My husband and I have sponsored kids before... kids we prayed for but never met. Kids whose names we knew, yet we had no knowledge of their lives. When we met Sarah, our perception of what a sponsorship relationship could look like changed forever. In June of 2010, we were part of the Liberia mission trip, and spent time at both Daniel Hoover Children's Village and at the Oscar and Viola Steward School for the Deaf.
Sarah was deaf. She did not demand attention, but simply stood back and watched us interact with others. It was obvious that she wanted to be a part but just wasn't asserting herself. We later found out that she had only been at the Mission for a short while and had very few sign language skills... so her communication was severely limited and had been for her entire 8 years of life. We knew no sign either, but we both fell in love with her and decided to sponsor her. Our time together was spent simply holding her, smiling and playing little hand games.
When our family spent a month in Liberia this past winter, we spent significantly more time with Sarah and the other children. She'd learned so much sign language, and we'd done our best to learn the alphabet and some basics... but still... pretty tough to communicate. She was THRILLED we were back, however. She'd spend all the time she could in our laps. We were able to bring a package and some pictures from our previous time with her as well. It was hard for all of us to say (sign) our goodbyes.
Sarah had to leave the mission several months ago, and return to whatever family claimed responsibilty for her, after she started to frequently faint or have seizures. (I'm unsure which is accurate.) This week, we learned that she died tragically while staying with her family, in circumstances that seem to have nothing to do with her medical concerns.
No, we didn't know her extremely well. We didn't know her hopes and dreams, or if she had any at all. We didn't know her history or the circumstances of her life before the mission. But, I have held her while she was sick with a high fever... and Jason gave her his big 'ol sandals to wear one day, which she thought was quite funny! My children have met her. We wrote her letters and picked out pretty dresses for her. We have a framed picture of her in our home.
My point is, we loved her. And we are extremely saddened that when we return to Liberia one day, we will not get to hold our Sarah.
I will never know what we meant to her, but I am confident that she knew we loved her. I have been thanking the Lord that we had a chance to love her in ways that were tangible to her in the short life she had. I am grateful to have had the privilege of showing her that somebody cared... that she was of great worth to Jesus... if only through a smile, a letter, or a hug.
Whether you realize it or not, your sponsorship of a child does the same thing... it shows them that they are worth something to Jesus, and that someone loves them. So, thank you, if that's something you do. The reality is that you cannot know what may be down the road for these children. When you pour into their lives, it is not in vain.
In Honor of Sarah,
For information on how to sponsor a Liberian child like Sarah, visit http://www.africanchildsponsorship.com/