THE UNSTOPPABLE EMMA FAYE RUDKIN
By Aisling Ayers
After being raised up in the small town she loves, Boerne native Emma Faye Rudkin has hit the ground running—and she’s not stopping anytime soon. At the age of just 22, the deaf speaker’s big dreams have become a reality as she’s made her mark on both the hearing and deaf worlds. San Antonio’s Woman of the Year, founder of Aid the Silent, and Miss San Antonio ’15 and ’17 is this September’s Wheeler’s Western Outfitters Customer Spotlight. Lover of books, Star Wars and travel, Rudkin offers a sneak peek into the ordinary moments of her extraordinary life
A TRUE BOERNE NATIVE
Growing up on a ranch in Boerne, Rudkin has always been a dreamer and a lover of the outdoors. Although most of her time now is spent commutng, Rudkin calls Boerne her “safe haven” in such a crazy season of life. “No matter what’s happening with meetings, interviews or travels, Boerne is this special place where I always feel at home again,” said Rudkin. Rudkin claims she is always eating at her favorite places: The Dodging Duck and The Dienger. She loves to spend time walking along the river downtown and meeting up with friends from high school.
After an exhausting work schedule, she loves to unwind by coming home to Boerne to sleep in and sit on the porch with a cup of coffee. She credits her survival to quality time spent with her life-long best friend Katie Hohne and her family.
As beloved as Boerne is to Rudkin, being deaf in a small town has had its challenges. Although her teachers were always supportive and willing to accommodate, she often struggled with Boerne’s lack of resources for the deaf. “I only knew two other Boerne people with hearing loss growing up. And in a small town, people sometimes don’t understand that discrimination is real if you have a disability,” explained Rudkin.
Rudkin shared her hope that the Boerne school systems would one day include American Sign Language in their offered curriculums. “It’s becoming a more widely used language for people that have special needs or don’t even have hearing loss,” revealed Rudkin.
No stranger to cowgirl boots, Rudkin grew up riding horses. Now that she’s no longer always on a ranch, Rudkin still makes sure to visit Wheeler’s whenever she’s in town. “I love Wheeler’s because it feels like a small town, but in a store,” said Rudkin.
The last thing she bought at Wheeler’s was “an awesome volcano candle that smelled so good.” However, Rudkin credits Wheeler’s for being the only place that she has ever seen carry her absolute favorite ‘Dear John’ jeans.
WEARING THE CROWN
Every child has a role model, and Rudkin was no exception. Heather Whitestone, the only deaf Miss America, became her role model from an early age. As she got older, she dreamed that she too would one day be crowned as the second deaf Miss America.
As the years flew by, Rudkin turned her focus to the prospect of starting Aid the Silent, a non-profit organization that strives for equality and opportunity for the deaf community. One day she received a surprising email about the upcoming preliminary Miss San Antonio meeting. Having no knowledge of being registered, she discovered that her mother had rememered Rudkin’s dream and secretly sent in her information.
“I didn’t want to go. But my mom reminded me not to forget that dream and not to discredit myself that I couldn’t do it,” said Rudkin. Reluctantly, she attended the meeting that eventually would open so many doors for her in the future. “I felt so strongly that I was going to be given that platform to start Aid the Silent,” remembered Rudkin.Even though those who knew the outdoorsy and summer-camp-loving Rudkin were surprised at her entrance into the Miss America circuit, the experience was invaluable. “Being Miss San Antonio really was a beautiful opportunity that kickstarted the set up for Aid the Silent. It played a huge role in getting me introduced to the community and meeting new people with different stories and experiences,” revealed Rudkin
AID THE SILENT
“I knew that my big dream was to start Aid the Silent, but I never thought I could. My biggest insecurity that I have always had is with my voice,” admitted Rudkin.
Uncertain of her own future, Rudkin kept her big dream to herself growing up. “It was always this big secret inside of me that no one really knew, besides my parents. Few people really took the time to know that about me, and it always felt like this secret that I was always holding close to my heart,” said Rudkin.
The dream didn’t remain hidden forever though; something changed within Rudkin’s heart. “The more I started following Jesus, the more I realized that there are no limits. I could do anything,” she said. Transformed by love, she no longer felt constrained by lies. “I love that the thing that I was the most insecure about [speaking] is now the very thing that God has asked me to do with my life,” gushed Rudkin.
Constant, blind trust became the mantra of Rudkin’s life through her non-profit organization. She revealed that the biggest challenge she faces with Aid the Silent is “constantly having to trust in Jesus and trust in people’s hearts at all times because we are dependent on fundraising and generous people in the community.”
When asked what the greatest need of Aid the Silent currently is, Rudkin spoke of the need for a central hub in San Antonio to aid families. “Having a building to have ASL classes, testing, audiology booths, after-school programs, and even Deaf Young Life would be awesome,” admitted Rudkin.
Aid the Silent turned three years old in February, and Rudkin beamed as she described witnessing radical change in the course of deaf children’s lives because of the gift of hearing aids or the opportunity to attend summer camp.
DEAF YOUNG LIFE
Not only does Rudkin operate a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to helping deaf and hard-of-hearing children and teens, but she is the founder of one of only three Deaf Young Life’s in the nation. Centered in San Antonio, Rudkin and her team of leaders focus on providing an opportunity for deaf teenagers to experience the gospel. “Watching these teenagers transform from lost and constantly searching to these incredible deaf teenagers who love Jesus has been incredible,” said Rudkin.
“When I was first hired, I didn’t know a single other deaf teenager for months. The whole time I was thinking ‘I need to quit, because they are wasting their time and energy on me’,” admitted Rudkin. Not all hope was lost, however.
When Rudkin caught sight of her first group of deaf teenage boys at a UTSA football game. After that, her numbers steadily grew because of the few opportunities that are available to deaf teenagers in San Antonio.
When it comes to approaching deaf teenagers, Rudkin has faced both resistance and acceptance. “Because you know their own language, their walls sometimes come down. But on the other hand, sometimes they fight you,” said Rudkin.
Steadfast pursuit is not an exaggeration when it comes to reaching deaf teenagers. After months of praying for these two deaf teenage girls she had kept hearing about, she finally was faced with an opportunity one morning at their high school. “The bell was ringing and class was about to start, but I knew that these two girls were there somewhere. So, there I was, running through this huge public high school,” laughed Rudkin.
After a year and a half of doing ministry with this group of teenagers, Rudkin and her team were tested to remain faithful as they had yet to see any radical change in their teenagers. Months later, when the Deaf Young Life group went to Frontier Ranch, her prayers were answered as she witnessed the transformations she had always prayed about. “We saw that there was so many things happening in their hearts and beneath the surface. We finally realized that we had set them up so well to go to camp and hear the gospel without being in their home situations,” said Rudkin.
REFUSING TO SILENCE HER FAITH
Faced with opportunities and platforms she never thought possible, Rudkin revealed the constant duty she feels to point her audience back to the reason for it all. “I think that’s how God works: giving you the platform or the voice that you never thought you would have,” speculated Rudkin.
After being asked specifically not to speak about Jesus during some of her hired speaking events, Rudkin has been faced with the challenge of respecting others, but remaining faithful. She revealed some of her tactics when put in these types of situations, “There is always a Q and A, and they always end up asking ‘What was your big life change that happened to you? Why are you different now?’ And funny that they should ask, but my answer is always Jesus,” laughed Rudkin.
Flash forward to February of 2018. Rudkin stands before a crowd as the newly named San Antonio Woman of the Year. Rudkin was the youngest and only non-profit nominee in the room… the pressure was on. “As I began to tell my story, I felt the Holy Spirit so heavy on me saying, ‘If this is not about my namesake, then this means nothing,” remembered Rudkin. That night, she decided to say the name of Jesus and that her accomplishments were all because of the work of Him in her life.
“I felt that I had to be faithful to say his name, even in the most uncomfortable of places. I know that is all about His name anyway, not my own. I don’t care that a place will not ask me back because of it. If five people in the room received the gospel that night, that’s what really matters,” stated Rudkin.
When asked what advice she would give to young Christians with big dream
s, Rudkin replied with these words of encouragement: “Keep pressing close to Jesus, because that’s when I discovered what my dreams were, and I truly became who I was supposed to be. Strive to be obedient and listen solely to Jesus’ voice, even when it’s painful.”
Rudkin recalled an example of painful obedience from her own life. With plans to graduate from the Geneva School of Boerne and head up to Nashville to attend Belmont University, Rudkin was shocked when she felt the Lord calling her to something unexpected at UTSA. “I did not want to stay here and go to UTSA. When I felt that the Holy Spirit was asking me to give up my dream of going to Nashville, I didn’t understand.” She would later discover that her obedience would result in things much bigger than she could have imagined.