A box, a light, and a birthday wish

I thought I could escape to Africa and not have anyone notice today is my birthday. Well, my parents and the staff at church had a different idea. This is a birthday ending in “0.” Yes, you guessed it I am turning 20 (again).

Last Wednesday as I returned from lunch I entered the church office to find my office covered with banners, balloons and a stack of presents outside my office. I’d already enjoyed an amazing chocolate cake at staff meeting and had the preschool children sing Happy Birthday. How could there be more?

Before me was big brown box.

As I opened it, Mom immediately gave herself away. What was inside was an amazing box of goodies from my parents. I quickly realized my Mom had gathered forty things of forty. Yes, those candles in the picture had 38 additional candles tucked behind them. From 40 safety pins to 40 packages of peanut M&Ms, each wrapped in a separate package, each tied with a ribbon and Mom’s signature “xox.” As I unwrapped each package, 40 memories, 40 pages of pictures of me growing up (oh my!), and 40 birthday cards. 40. 40. 40. 40. 40.

What Mom didn’t realize, or maybe she did (she’s always been wiser than she let us know!), is each package of 40 items tell a story.

A story that begins today, celebrating my 40th birthday, in Liberia, West Africa.

You see those candles aren’t just candles. They are lights. Lights that fill a dark room, lights that guide the way, lights that shine in the corners of the world.

I could ask for no greater gift than to have the friends and family, colleagues and congregation I have in my life. Each one is a blessing. Each one of you have given me the gift of your presence in my life. Each one of you, a light, in my world.

As I find myself on mission in Liberia, West Africa, many of you know there is no place I’d rather be than in the mission field. You may or may not know I call people making a difference “city lights.”

Whether you’ve listened to me talk about my time in South Africa, our Awaken the City ministry, or the youth mission trips to Mexico, Toronto, or Rockford, you know serving in mission is something I love. The year our mission trip was cancelled the night before we were to depart, I learned something. As we headed north the next day to Rockford, Illinois instead of south to Florida, I learned it did not matter where we served. There is a mission field in our neighborhoods, in our city, in our hometowns.

Today I find myself in sub-saharan Africa. Regardless of where I serve, there is no place I feel more alive than in the mission field.

Even at MY age.

The candles are a reminder to me today of the light that is needed in the world. Light that takes the form of health and healing. Light that comes to life through doctors and nurses. Light that is swallowed in little pills and illuminates the cells being examined under a microscope for disease. Light that is powered by generators and light that lives in people who care.

I want to share that light.

So I have a birthday wish. Actually, 40 (X40 X40) wishes.

When I realized I would be in Liberia on my birthday, I made a decision to see what might happen if my friends and family might join me for the journey.

For 40 days after I return, I’ll have forty stories to share with you about our mission to Liberia. Forty lights that shined during our time in Liberia. Along the way, you’ll likely get to see more of the items from the birthday box Mom and Dad sent my way. Because the items Mom packaged with love tell the story of life: yes, even half way around the world.

My birthday wish is as big as your presence in my life: For 40 days, 40 different people (each day), give $40 = $A gift for the Ganta Hospital.

I’ll share more when I return about the needs at the Ganta Hospital. Here’s what I know before I leave: we’ve packed eight suitcases with medical supplies. The hospital staff asked for gauze, antibiotics, and suture kits. Simple things we would expect a hospital to have in great supply. The only thing that is in great supply is a great need.

There is a box sitting in my family room and it is filled with stories. There are stories happening all around you. There are people, half a world away, with their own story. In each of those stories there is a light waiting to shine.

If you’re incline to “be a light” before I return here’s how:

Give online: www.givetomission.org Advance #15080N Project Name: Ganta United Methodist Hospital

When asked if the donation is in honor/memory of someone, please indicate “Sara’s Birthday.” You’ll simply help us track the gift, making it easier to see our cumulative impact.

Give by mail: Make your check payable to ADVANCE GCFA; Note: Advance# 15080N and drop in the mail to me at 1147 Halpin Ave. #4, Cincinnati, Ohio 45208. I will send it with others to the General Board of Global Ministry (GBGM) of the UMC.

However you give, 100% of your gift is tax deductible. GBGM makes sure 100% of your gift goes to the hospital by holding a special offering each year to cover administrative costs for all the projects the United Methodist Church. If $40 isn’t within your ability, please give as you are able.

Every day I pray that I might be more of who God wants me to be. When 2012 began, my resolution was to give more to the world than I take. There is no place my prayer becomes more real than in the mission field. It’s a privilege to serve as a pastor, to be called your daughter, sister, aunt, cousin and friend.

Thank you for being a part of the story, for being one of the lights to guide the way. Thank you for being a part of a birthday wish that will mean health and healing for the people of Ganta, Liberia.

There are forty stories to come.

For now, there are candles burning…Thanks for being a light in my world!

  1. Jill
    Jill says:

    You are amazing Sara – I’ve learned so much from you as friend, pastor, servant & leader – I will gladly give $40 & will find 40 more to do the same!!!
    Happy Birthday & Peace to you, the HPCUMC team with you, the hospital staff you meet, the children you meet, the Bishop, etc…..
    Can’t wait to hear your 40 stories!!!

  2. Stacey Traub
    Stacey Traub says:

    sara~ you are a light for all of us to follow and inspire after. Happy Birthday. We will be more than happy to give the $40. We love you. The Traubs

  3. Lana Thomas
    Lana Thomas says:

    TO OUR BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTER: “There’s a little flame inside us all. Some shine bright. Some shine small. The rains will come And the waters will rise But don’t you ever loose your light.
    In this life you will know Love and pain Joy and sorrow So when it hurts When times get
    Hard Don’t Forget who’s child YOU are. This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine.
    LET IT SHINE , LET IT SHINE. “. Love to you on your special day x40,

    Mom and Dad