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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Giving thanks in a foreign land

Here in Senegal, West Africa, there is absolutely nothing that gives a hint of the approach of Thanksgiving.

Cool, autumn weather hasn’t replaced the warm, humid air flowing in from the Atlantic Ocean. There are no leaves changing colors and falling from their branches. Turkeys, orange pumpkins and cranberries haven’t replaced the dried fish, bissap flowers and watermelons for sale at the market. And there definitely aren’t pictures of European pilgrims and Native Americans sharing a meal together—although you can certainly find plenty of large photos of the founders of local Islamic brotherhoods.

One might think that in such a climate American missionaries find it hard to celebrate the quintessential U.S. holiday. And such a thought would be both true—and not true.

It is difficult to be away from family on a holiday like Thanksgiving. It is difficult to miss out on the feast of turkey and pecan pie and sweet potato casserole. And it’s not at all easy to endure the heat and sun when you know back home yellow leaves are falling and chilling winds are calling for hearth fires.

And yet there is also something about being away from home—far from home in a poverty-ridden, Islamic, sub-Saharan African country—that makes the Thanksgiving holiday especially poignant.

As I look around our neighborhood, I can list with little contemplation the things for which I am grateful to God.

I begin with the children, their joy and openness, their ability to amuse themselves with homemade toys and sand and goats, their smiles that always remind one of the face of God. I then add the beauty of the hard-working women, so elegantly dressed despite their poverty, so full of life and laughter.

I list the generosity of our poor Senegalese friends who invite us to their homes for the feast that celebrates the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, giving us the best portions of their special meals made with expensive meat.

I can’t forget the religious tolerance that exists uniquely in this West African region, allowing the 96 percent majority Muslims to live side-by-side in amiable peace with the minority Christians.

I then include fellow missionaries in Senegal who support my husband, children and me emotionally and spiritually.

Finally, I add the opportunity God has given us to experience life outside of the United States—to see firsthand those who take little for granted and who know that life is often quite literally on the edge of death.

Here in Senegal, where more than half the population is illiterate, where unemployment is almost 50 percent, where life is anything but easy, there is much that reminds us of the precious gift of life and soul that God gives each person.

And for that gentle reminder, far away from home, I feel blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving from Senegal!


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