We all know the story. In the year 1620, a shipload of Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and tried to establish a colony there. However, they almost failed in doing this, because they didn't know how to live in this New World. In the face of starvation, they looked to the natives who already lived there on Cape Cod. Graciously, the Pawtuxet native named Squanto showed them how to farm and fish, so that by the end of their first year they had enough food. As a further sign of hospitality and blessing, it turns out that it was the Wampanoag Indians who brought the food for that first Thanksgiving feast.
What hit me about the story was that those Pilgrims were not just strangers to the new World. They were, in effect, refugees and the Indians were their hosts and sponsors. There was not much the Pilgrims had to offer their host in return. It is a sad fact that, following their successful settlement, boatloads of Puritans came later. Those settlers set about massacring and enslaving thousands of the very natives that had welcomed the Pilgrims. They even held "Thanksgiving feasts" celebrating their victory over the "savages" they had killed. It was a shameful part of our American history.
But the lesson of the first Thanksgiving is not lost to me, because we have had same the opportunity to be gracious hosts to our refugee friends from Africa. They have thanked us many times for what we have done for them, and they are most welcomed. But, you know, I am thankful that God brought them here to live with us. They are already our brothers and sisters in Christ and they are, it turns out, wonderful people. Our friends from East Africa have enriched our lives in many ways. This Thanksgiving, especially in light of our public discussion on immigration issues, I thank God for bringing us together. We will do our best to hold their lives precious, for though we are different in cultural ways, we are one people in Christ.
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Rev. Jim King
Pastor at Church of the Holy Spirit, Portland, ME.