In 2005, I led a team of 16 people from Grace Point Church to South Africa for a 12 day mission trip.
I was thrilled to show the world I knew to people I loved for the first time. I was also very excited that our Thanksgiving fell directly in the middle of the trip.
Thanksgiving in America is a joyous time. It is a time of family and football and comfort food. Lots of comfort food.
I assured our team that I would give them a distinctly African Thanksgiving feast, promising the best Thanksgiving ever while failing to tell them of a little scheme I had been working on.
You see, 50% of sub-Saharan Africans live on less than $1 a day. I live amongst many of these people and I still have trouble believing it. No matter, I decided to raise awareness of this simple fact through our Thanksgiving.
Stef and I took our friends Daniel and Anna with us to the grocery store to help us with the shopping for Thanksgiving dinner. Together, we put together a meal that cost around $16, $1 for each of us on the team. We bought 1 chicken. We bought 1 2-liter Coke. We had a large pot of pap (cornmeal porridge). And we had each other.
We lit the living room of the Mission House with candles (not uncommon due to consistent power outages) and kept our dinner plans under wraps. After everyone had assembled, including the 16 Americans and another 8 Africans who lived at the house, we began to talk about what we were thankful for. Tears fell heavily as people remembered their families far away.
After everyone had a chance to speak, we brought in the much-anticipated dinner. One chicken, one 2-liter Coke, and a pot of porridge. For 24 people.
I don't quite know how people reacted to it. The room was mostly quiet as I explained the plight of so many around us. I told them that I hoped that 2005 would be a Thanksgiving they never forgot. I hoped that they would tell their families the story of hundreds of millions of people living in absolute poverty. I hoped that for a moment they might begin to understand how that would feel.
We quietly ate our slivers of chicken and our dry, tasteless porridge. Some had Coke. Most had water. Tears continued to fall. And, for a moment, we all remembered that the things we were truly thankful for existed there in that room...beating hearts just like ours, friends, and family. Mostly, the Spirit of the Lord swept through the room as we took an American festival of overconsumption, gluttony, and silliness and made it about something other than ourselves.
I do believe that the 16 from that trip will never forget their Thanksgiving from 2005.
This year, 2007, we have another team from Grace Point. I will again promise them an African feast. And I will again deliver the sober reality of the world around us with a generous helping of what's really important. We will eat our porridge and slivers of chicken. And we will remember you, our dear family and friends back home. We will also remember that today in Africa many will die and millions will go to bed hungry.
I hope, this year, that you might consider those millions as you give thanks.
In the spirit of Psalm 116...we love you.