By Allison Lynn
The image of us alone in our hotel room was more than I could bear.
It was just three days from Thanksgiving, and my husband, Gerald, and I were very far from home. As a touring ministry, we’ve gotten used to being away from our family for months on end. We’ve missed countless birthdays, anniversaries, and family celebrations because of our unconventional work schedule.
But this was the first time we were going to be away from our families for Thanksgiving.
We were currently on our first tour across the Canadian prairies. I’m not exaggerating when I say that we didn’t know anyone for miles! Technically, I knew we would be away for Thanksgiving, but the reality of it didn’t really dawn on me before we hit the road. Now, the date loomed on the calendar. I could just see it: In three days, we would be alone in a hotel room, eating cheap take out, watching reruns on hotel cable, and feeling very sorry for ourselves.
The thought of it was more than I could bear. I decided to be proactive. I wrote a post on Facebook: “We’re about to spend Thanksgiving alone in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Does anyone know of a church or community center hosting a public dinner?” There, I thought, with all the people we know, someone has to have some idea!
A friend wrote back, “My friends live outside the city. I’ll connect you with them.”
So, three days later, we found ourselves driving to the town of Dauphin, Manitoba, to spend Thanksgiving with strangers.
Husband and wife, Gary and Betty Medwechuk, had a dream of building a small cabin next to their house. They wanted to create a quiet space where folks in ministry could retreat for rest and refreshment.
Our hand-scrawled directions led us to the sign: In His Rest Retreat. Gerald and I stepped out of the car, a little tired, a little hungry, and mildly apprehensive. Thanksgiving is a time for family. Would it be okay to intrude on this private celebration?
As we stepped into Betty and Gary’s home, we were immediately met with warmth. The wood stove took every bit of fall chill out of the air. The sun on the glittering lake was blindingly beautiful, and the smell of the food enwrapped us like a soft blanket. Turkey, stuffing, veggies, and piles of desserts – what a feast!
And the warmth didn’t just come from the home or the food. It came from Betty, Gary, and their guests. We gathered around the table; introductions were made. We discovered that no one there was family by blood. Instead, we were connected by something much greater.
Our apprehension melted away as we were drawn into this circle of friendship. We told stories, shared laughs, and, as the day called us to, gave thanks.
I was raised that you never come empty-handed to a dinner party, but making a dish is a bit of a challenge when you’re on the road. Instead, we offered them something else: “After the meal, if you like, we would love to perform a mini-concert for your guests, as our contribution to the evening.”
So, as everyone licked up the final crumbs of pumpkin pie, Gerald pulled out his guitar, and we began to sing. We shared songs we had written, filled with a message of hope and joy. We sang favorite hymns, and got our new friends to sing along with us. We ended with a prayer of thanks, and a roof-splitting version of “How Great Thou Art.”
Since that time, Betty and Gary have become our true friends. We’ve spent lots of time in their sweet cabin by the lake, and shared countless meals together. We’ve fallen in love with the glorious sunsets that blaze across the prairie sky. We’ve sung in their church, joining together in hours of worship and song.
We thought we were going to spend Thanksgiving with strangers, but you know, we really didn’t. We spent Thanksgiving with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve experienced this over the years. We’ll arrive in a town we’ve never visited to sing in a church we’ve never seen. We’ll arrange to meet a pastor we’ve never met and sing for an audience of absolute strangers. And yet, they are never strangers. We’re always, without fail, welcomed as family.
And every time, I’m reminded of this instruction:
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2, ESV)
Normally, I might take this moment to encourage you to invite a stranger into your home this Thanksgiving, but as I write this today, we are still in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. No doubt, our celebrations this year will be much more intimate. So, in a world of social distancing, what are some other ways we can share our Thanksgiving celebrations with those around us?
Perhaps you could support your church’s Thanksgiving outreach with a gift of time or resources? Local food banks will also need extra donations this season. Perhaps there’s a family on your street who could use a grocery gift card to help provide their meal? Or a shut-in who would appreciate a home-cooked delivery? If cooking isn’t your gift, perhaps you could make a flower arrangement or craft item to brighten someone’s table? And let’s not forget the blessing of technology! Why not host your Thanksgiving dinner over Zoom or Skype so your whole family can participate?
Even in the midst of these trials and challenges, we are loved and blessed. Let’s take time to give thanks, and share our blessings with those around us.
In doing this, who knows? You might just entertain angels unawares…
Note: Thanksgiving in Canada is celebrated technically on the second Monday in October, but it usually expands to the complete three day weekend, October 10-12, 2020. Happy Thanksgiving Canada!
By Allison Lynn
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