Katie Hickey, CGO Office Administrator
South America, 80-degree weather, Australians, pumpkin pie—these things meant Thanksgiving to me. Growing up on the mission field in Brazil, our Thanksgiving traditions were a little bit different from the average American household. We didn’t necessarily get together with family because they were far away. Fall decorations and changing leaves didn’t color the neighborhood because it was almost summer. Football games weren’t being watched unless they were what some may argue to be real “futebol” games. We didn’t really get together with our churches for praise services because Thanksgiving is not a Brazilian holiday.
My family was blessed to have met other missionary families in our city and surrounding area who were also far from home, family, and regular traditions. Desiring to still celebrate Thanksgiving and reflect on God’s goodness, we created our own traditions. We would get together late morning, usually at a camp belonging to one of the missionaries. One of the ladies organized a Thanksgiving program asking all the kids to contribute. We kids participated by playing instruments, singing specials, and reciting poems. We all sang hymns together. One of the men would bring a short devotional and close us in prayer. Then, came the food! As I remember it, the meal typically had traditional Thanksgiving dishes, including pumpkin pie (Back in the day, college missionary kids were given the thrilling task of stuffing cans of pumpkin, jars of peanut butter, and American baking goods like chocolate chips in their luggage when they came home on breaks. Surprisingly, pumpkin everything is not an international phenomenon.). After the meal, the women would talk while cleaning up, the men would discuss theology and current events, the college students would hang out together, and the kids would run all over the campground, playing soccer or other games or riding the little cable swing zip-line. We’d end up staying all day and having our evening meal from the leftovers before going home.
These missionary families and our family were all very different. We had different backgrounds and different life stories. One of the families wasn’t even American. They were Australian missionaries to Brazil, yet they loved celebrating Thanksgiving with us. We were also all from different denominations. Our churches worshipped differently. However, we all worshipped the same God, and we all believed that Christ died to save us from our sins. We were all brothers and sisters in Christ. Our God was the common denominator. Our God was the reason we could be thankful. Our God was the only constant.
As I’ve grown up and left home, I’ve realized there always has been and always will be only this constant: God and His gracious salvation through Christ. I have since celebrated Thanksgiving in a more “traditional” fashion over the years with extended family, the dreary cold, and pumpkin pie from cans which anyone can actually buy from a Walmart just down the street. But I’ve also celebrated it completely apart from my family. I’ve celebrated it with friends from Chile, Mexico, Honduras, Peru, and Chicago, developing a greater appreciation for the caring brothers and sisters in Christ God has given me. I’ve celebrated it with my grandparents during college when they lived in town and opened their home to me. And I’ve celebrated it in an assisted living facility only days after Grandma had her stroke, as I and other family members were simply thankful that we could be together for the holiday. Nothing else is sure.
Last year, around this time, I boarded a plane with my family for what was probably my last ever Thanksgiving in Brazil. Excitement and expectations were high. It would be the first time in years my whole family – my parents, my siblings, their spouses, and kids – was going to be together. We would be having a Thanksgiving “just like the ones I used to know.” That’s just it, though. It wasn’t. My favorite Aussies weren’t there (They’re now serving in Portugal.). My parents weren’t living in the house I grew up in. Our family had doubled in size; it now included five very energetic kids under the age of ten. We didn’t have our traditional dinner at the camp but at one of the missionary families’ houses instead. Yes, we still ate pie; the kids, or grandkids now, still ran around; the men still discussed important topics; and the weather was hot like it should be. Even so, it was all different. Looking around the room, I realized so many changes had taken place in the lives of those around me. Only one thing was the same: we worshipped and expressed gratitude to the same God. He never changed.
End of the year holidays breed times of great reflection. Thanksgiving prompts us to count our blessings. No matter what season you find yourself in life right now—nestled in the comfortable consistency of family traditions or lost in a sea of change and new beginning—thank God for His presence and His gift of salvation.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah (Psalm 62:5-8 ESV)
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.