Friday, September 5, 2008

Our Thanksgiving Indians

“Our Thanksgiving Indians”…

Darshan, Kartik, Siddharth, Nilesh and Ramaram. No, these Indians weren’t guests at the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in 1621, along with Squanto and Samoset. They are REAL Indians, from India! And we hosted them, along with Nan and Feixue from China, for a traditional American Thanksgiving in 2001. I suppose I should back up a little here in the story.

One day in 2000, I saw a notice in our church bulletin that a ministry to University of Central Florida international students was looking for furniture and other household items to help the newcomers get settled. I quickly called Mei-Ling Liu to make arrangements for donating couches and chairs which were cluttering up our garage. Later, we delivered a van load of household supplies to help set up an apartment for a student whose wife was arriving from India the following week. Anyway, this was so much fun that I decided to make four gift baskets of household and school supplies for a new student prize drawing Mei-Ling had planned. The two of us, along with one of my daughters, had the pleasure of delivering them to Darshan, Nilesh, Kartik and Nan at their scantily equipped apartments. At the same time, we invited them to come, along with a friend (hence Ramaram, Siddharth and Feixue), and join us for Thanksgiving. They all eagerly accepted.

As the time drew near, plans began to take shape. We had eight children back then, including five school age daughters, two preschool sons, and a baby girl. I sure needed the help of my older daughters, and this was one way to develop their hospitality skills while learning about other cultures! Joanna and Lydia worked hard on choosing the menu and writing a shopping list. We had to plan for plenty of vegetarian foods for our Hindu guests, but we also fixed our traditional turkey. We actually roasted and carved the turkey a day ahead of time and reheated it with the broth, which saved me a lot of time on Thanksgiving Day. It was one way for me to be more "Mary" and less "Martha" in my hospitality. The children also made several desserts a day ahead of time. Of course, there was still lots to do on Thursday, but everyone pitched in wonderfully. The girls hung autumn-colored paper leaves from the ceiling, folded the cloth napkins in fancy patterns, made name tags and place cards on the computer, raked the yard, and cleaned up the house. Everyone cooked up a storm, but we still put our guests to work opening cans of vegetables at the last minute. (They WANTED to do something to help!)

Our dinner conversation was lively. We talked some about American culture and foods, about their majors at UCF (all engineering and computer science, and mostly, if not all, at the graduate level). One of the Indian men happened to ask Feixue about freedom of religion in China. She staunchly defended her government and said that they were merely educating people to be more scientific instead of superstitious. To an atheist like her, it seems the reason that people are religious is that they are raised that way by their families and don’t know what else to believe. The Hindu said he could not imagine not being able to talk to a god about things that bothered him. Feixue joked that in China, before you get married, your father is your god, and after you get married, your husband takes that place.

After dinner, we watched an animated video about William Bradford and the First Thanksgiving. This was my husband’s great idea. The video is neat because it tells about a group of dedicated Christians leaving England in 1620 to gain religious freedom, and how they set up their own government where each man could vote and help make the decisions. (What a radical concept for a Chinese person!) It also showed how much friendship there was between the native Americans and the Pilgrims in those early years. After the video I explained a few things they may not have understood, and told how the colonists eventually won their independence from England and became the United States of America. I also shared the story of how the Star Spangled Banner was written during the War of 1812.

Mei-Ling had suggested that we ask each of the students to tell us something about their country or their growing up years. This sure made for a great geography lesson! Some of the Indian men told us about the temples, idol worship, pilgrimages, arranged marriages and other Hindu customs. Our new Chinese friends told about inventions and education in their country. It’s interesting to note that Feixue, the young lady, was much smitten by baby Naomi, our eighth child. In her country, families are usually only permitted one child each, with forced abortions for those who try to have unauthorized extra babies. Sigh... We did have a few opportunities to share tidbits about our Christian faith, and for that I am thankful.

The students were most intrigued when I told them about home schooling. One asked about diplomas, and another asked about how we choose our scope and sequence. I told them about how I approach each school subject, and mentioned that for geography we pick a different continent each year. The previous year, when we had studied Asia, we learned about Mahatma Gandhi and Indian independence. When I told about how we get to choose our own curriculum, I can only wonder at the impression this made on our Chinese guests, where education is so tightly controlled by the government.

We also had a little musical entertainment, with one daughter playing a Beethoven Sonatina on the piano, and another singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and “Come Ye Thankful People Come.” Feixue then asked each of our daughters to tell something about themselves and what they like to do. What a jolly time of uproarious laughter! At the end, we all gathered on the couch and Thad took pictures.

All in all, it was a most wonderful experience! The students all expressed their delight at being invited for an American Thanksgiving just a few months after arriving here. One student pulled Thad aside to say how much he appreciated visiting our family because he had been in a boarding school most of his life. Another one called the next day to say how much he liked the food, especially the desserts! We had a few of them back for a Christmas party the next month, but unfortunately, we haven’t kept up with them in the past few years.

I write this to encourage you to consider showing holiday (and every day!) hospitality to folks outside your normal circle of friends and relatives. Ask God to connect you with someone who could appreciate a home cooked meal eaten with a friendly family. This might be an elderly neighbor or nursing home resident whose children and grandchildren live far away. It could be a young single mom who has been forsaken by the ones who were supposed to love and support her. Or it could be that college student, international or not, who is missing his or her family at holiday time. (I remember being in this unenviable position while I was at UCF in 1983, and am grateful that the parents of one of my friends invited me for Thanksgiving.)

"But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." Luke 14:13-14

These small acts of kindness do make a huge difference!

(Note: This article first appeared in the Hope Chest Home School News, and later in Making It Home magazine. Making It Home is no longer in print, but you can still read Cat Staat's blog.)

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