A Ministry of Love, Not a Money-Maker

April 13th, 2012

Emory ’70 and Idella Borntrager ’68 Otto

Emory ’70 and Idella Borntrager ’68 Otto

To be an effective counselor, says Emory Otto, “you really have to care about people, and really want to help people.”

It’s something that he wanted to do since he’d been in elementary school, and it’s a career he pursued since majoring in psychology at EMC and earning his doctoral degree in 1983 from the Florida Institute of Technology. As he discovered in the intervening three decades, it can also make for long days of exhausting, stressful work on a relatively modest salary; the reward has to be something other than money.

“It’s a ministry,” says Emory, sitting on the couch in his basement office.

“This is our love gift back to God and his people,” adds his wife, Idella Borntrager Otto, who, much later in her working life, trained as a counselor and joined her husband in a practice run out of their home in Lititz, Pa.

After starting his own practice in 1999, Emory began to realize that practicing jointly with a woman therapist would allow him to better serve his clients. Idella, meanwhile, was working as a school nurse, where she increasingly found herself working in an informal counseling role. Many of the students who came in complaining of headaches, she thought, really were suffering from heartache caused by stressful home lives.

The next step seemed obvious. Idella, who already had plenty of practical counseling experience, formalized her training through the American Christian College and Seminary. After graduating in 2005, she and Emory practiced together until her retirement in 2011; Emory is currently in the process of winding down the practice for his own retirement. // Their deepest joy while working together, they say, was accompanying their clients on healing journeys that often unfolded in unexpected, unlikely ways.

“Sometimes people’s pain was so deep that they couldn’t see how God could redeem their situation, but He did,” Idella says. “No pain is too deep that God’s love can’t reach it.”

— Andrew Jenner