The word “holiday” is an old English word from the twelfth century that literally means “Holy Day.” The root of the word is traced to the desire of the Church to remember special times by placing them on the Church calendar.
People from other cultures and religions celebrate their own unique holiday celebrations. When our family lived in Pakistan, our Christian and Muslim friends made a point to invite us to celebrate with them in their homes. Some of our fondest memories of being welcomed into a new and different land were the experiences we had with strangers who became our friends, often during holiday mealtimes. These times made a deep impact on our lives.
Most newly arrived Muslims have never experienced an American holiday and are curious about the meaning and traditions surrounding the holidays. During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Christians can use this as an opportunity to extend hospitality to Muslim families, college students, or refugees. This provides a great opportunity for your to share about the true meaning of Thanksgiving or Christmas, which in turn, might open a door for you to introduce unbelievers, especially Muslim immigrants, to the Truth about Jesus Christ. What better time to do that than during holiday times?
Thanksgiving was our favorite holiday while overseas for two reasons. First, it is a special time that is set aside to give thanks to God, specifically for His provision in our lives. Second, the holiday is uniquely American. We felt the American uniqueness of the holiday would interest our Pakistani and international friends. More importantly, our desire was to share with these friends the biblical reason why President Abraham Lincoln instituted the holiday during the Civil War on October 3, 1863.
Our first Thanksgiving in Pakistan was very special. My wife and I were in language school, so for Thanksgiving at our home we invited our three Pakistani teachers, our fellow students from the Maldive Islands, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, and China, as well as our co-worker. All the non-American friends had some idea that a giant bird was going to be served! It was interesting to hear their assumptions. It all made for anticipation on their parts, and a readiness to listen and learn while at the Thanksgiving meal. Gathering in the dining room, we all stood behind our chairs. I shared that as followers of Jesus our custom was to pray before we ate. I stated that we first want to thank God for His provision for our lives and specifically for the food we were about to eat.
Prayer is always meaningful to Muslim peoples. Making prayer the priority of the meal touches the hearts and minds of Muslim people. Our Muslim friends were intrigued that prayer was given such a place of importance during an American holiday.
During the meal, I shared the full meaning of American Thanksgiving. Each friend expressed thanks for the meaningful discussion. One Chinese student commented that she was certain that was why God has blessed the U.S. We ate and talked through the afternoon. When dessert was served, I asked if each person would share something for which they were thankful. Each one gave sincere expressions of gratitude. It was a solemn and meaningful time. The celebration ended and all the guests said they hoped we’d do it again next year.
Each year at Thanksgiving tens of thousands of university students from Muslim nations sit in their dorm rooms or eat in a sterile campus cafeteria. I have spoken to many students who said they were never invited into an American home during Thanksgiving. How sad that American Christians have the world coming to their doorsteps, but don’t seize the opportunity to connect with these students. From my personal and ministry viewpoint, God has brought thousands of Muslim students to the U.S. not merely for an education, but to be connected with, befriended by, and loved by real Christian believers (Acts 17:26-27). Thanksgiving can be a great time to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with these students.
This Thanksgiving, seize the opportunity to make a deep impact on newly arrived Muslims, people who desperately need the light of Jesus Christ. Remember that Thanksgiving is much more than food and football. It is thanking the sovereign God for His bounty and grace in our lives.
Revision of editorial and article in Intercede Nov/Dec 2013