by Rachel Johnson
Sarah Rachel Hill’s life was heading in the direction she had hoped – she had finished up her senior year in high school and was about to embark upon a new adventure in college, where she would play on her school’s water polo team. Weeks prior to the beginning of the semester, Sarah had a surfing accident that would change everything – her water polo career, her goals and dreams, and, ultimately, her vocation and purpose. Read on to learn more about Sarah’s incredibly inspiring and redemptive story.
Q: Thank you for allowing us to feature you, Sarah! Start off by telling us about your surfing accident, and how that experience set a new path for your life.
I was fresh out of high school, excited for all that the world had to offer. I was looking forward to starting college on an athletic scholarship for water polo. I was planning out the rest of my life! Two weeks before school started, I went out surfing with a bunch of my friends. There were big waves that day and it was looking like I would be in the water all morning, afternoon, and night. I remember thinking (and I’m not proud of this at all), “God, you’d better bless me out here since I went to church today.” My mindset was selfish, narcissistic, and ungrateful.
While paddling out, I dove under a wave and got tossed backwards, landing on the back of my head on the bottom of the ocean. My face went totally numb. I was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and, upon arrival, I was told that I probably just had a sprained neck and a concussion. The next day I was into a total daze. I was finally rushed to a different hospital and, after x-rays, I was told that I had a broken neck and back. The doctors told me it was a miracle that I even was still walking.
At first, I didn’t see the situation as any kind of miracle. I was angry with God; not only was my upbringing and life to date rough, but now I had lost my ticket to college since I could no longer play water polo. I became extremely depressed. I remember one day when I was ready to just give up on life. I asked God to speak to me because if He didn’t, I was done. I opened my Bible right up to 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, which encourages us to “boast in our weaknesses.” It was in those verses that God grabbed my heart. He began to show me that even though I had experienced many trials, He had never let me go. I felt challenged to fully believe that if I gave my life to Him, He would take all the heartache and pain I had gone through and would use it for His glory. That day, I chose Him and His plan, and He has truly laid out a path for my life.
Q: You now live in Kauai, serving as a missionary and leading the island’s largest ministry. What do your job responsibilities entail, and what is your daily workload like?
It’s a heavy workload. I work with junior and senior high school students all over Kauai. The most important thing I do is disciple youth, raising them up to lead their generation. I also counsel kids and families, head up youth groups, hang out with kids one-on-one, and plan trips and camps for them. I take teens on mission trips each year. I try to have the youth work in the community to impact the lives of others. We are involved with the soup kitchen and distributing food to those in need.
Additionally, I work in the schools helping any Christian clubs, an assist in coordinating tutoring programs. I also speak at youth and women’s conferences at events and churches all over the U.S, and I sit on several non-profit boards.
I love to help others and I live passionately for the Lord! I find that true joy comes when we walk as Jesus walked. I do my best to live each day to serve and love Him by serving and loving others.
Q: You played a key role in helping surfer Bethany Hamiltonheal after she suffered a tragic shark attack that left her without one arm. How did you and Bethany meet, and how did your relationship develop over time?
Bethany and I met when I first came to Kauai. I hosted a Vacation Bible School that she and a friend attended. From that moment on, we were fast friends. I am thankful that God prepared me to help Bethany through some of the darkest hours she faced. I truly believe that God used my past to help Bethany navigate her difficult time.
Bethany was very involved with our youth group. She and her friends were solid in their faith and their love for God. She doesn’t have a sister, so in a way, I think she looked at me as one. We both loved God and that was the real bond.
Today, Bethany and I are still very close. We are accountability and prayer partners. We enjoy hanging out and cooking healthy food together. She is an amazing person and I am thankful for her. As a youth leader, our job is not over when a student graduates. Maintaining these types of relationships is a lifelong commitment, and I’m dedicated to praying for Bethany and encouraging her as she continues to grow!
Q: Carrie Underwood portrayed you in the movie Soul Surfer, which featured Bethany’s accident. What was that experience like?
It was very fun! Carrie is super sweet, and she and AnnaSophia Robb did a great job of truly telling Bethany’s story. I love all of the doors the Lord has opened because of the film. It’s wonderful to see lives touched through this story!
Q: Tell us about your speaking tour– where do you travel to, and what message do you share?
I travel all over the U.S. and the world. It seems the topics change quite a bit depending on what God puts on my heart. Mostly I am sharing that we have hope as Christians and we do not need to live as though we are defeated. We can do all things through Christ’s strength.
One of my favorite verses to share with people is Psalm 138:8: “He will perfect that which concerns me.” Even in our darkest hours, God is perfecting us and refining us. This world can be hard at times. Jesus told us that it would be! We need to remember that He also said, “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the World.” My encouragement for others is to dig down deep into His word. That is what gives us a firm foundation and will get us through the days, both good and bad!
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time? (If your schedule allows for you to have any!)
I love adventure! I like hiking and surfing (even post-accident). I love to try new things and mostly, I just enjoy being in the ocean. I make time for that. Especially surfing. It is a great escape for me and it is a great time to reflect.
What times in your life do you believe God is using for His glory? Are there ways He is refining you to help others?