Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A new perspective on thanksgiving

A funny thing about Thanksgiving that I've been thinking a lot about recently....

As Americans, we think of the story of Thanksgiving like this: "The English pilgrims came to the New World, the winter was very hard, the Indians helped them, and they all gave thanks." From our perspective, the New World is one the white people discovered, and the Indians are kind of the foreigners with the strange costumes and customs, aren't they? At least, that's how I always envisioned it before.

But let's think on it a little longer and deeper, maybe from a new perspective:

A group of people, persecuted and oppressed in their own home country, without freedom to worship as they chose, in danger if they crossed the king... escaped their home country and found some safety in a refugee haven in a neighboring country, and then were given the chance to start over in a new home across the sea... families arrived in a world that is new to them, where they were wholly unfamiliar with the language or the methods of survival. They were lost and frustrated by their lack of understanding, and they came in the dead of winter. They had no experience or resources to offer the locals, much less to sustain them. They only had two things to depend on and trust - the faithfulness and care of God, and the compassion of the native people who had learned how to live and thrive here. The first, they were certain of... the second was still to be determined.

And what about the natives... how did they feel about this intrusion? Did they expect the new comers to conform to their way of life, learn their language, dress like them, build homes like theirs, contribute to their society? Did they secretly hope these dirty, poor creatures would get discouraged and go home, or that they wouldn't make it through the winter and come spring things would be back to normal?

However they might have felt initially, their choice of goodwill towards the refugees is evident by the celebration they shared a year later... eating food that the natives and refugees grew together, wearing warm coats they hunted together... brown and white children playing together in the harvested cornfields, women with long, braided black and blonde hair sharing stories through broken language phrases and laughter, men carving turkies with stone and steel knives...  What an awesome cross-cultural experience it must have been!

And they thanked God together... thanked God for health and family and food and new friends... thanked God for his provision and grace and mercy... thanked God for his heart for people of all languages and cultures, for those who are in need and those he has prepared to come to the aid of those in need... thanked God for his passion for relationship and the concern and attention he gives to every person, every family, in every corner of the world.

So much to be thankful for, whether we are the natives or the refugees... so thank God.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My really awesome weekend

"Sounded like you were having a fun English lesson," Hannah commented on our way home from my student's house. I figured she was referring to the level of giggles she overheard for most of an hour. "Oh, it's fun alright, trying to explain the purpose of the English future-perfect-progressive tense... Do you realize how confusing it is when we use a future reference point to talk about an event that hasn't happened yet but will happen at some point and will continue on to another point in the future and then stop so that it will be in the past for an even further future point?!" Poor Hannah replied, "Well, when you put it that way, it doesn't sound as fun..."

I felt bad for snapping at my kindred spirit friend, and for complaining about grammar nuances, a topic I really do enjoy. But by that point, on Friday evening at 5:30, I realized I'd spent 18 hours this week trying to explain grammar, and it was starting to annoy me. I felt stressed and overwhelmed, and needed a break - a really good break, without lesson plans or short simple sentences or reasons why we talk the way we do. And Thanksgiving break was still three days away... how could God redeem and bless those three days?

Friday night, Hannah and I attended a four-course banquet for local Christian arts programs. During each course, the programs would give a sample of what they do - dancing, singing, acting, and mime-ing. It was really quite enjoyable - the food was delicious and the performances were very well-done. And I love local community stuff, so it was fun to see what sort of things Fort Wayne has to offer.

Saturday, some of the youth night boys came over and raked my yard at Little Burma. They were so wonderful - they worked hard and had a terrific attitude! The best part was that they came in our house when they were finished, sat around our table with us, and enjoyed dessert and hot chocolate. They were really fun to hang out with, and we got to know them a little more personally, which totally made my day.

That night, we got to go to church as Gospel Community, which I really love. The message was powerful and challenging and encouraging, and just exactly what I needed. And afterward, we got to talk for about an hour with several great people who are becoming new friends.

Today we attended Restoration Church, a predominantly African church that does awesome worship. After a service that was truly an act of thanksgiving to God, we stayed and had a big lunch with our African friends. There were brand new babies to hold, six kinds of rice to eat, and plenty of French phrases to mimic! Love and blessings abound and overflow when we are with our international friends.

I've gotta go now to pack, because the best is yet to come - tomorrow a roadtrip to North Carolina and a week with my family!!