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Nov 13, 2013 | Robin Sumners

Sachiko: A Parable of Thanksgiving

More than a hundred years ago, there was a little girl who lived in a happy house. She was the sixth of nine children. Her mother and father kept a house full of joy, full of music and singing, of love and laughter. And then when she was eight years old, her father suddenly died. Darkness fell on the light-filled home, and the little girl and her four brothers and four sisters became very, very sad. Down the street from this happy home was a small church. The whole family had attended that church together; and the mother of the children kept that tradition. There were things to do at the church everyday—clear the altar, polish the silver, arrange the flowers, tend the garden, sweep the floors. Their mother said to them that being in the church kept them close to their father—that he was in Heaven, and could see and hear them, and that he always kept them close, just as they were held close and loved by The Father in Heaven


The little girl grew up to have a searching heart and spirit—unafraid of things unknown, and thankful for the gifts she had been given. She set out in her life to serve both fathers that she loved, and with a remarkable spirit of adventure, she determined to become a missionary. She learned Japanese so she could serve the Church’s mission in Japan. And with support, through the United Thank Offering, she traveled to Kyoto, Japan, to teach English at St. Agnes Episcopal Girl’s School. She served at St. Agnes School for a total of 25 years—from 1931–1969, with a 13-year break during WWII. When she retired, she was made an honorary Japanese citizen by the Emperor, who knew of her wonderful dedication. 


The little girl whose story is told here was my great-aunt, Gertrude Sumners. When I was a little girl, she was the most exotic person I knew—and I did know her, for she came to visit me on every trip home. It was from her that I learned about thankfulness, and learned to understand the little blue box that sat on my grandmother’s dressing table. Everyday, we dropped pennies into the box, one or two each day—thankful for my grandmother’s amazingly brave sister. 


My most memorable Christmas, I was four. Aunt Gert came to spend Christmas with us. She brought me an amazing present—a doll—an old, old doll, she said. My childhood memory is Aunt Gert said the doll was more than 100 years old. It didn’t matter how old really; what mattered was the note in the sleeve of her red silk kimono. “My name is Sachiko. Please love me as I have been loved.”  Somehow, that mystery of owning something very special that had been owned and loved by someone else gave me a sense of a wonder. “Please love me as I have been loved.”  I remember being filled with joy; what an amazing Christmas!  


Sachiko has traveled with me everywhere I have gone for the 66 years I have known her. Aunt Gert died in 1978. But for me she still lives—the blue box on my desk reminds me of her sense of call to mission, of her willingness to risk and to adventure. Sachiko stands where I see her easily all day—a reminder of the remarkable sense of loving in places you will never know and carrying on love that goes beyond one’s own self. Sachiko is my outward and visible statement of thanksgiving for those things we cannot see, or touch, and yet believe.


Sumners was formerly on the national board of the United Thank Offering and lives in Buda.