Her mission of healing LHS teen to travel to congo to offer art therapy

Whether it’s in Montgomery, Alabama, Citrus County, Florida, or the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa, God uses broken people to share his love with other broken people.

Sarah Holder, a Lecanto High School art student who turns 16 this month, knows what it’s like to be broken.

Several years ago, she struggled with severe depression to the point of being hospitalized, an experience she described as “horrifying.”

“I grew up in the church, but when things got really bad and I felt my life was falling apart, I thought God wasn’t doing anything for me, so I stopped believing,” she said. “I thought there was no such thing as miracles — why wasn’t he helping me?”

She said she’s still working through the concepts of faith and believing, and she hopes by working with kids, some of whom are profoundly broken because of poverty and traumatic events, that she will be of service and perhaps even find answers to her own questions.

This summer, Sarah has the opportunity to spend a month in the Democratic Republic of Congo with missionaries from Florida-based Rally International, including Citrus County native Michelle Smith, who moved to the Congo last year.

While there, Sarah will use her artistic gifts to assist Smith as she leads children, some who have been through horrific trauma in the war-ravaged area, in art therapy.

Sarah said being with kids gives her a sense of God.

“For the past three years, I’ve gone with my family on missions trips to Alabama and I love hanging out with the kids,” she said. “One little boy called me ‘Miss Lady.’ It’s just beautiful the way children think and the way they do things, how smart they are.”

In an email, Smith called Sarah a talented artist and a person who she believes will bond with the kids through art.

“I want to emphasize that she is not just coming for a trendy voluntourist trip to take pictures and post on Facebook, but she will be shadowing me and contributing into the programs we have designed,” Smith said. “My hope is to inspire her to take her artistic abilities and share them with others in a positive way that can heal and bring joy and fun at the same time.”

As Sarah explained, some of the children Smith works with have been abducted and used as child soldiers, seeing and doing things no child should have to experience.

“Michelle is teaching them how to express their feelings, all the trauma, through art,” she said.

Although her own emotional problems can’t compare with the horrors of war, pain is still pain, and Sarah said drawing helps her work things out in her own life.

Sarah’s mother, Catherine Holder, plans to accompany her daughter to Africa and stay for two weeks, then return to Florida, while Sarah will stay an additional two weeks and return accompanied by a Rally International missionary who lives in Orlando.

Catherine Holder said a few people have voiced concerns about letting her daughter go to such a dangerous part of the world.

Smith assured her that the area where Rally International works is relatively safe and actually safer than some cities in America, and that in the nearly 10 years they’ve been there, they’ve developed contacts with the local community, the government, the police, the army and the United Nation. Plus, they have a contingency plan to evacuate to Rwanda, now one of the safest countries on the continent, Smith said.

“God has a plan,” Smith said, “and within that plan are his protections and mercies.”

Currently, the mother-daughter duo is trying to raise the $8,000 they need for airfare, lodging and meals by June.

Donations can be received via Go Fund Me at www.gofundme.com/sendingsarahtocongo or by check. Make checks payable to Rally International, with “Sarah Holder” in the memo line. Mail checks to: Rally International, P.O. Box 2795, Inverness, FL 34451.

Learn more about Rally International and their mission to the Congo at: www.rallyintl.org.

Contact Chronicle reporter Nancy Kennedy at 352-564-2927 or nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.


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