Reconciling church and society
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - August 25, 2020 - 12:00am

So many of my and your friends have gone ahead of us. We grieve, but when our tears have dried, we think of the good times we had together and of their impact on our lives. One person who dedicated her life so that others could improve theirs was Eugenia Lily D’Lonsod-Camba.

Ate Genie, as she was popularly called, was executive director of the Institute for Religion and Culture (IRC), an ecumenical institution that implements various programs in response “to the imperatives of faith in the light of historical realities in the Philippines.”

IRC began as the Academy of the Philippines as conceptualized by Nathaniel L. Cortez and Ruth Cortes, its objective equipping church leaders and lay persons with the tools for reconciling the relationship between church and society.

?IRC emphasizes lay formation that involves the conduct of seminars, exposures, training courses and fellowships to raise the knowledge and skills of lay and church people to become good “shepherds” of their local churches. Known theologians from various churches handle modules or topics on these exposures.

For 35 years, Henie Camba took on management of the institute. Although we were friends, I learned more about her life and commitments from the eulogy delivered by her husband, UCCP Bishop Erme R. Camba.

Henie was born on November 18, 1939 in Sapangdalaga, Mis. Occidental, the eighth of 14 children. She was three months short of 79 years when she passed away. She finished her AA at Southwestern University, Cebu; her bachelor of theology, major in kindergarten, AB in sociology, cum laude, and master in sociology from Silliman University. She had special training on the Montessori method and was asked by Dr. Juan Flavier, then of the International Institute for Rural Reconstruction (IRRI) to experiment with kindergarten teaching for the barrio people using the Montessori method.

She received a plaque of appreciation for this experiment, but she did not display the plaque, just as she did not want her graduating with a cum laude award or the Divinity School’s Diaconia Award announced. “That was Henie,” the bishop said. “She did not want to display her achievements. She did not like people who say I did this and that. In fact she did not want me to write her biodata. Sorry, Mom, I have to write it for people asking me for it now.”

When Bishop Erme was elected bishop of the UCCP Southern Luzon, Henie was invited to become executive director of IRC which job she assumed for 35 years. She inherited an organization that was about to close for lack of funds. But under her leadership, IRC became alive and well.

Henie was a risk-taker, Erme said. “She started borrowing money here and there, even when she did not know how to pay for it.” The funding partners were hesitant to continue funding IRC, but gave in because of her husband Erme’s good name. In time Henie was her own successful fund-raiser.

When she started to receive funds Henie initiated a lot of programs. She did not appreciate straight Bible study, she wanted contextual biblical interpretation, so she and her staff worked on what is now known as Bible in Context. Philippine history is viewed from the Filipino masses’ view point; this is shown in the video “Captive Land,” which is now on its third edition. All Bible studies include Philippine history. Rev. Luna Dingayen created 12 volumes of BIC modules.

The seminars are held in Dumaguete, Cebu and Muntinlupa, headquarters of IRC.

As executive director, Henie published three IRC books – Kalinangan Book series 1, Philippine Society: Reflections on Contemporary Issues; Kalinangan Book series II, Currents in Philippine Theology and Protestant witness, in connection with the Protestant Centennial.

She also caused the publication of 12 IRC Bible in Context modules; four modules on women and gender issues; an audio visual material on the history of the Philippines. She also had a radio program, “Tingog sa Kababaten-an” (voices of women, youth, and children).

She published two books consisting of articles and stories on people’s lives.

A strong advocate of women and children and families, IRC houses victims of rape and helps them win several cases. In this connection Henie caused the publication of four volumes on women and gender issues, and a marriage enrichment module.

Her go-getting ability was shown when she told a representative from the Interchurch Organization for Development and Cooperative Churches of the Netherlands (ICCO) who said they will not continue funding IRC, “Fine, you can take your money back home but do not impose your IMF-WB policies on us.” The representative’s face turned red; he must have been surprised about her candidness. Her comment went around in ecumenical circles, said Bishop Camba. But that triggered funding from foreign funders; ICCO (the Netherlands funder) gave funding for the renovation of twin houses that Henie bought which are now the national office of IRC, the United Church of Canada gave her a van, and another provided money for IRC’seducational program.

She was afraid of no one, said Bishop Camba of his wife. One time a squad of army soldiers raided the IRC Center in Mampayag,Bukidnon, and pointed long arms at her. She immediately scolded the soldiers for disturbing her and asked for their commander. When they brought her to the commander, she asked for his name, and then said, “Sit down, Migallos.” The commander said they were after a criminal who could be hiding in the IRC premises. Henie told him, “So this is how you terrorize people. I will report this to President Ramos who is a member of our church.” The commander apologized and asked how to get out of the place. “If you came in why can’t you find your way out,” she said.

“Henie was a builder,” said Bishop Camba. She built Hesed Seminar House in Muntinlupa which houses also the national office; the Hessed House Cebu which houses IRC Visayas regional office, and has a mini-hotel with air-conditioned bedrooms with a conference room and a swimming pool and the Mindanao Regional Center which has stopped operation due to the high cost of transportation. But the five hectare area is now a mini-forest – IRC’s contribution to preservation of the environment. In this connection IRC published a book on the Theology of Creation with a companion volume of liturgies on the environment.

True to the IRC’s vision of caring for the poor, Henie initiated a very successful micro-lending program for tricycle drivers, vendors and the urban poor of Dumaguete City. Starting with a P30,000 capital 10 years ago, the program has now become an P8-million fund. Under a rent to own arrangement, some 100 drivers have applied for the offer; 60 of them have fully paid their loans and are now happy owners of their units and 40 are about to do the same.

IRC offers loans for housing and tuition fees for children of beneficiary members.

The beneficiaries meet two hours every month for education on subjects such as population and family planning, poverty, gender and peasant issues, human rights, and Bible studies.

By popular vote, Bishop Camba was elected by the board of directors as IRC’s executive director; but the bishop pleads, “Let’s find someone else, I’m already 83 years old.” Chairman of the board is Jun Sabug, an economics specialist.

*      *      *


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with