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With Thanksgiving behind us, and being thrown into the midst of the "holiday rush," my mind has to travel across the globe. As we gather as a family and celebrate Thanksgiving, do we pause and truly reflect on the meaning of being thankful? Every year we read of the elementary school children's response to being asked what they are thankful for. We might grin at their simple little thanksgiving ideas such as turkey, Rusty their pet dog, a favorite toy or game, Uncle Ralph or Aunt Min, or a favorite video game. It warms our hearts if they think about Mom or Dad, brothers and sisters, or occasionally one might mention Jesus. But do we truly stop and reflect on what we have to be thankful for?
In school we study about the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving Dinner. We see pictures of little log cabins in the background with tables laden with food of all sorts in the forefront. The soft tendrils of smoke are rising from the chimneys. The Native Americans and the Pilgrims all have contented looks on their faces and the sense of camaraderie is evident on their faces. Do we think that this is a picture of what was going on at the time? Let's take a look at what these poor people have been through and see if our ideas of Thanksgiving truly are realistic.
Many of these people grew up in a country where they were either religiously persecuted, born into a poor caste of people with no hope for a future, or from places that had extreme famine, where the future was bleak. Whatever it may have been, they had to make the choice to leave all that they knew and held dear. This included family and friends. They were setting off to a land that they had never seen. There was no Internet to do research and look at photos and economic development. There were no phones to call back to Mom and Dad and let them know about a safe arrival. Many of these brave souls never saw their loved ones again.
In fact, many never made it to the "Land of Promise." There were no airplanes to make a quick one-day flight. These pilgrims faced a world of unknown for a hope of a better life for their children and themselves. Alas, the way was rough. With weeks of travel by sea that depended on wind power, many became sick. The water was stagnant and the food probably stale. Disease was rampant and medical help nonexistent to our standards. Many families lost members that were buried at sea.
My own ancestry faced this. Our family has a branch that many people do not expect of us Amish people. However, we can see that God works in mysterious ways. Thomas Dunn left the shores of Ireland with his family. On the way across the Atlantic, his wife became sick and died. She was laid to rest with a sea burial if I am right. What a bleak future to land in unknown territory without the helpmeet that Thomas probably spent much time discussing the pros and cons of such a drastic move. All plans had to be altered and redirected. How will a man move forward?
Thomas Dunn did the unthinkable to us. He gave his children out to different homes. So it came to be that his daughter Catherine grew up Amish, married in the church and later was the wife of an ordained Amish Bishop, "Glay (small) Mose." It is said that "Small Mose" was bigger than "Big Mose" but the former was a nephew to the latter, hence the "small" nickname. They became the founders of a family that has branched out and encompasses many Holmes County Anabaptist residents.
What became of Thomas Dunn? After a stint as a soldier in the revolutionary war, he settled down on land that he was given as payment by the government in the "frontier" known as Holmes County, Ohio. It was about two miles west of Walnut Creek. Growing up, we could see only the foundations of his homestead and the hand-dug well on the overgrown back-forty dubbed as the "government piece." It was a part of the farm that I called home.
That first Thanksgiving was a day of thanks to God for the deliverance from a year of survival that many of us will never experience. These people were happy just to survive. We may look at this and think that it was in the past and forget it with all the luxuries that we come to expect as the normal. This is not so. We spent a couple of weeks in the Ukraine a number of years ago. It was an eye-opening experience for me.
We spent a few days with a humanitarian aid distribution trip. We had the opportunity to spend time in the homes of these people. They gave us of the little that they had. Some even borrowed food from neighbors so that they could feed us. These people would have been disappointed if we had not shared a meal with them. They served us with an open heart and hands. They gave up their beds so that we could sleep in comfort.
We also visited an orphanage. This is an experience in itself. One innocent little boy came running down the hall after us with outstretched hands and crying out in Ukrainian that we could not understand. Our escorts told us that the poor little guy was calling out Papa, Papa. We were told that the little boy does that to most men that visit the place. His hope and dream is that someday a father might take him home so that he can have a Daddy. It was very touching. This boy was basically a number in the system, yet he was so hoping to have a family to call his own. How many of us have families that we take for granted? How many of us in America have families and think we don't have time for them? Do our children have a home and parents physically and yet are being put into second place because of the pursuit of sports, wealth, hobbies, or the American dream?
The next holiday is Christmas. How do we view Christmas? What is the true meaning? Most of us think of the nativity scene. It is touching to us, this endearing scene of a cherubic baby in a soft hay -lined manger. The lovely animals all stand around with adoring gazes. The very scene exudes peace and warmth. What is reality?
Many stables back in those days were dark, damp, and dingy caves. Likely it was dirty and drafty. This was not a luxurious birthplace. It was in abstract poverty. The next question we have is, after December 25th, what do we do with this child?
Many Americans want to keep Jesus as a baby in the manger. We need to take Him into our heart for His real purpose. Thirty-three years later this man was a reviled outcast. He was beaten and bruised. His head was crowned with thorns. His back was laid open with a cat-'o-nine-tails. On top of this torn and bleeding back was laid a robe. Think how that hurt and restarted bleeding when it was removed! Next He was nailed to a rough wooden cross and left to die of suffocation. On top of this He was mocked and scorned. When He cried out, "It is finished. Into your hands I give my Spirit," the baby in the manger's purpose was complete. Jesus died so that my sins can be forgiven and I can look forward to spending eternity in Heaven. In order for us to fully appreciate the meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas, we need to take a few moments and reflect on what Christ did for us. We need to reflect on the blessings that God gave us in our land of plenty.
We could just as well have been born a poor Ukrainian, Haitian, African, or in any other poverty stricken country. We were born as privileged Americans. What will we do with that blessing?
The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday. Many people have been hurt in the greedy pursuit of Christmas gifts. What is our main reason to celebrate? Many of our children have so many toys that they are not happy with anything. We are not doing them a favor by adding more to the pile. Their eyes may glisten with excitement, but this year I challenge you to reconsider your thoughts.
This year instead of spending money that we don't have to buy things that we don't need, to store them on shelves that are so full that we have to host a garage sale to sell things at below what we paid for them, why not give the gift of helping some poor children? Why not let your children experience the joy of giving instead of the short-lived happiness of receiving.
Christian Aid Ministries is a local-based organization that gives humanitarian aid regardless of religion in countries all across the Globe. Christian Aid gives food and clothing along with financial support to people in the name of Jesus. Sometimes we can reach the hearts of the people by fulfilling their physical needs first. Their main office is between Berlin and Walnut Creek. To find out how you can help, check out their website at firstname.lastname@example.org . Call them at 330-893-2428 or stop in at 4464 State Route 39, Millersburg, Ohio 44654.