You are a deaconess, a leader, a missionary wherever one can be, always and every time….
How long have you been a deaconess and what motivates you in staying in the ministry?
Deaconess ministry is God’s calling and is a life commitment. This year of 2015 is my 37th year in the folds of ministries. I always feel God is calling people to work on God’s purposes in our lives as humans and the whole inhabited earth. Being called is an amazing and extravagant love of God to humanity, working through many forms of ministries with indisputable commitment. Deaconess Ministry is a wholesome, deep commitment to people’s sake and loving the earth as source of life. I declare, I embrace God’s commissioning me, I am called to do God’s mission in all my life. Nothing else!
I express here my deep thanks and appreciation to all peoples young and old, Church Institutions and agencies and organizations who have formed me; challenges and struggles which continually inspire me; and lives who touch me every day into deep compassion and love. Deaconess Ministry is a beautiful ministry, an unquestionable gift of the Creator God of Love.