MADISON COUNTY, Ala. - After Sarah Harmening, 17, died in a bus crash last summer, the Harmening family has been leading an effort to raise money for the Southern Baptist missionaries in honor of Sarah's life and her faith.
The family said Tuesday that through generous donors in the community and across the nation they have raised $90,000 for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering of the International Mission Board, which enables missionaries around the world.
Their church, Mount Zion Baptist Church, established this link for online donations. Restaurants, including Chick-fil-a, held fundraisers. People bought T-shirts. Community members gave thousands, some anonymously.
"Thank you," said Karen Harmening.
"Thank you very much," added Scott Harmening. "We are just honored that everybody has given so freely and so much. This is so special for our family to honor Sarah in that way."
The original goal was to raise $58,200, the cost the family learned that will fund a missionary for a year.
"We far surpassed that, so we are really just excited about how that has come about and what that money will be able to do," said Mr. Harmening.
Giving to missions is a natural way to honor Sarah. She served throughout her life, spawning the hashtag #ServeLikeSarah. She wrote in her journal about how she could serve God and be a witness to others. She also died on her way to a mission in Botswana where she planned to minister to children.
"Sarah was excited about going on missions, so this is truly honoring her life," said Mr. Harmening.
"She wasn't a huge personality. She was a quiet, shy little girl who was passionate. She was passionate about Christ. And to see how God can take someone like that and use them means that he can use any of us," said Mrs. Harmening.
Wednesday, the Harmening family will travel to the International Mission Board headquarters in Richmond, Virginia to present the $90,000 check.
"If we go and take the money to the IMB, it will be something concrete for our family to see how it will be used. Especially for our daughters," said Mr. Harmening.
The Harmening family will visit a chapel, and then meet with IMB leaders and the Global Engagement team. They will learn how the donated funds will be used to support ministry and missionaries.
While it is still unclear where it might go, the Harmenings are hoping the funds can support a missionary in the Botswana area.
"We'd love to see it go to Botswana where Sarah was going to be going to serve on a mission," said Mr. Harmening. Sarah, he said, prayed for Botswana for months before her death.
The family hopes that they will be able to have contact with the missionaries the money helps. They want to continue to follow the journey and pray for them.
"She journaled that day, just moments before she died, that she knew God was going to do something incredible," said Mrs. Harmening. "She was going to Botswana for a week. And now we see her life providing a missionary for a year. And then some! Almost enough to do two!"
The Harmening family continues to receive an outpouring of support. Mrs. Harmening writes a blog about the family's walk with God, and she says posts have been viewed from 92 different countries (and counting.) They are pleased by all the donations and shares, and they still get cards of support in the mail.
She said, "Sarah lived every day in a way that honors Christ. I think that is her heart, and that is our heart. It is the reason people have connected with her. She is a 17-year-old, quiet girl who impacted our community."