I have a vivid Thanksgiving memory that seems particularly relevant this year. My young family was living in Greenwood, South Carolina. I was serving in my first call as an associate pastor and one of my areas of responsibility was mission. At the time, war was raging in Sudan and the church I served had a history of going on mission trips to that region. Refugees were fleeing and our congregation wanted to help in whatever ways we could. It was decided that we would explore resettling a family. The process began and before long we were contacted by the agency that worked with the federal government to do this work. The person from the agency wanted to know if we were open to welcoming a family from anywhere, not just the Sudan. The committee said, “Yes, we will take whatever family you send us.”
That is how it came to be that we welcomed a mother and her two middle school aged daughters right around Thanksgiving. They were coming from Bosnia by way of Germany. The father of the family had been murdered during the Balkan war forcing his wife and daughters to flee in search of safety.
A few days after the church bus rolled out of the airport parking lot, the Thanksgiving holiday was upon us and it felt right to invite “our” new family to my family’s home for dinner. Knowing that language would be a barrier, I bought a jigsaw puzzle. No spoken communication required. We did not, however, need to resort to it. The daughters spoke enough English to make rudimentary exchanges possible. We ate together and then the girls and my young son played while their mom and I cleaned the kitchen. It was a reminder that in all our differences, both cultural and religious, there are many common connections. It was the beginning of a relationship that I still treasure.
There was something in that year’s Thanksgiving that epitomized for me the lore of the first one celebrated in 1623. It is possible for people from radically different circumstances to come together around one table. There are occasions when we can transcend our insular urges and share with one another. There are times when our overwhelming gratitude for God’s goodness spills over and we live out the truth that we are blessed to be a blessing. May this be so this year and every year.