I believe I just had one of the best Thanksgiving celebrations in my life.
This year, my husband, youngest daughter and I celebrated an American Thanksgiving with 86 international students and about ten American born volunteers.
Since our family is so far from extended family, we’ve never been very “traditional” at Thanksgiving. We don’t always do the traditional meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. One year, we did a Greek theme. Another year, our homesick college girls requested Mexican food – they had already enjoyed their fill of turkey dinners through church potluck and school cafeterias. Following the pattern of the first Thanksgiving, we’ve made our celebration a day as much about friends and strangers/would-be friends as family. Gratitude for what God has done is enough of a common denominator to draw us together. For several years, our family has wanted to express our gratitude by sharing with those less fortunate by providing meals for the homeless or the poor, but the opportunity never presented itself. So, after hosting four international students in our home last year, joining forces with the International Student office at our local university seemed like a natural thing to do.
Before I loaded my two crock pots full of candied sweet potatoes in the car, I thought how Barry, the campus minister for Campus Students for Christ and his wife have three children. With my background in Christian education, I realized I might be the biggest help during the dinner by interacting with their kids so they could be free to minister. I prayed God would give me opportunity. Soon after arriving, Barry’s two small boys and I got involved in an intense game of Jenga. You can guess – they had more pleasure out of seeing our tower fall down than keeping it upright. Later, my husband observed Jenga on a whole new level. Imagine a group of international students, some possibly engineering majors, playing Jenga. They took it as seriously as Bobby Fisher approaches chess!
Later I offered to play Uno with my two little friends but they ran off to other exploits. Two other boys, sons of a Saudi Arabian student, agreed to play while their dad, my daughter, two Russians and a girl from Indonesia huddled in rapt conversation. I think I made the younger one’s day when he beat me after two failed attempts! My husband interrupted our game to show off pictures he had taken from a balcony. One was of me. Noticing the wide spot around my part at my crown, I said, “Is my hair getting thin or am I getting gray?” A small voice beside me piped up. “You’re definitely gray.”
Speaking of small boys, how does one explain passing gas to a seven year old from Saudi Arabia?
The most popular questions of the afternoon were about the turkey. What is turkey? Why do you eat it at Thanksgiving? And my favorite, asked by a Chinese student: If it is tradition at Thanksgiving, why do you not like it? I tried to explain how turkeys have become so processed with injected fluids Evidently, I didn’t have the English words to explain very well.
I love connecting with international students. While mingling with people from other countries teaches me about their culture, it also teaches me about me. It makes me take a fresh look at who I am and why I do what I do. It compels me to look at life in new ways and appreciate what I hold in common with the rest of the human race. As my husband said to the two Russian students, the differences are just surface stuff. Beneath that, we find we are all the same. Our new Russian friend who we found out is a believer in Jesus replied, “Yes. Each of us has two sides – a God nature and the other nature.” It’s at moments like this that I wish I could whip out a Communion tray for we stood together savoring the fact that we were all sinners saved by God’s grace.
So how did my sweet potatoes turn out? Tolerably well, thank you! I took one bitebecause good cooks always taste their creations and it was – tolerable! I made two crock pots full and both pots were empty by the time we went home. I’d love to share the recipe with you!
8 medium sweet potatoes
¼ cup butter
¼ cup brown sugar
1 20 ounce can crushed pineapple
½-1 tsp cinnamon
½-1 tsp nutmeg
Scrub sweet potatoes and cut in half. Place in saucepan with 2-3 inches of water. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until almost tender. Cool and peel. Cut into chunks and place in crock pot. Mix together butter, brown sugar, pineapple and spices. Pour over the sweet potatoes. Cover with lid and cook on high setting for 3-4 hours.