It was 1991 and my husband and youngest daughter were spending our first Thanksgiving on the mission field. Homesickness was filling my heart as I remembered all the Thanksgivings of the past spent with family and friends. A table loaded with turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, gravy, biscuits and all the other goodies we enjoyed that time of year. Visions of pumpkin pie, pecan pie and my mother’s delicious chocolate pie danced through my head.
But the thing I was missing most was the loved ones that gathered around that table. This year would be the first Thanksgiving for my youngest granddaughter. How I longed to see her taste that pumpkin pie for the first time, to hold her on my lap and rock her to sleep.
At first we thought we would try to duplicate the American thanksgiving dinner. However, it soon became clear that it would be difficult to find many of the ingredients for that meal on the island of Panay. That did not mean our Thanksgiving meal would not be good – just not the usual menu.
As the holiday grew near one of the members of a Bible class my husband taught every week excitedly told us he had a turkey for us for Thanksgiving. He knew it was an American tradition and he was so happy to surprise us with this gift.
How exciting for us! A real turkey for our Thanksgiving. The day before the holiday he arrived with our turkey. For us crazy Americans we had expected a nice fat frozen turkey. Imagine our surprise when we opened the gate and there he stood with a real, live turkey!
Questions immediately went through my mind:
- how would we kill this thing?
- who would kill this thing?
When I was a little girl my mother had raised chickens. She would chop their heads off and then my sister and I would help pluck the feathers. Mother would then cut the birds up and our freezer would be stocked with chicken for the winter. However, I was not about to chop that turkey’s head off and one look at my husband told me he was not going to do it either.
- how would we fix it if we even were able to kill it?
We had no oven, certainly no deep fryer. Our kitchen consisted of two burners on a small stove with a propane tank for fuel.
Finally, the turkey looked like it had been on a strict diet. It was the skinniest bird I had ever seen. Even if we somehow managed to kill it and find a way to fix it I was certain it would be a tough old bird.
What to do? We could not refuse the gift that this man was so clearly excited about giving us. To do so would have not only been rude and hurtful, but would damage our relationship with the community.
We took the bird and said thank you. After he left we held a family council. What do you do with a turkey you can’t use?
Then the problem was solved. The kids on our street were always in and out of our house. That morning one of the young boys came by and when he saw our turkey, his eyes lit up. You could tell he thought we were so lucky to have a turkey. His family’s meal would consist of a small bowl of rice – just like they had every day. To him this skinny old turkey looked like a gift from heaven. So we asked his mother if she would like a turkey for Thanksgiving.
How excited she was! I have no idea how she cooked the turkey but she assured me she could do it.
So we gave her the turkey and we fixed tuna fish steaks with rice topped off with mangoes and the most delicious watermelon I ever tasted.
I have often thought back to that Thanksgiving as I once again enjoy a table loaded with all the goodies we associate with this holiday. I think of that family that rejoiced and enjoyed a turkey that we as Americans felt was not good enough for us. Although I have had many delicious meals with turkey before and since then, I realize that was the best turkey I ever had. Because it was given to us out of love and gratitude from a man who had so little to give. Given to us who in comparison had so much.
My prayer this holiday is:
Lord, forgive me for taking my blessings at being born in this country for granted. Forgive me for thinking more of myself and spending so much money on me while others in the world go to bed hungry every night. Help me to reach out and help the homeless here in my own country and reach out to help the hungry around the world. I cannot do much – but I can do something. I cannot save every hungry child, but I can help one or two. Help me to be truly thankful!