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‘Soul Surfer’ youth minister to share message of hope at PAC
Sept. 16, 2013

Sarah Hill provided hope and encouragement to Bethany Hamilton, survivor of 2003 shark attack

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

DASSEL-COKATO, MN; KAUAI, HI – Why do bad things happen to good people?

As a youth minister on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, Sarah Rachel Hill tries to encourage young people that there is life beyond the trials.

Portrayed by Carrie Underwood in the 2011 movie “Soul Surfer,” Hill was the person Bethany Hamilton turned to in her times of trial. Hamilton was only 13 when she lost her arm in a shark attack while surfing off Kauai’s North Shore in 2003.

Hill is also no stranger to trials.

“I’ve had a rough life, myself,” Hill said, explaining how she grew up with an emotionally and physically abusive father, who also abused drugs and alcohol.

Hill was faced with an additional challenge when she broke her neck and back in a surfing accident preventing her from playing water polo, a sport she received a scholarship to play in college.

These trials made Hill begin to question, “How can a God of love allow this to happen to somebody?”

It was while walking down her own path of dispair that she found Christ and began to have renewed hope in life. She eventually became the leader of the largest youth ministry on the island.

People can use their hardships as an excuse, Hill said, or they can take control and begin to make positive changes in their life.

That message helped Hamilton, who, following the shark attack, not only learned to live a life with only one arm, she also overcame her new fear of the water and returned to professional surfing.

The movie’s release opened a platform for Hill to speak on a greater level to traveling across the country speak at women’s conferences and youth events, sharing the “hope of Christ,” she explained.

“A lot of people look up to her (Hamilton) . . . I think a lot of people can relate to her,” Hill said, which is why Hamilton encourages Hill to go out, speak, and share the message of hope.

Hill to speak at the PAC

Hill will be sharing her message of hope during a speaking engagement at the Dassel-Cokato Performing Arts Center Sunday, Sept. 22 at 7 p.m.

The event is sponsored by DC United, a group of area youth ministers, and made possible financially through donations from local churches and Save and Share Thrift Shop. Admission is free.

In addition to Hill, the event will include DC United’s praise and worship team, a question-and-answer portion, and a meet-and-greet with Hill following the program.

The idea to have Hill come to Dassel-Cokato originated with Robert Swendra, Dassel, who traveled to the island of Kauai with his wife and three daughters two years ago.

While staying on the north shore, Swendra said he thought it would be cool to take his girls to church in Hawaii.

They ended up going to North Shore Christian Church, which wasn’t in an actual church building, but rather an outdoor service under a tent, Swendra explained.

While there, it turned out the family was actually sitting next to Hill.

“I knew it was her because my kids watch the movie a hundred times a month,” Swendra commented.

Since he didn’t get the opportunity to meet her at that time, Swendra connected with Hill through Facebook comment on the nice church service.

It was through Facebook that Swendra became aware of Hill’s speaking engagements, and he thought it would be “cool to have her come to DC to talk to the youth and families.”

A year later, he shared the idea with Lori Chvojicek, a member at Swendra’s church who is involved in youth ministry. She suggested contacting DC United, which then ran with the idea, including fundraising that would cover 100 percent of the costs for Hill to speak.

“I’m looking forward to her message,” Swendra said. “It’s pretty cool for the kids to have someone come to their community who they can connect with through a movie they’ve seen that has a good Christian message.”

More about Hill

Hill traveled to Hawaii 12 years ago as a missionary from a southern California church, where she grew up.

Knowing there was a large drug problem in Hawaii, Hill felt a calling from God to make that her mission.

“It took me awhile to embrace and trust the calling,” Hill said, adding that she questioned why God would make a beautiful destination such as Hawaii her mission.

“I put my car in a boat and followed it,” she said.

Paradise as it may seem, Hill said there tends to be a lot of wayward teens in Hawaii. She explained that the islands’ residents are either wealthy or those who work two to four jobs in order to survive. “There’s not really a middle class, which is unfortunate,” she said.

Because Kauai (and Hawaii in general) is what Hill described as a rock in the middle of the Pacific, “There’s not a lot for kids to do,” she said, adding that youth tend to get bored and find trouble.

Oftentimes, that boredom can lead to drugs, Hill said, noting that Hawaii is one of the methamphetamine-capitals of the world.

Hill explained that when she first arrived on the island, she got in her car and drove, eventually picking up four kids who were hitchhiking. Hitchhiking isn’t uncommon on the island, she said.

With her heart in ministry, Hill took them to the beach and gave them her phone number in case they ever wanted to hang out.

That eventually led to her developing a friendship with the four, and without forcing it, they ended up “giving their hearts to the Lord,” she said.

By the end of her first summer there, Hill was ministering to 13 kids.

She then began working with a few churches on Kauai’s north shore and within two years, Hill was leading the largest youth ministry on the island, which now totals between 200 to 300 youth.

Since Hill has never been to Minnesota, she is looking forward to visiting.

Hill said she is particularly excited to encourage the young people in Dassel-Cokato, and remind them that even in a small community, there are plenty of people who care about them.

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