Dear Brothers and Sisters,
All of us who grew up in the United States probably remember learning about “the first Thanksgiving,” when the Plymouth Pilgrims and Wampanoag Indians sat down to a harvest feast. Although it is quite possible that this meal of celebration and thanks included current favorites like turkey, corn, and pumpkin, they probably also ate foods we don’t associate with the Thanksgiving table – including pigeon, venison, and stewed eels!
Although most of us are familiar with that first feast, it was actually Abraham Lincoln who established Thanksgiving a common national holiday. He set aside the last Thursday in November for, as he put it in his proclamation, “as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” This proclamation was given in 1863, in the middle of the Civil War. Although it was a time of tremendous loss and uncertainty, President Lincoln saw the importance of acknowledging God’s good gifts, and celebrating them. He especially encouraged American citizens to “commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers” in the heavy years of civil conflict.
As Christians, we know that Lincoln’s reminder echoes James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” As we look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with family and pumpkin pie, it’s important not just to count our own blessings, but also to express our gratitude by caring for those in need. Orphans and widows have historically been the most vulnerable in any community, and there are countless ways to extend Christ’s love to the needy.
We know that investing in the lives of others can happen in many different ways. For those of us blessed to live in relative comfort and safety, giving looks like financial support, often to people who are far away or whose daily lives look different than our own. And offering our hard-earned treasure is indeed a generous act. John the Baptist, as he prophesied the coming of Jesus, reminded his listeners “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11). Giving from our material wealth is a heartfelt and important way to respond to those in need. But I’ve found that the impact of giving is often magnified when I also give of my time to something I believe in or that I know will make a difference.
We’ve been applauded for our innovative programs which provide GCI congregations with opportunities to “walk the walk” of the gospel, connecting with others through personal investment and experience. Our “Outside the Walls” ministries encourages local connection between our congregations and their neighbors, going beyond the church building through inviting and accessible events. Our “Crossing Borders” trips offer young and old a chance to engage with people in very different life circumstances, at orphanages in rural Mexico. Through a series of day trips, members from all walks of life get to participate in forging one-on-one relationships across language, culture, and experience. We also offer opportunities to travel within the US: our GCTrips brought together a group to facilitate Vacation Bible School in Cincinnati this past summer, which has direct impact on future generations. Counselors for our summer camps get to watch the campers learn and grow across the years. Even our young people are setting an example of ways to get involved – the youth track of our Denominational Conference in 2017 partnered with Up Orlando and spent a day volunteering at a food pantry.
I list these numerous ways to serve as a reminder that no matter how busy we are, there is small, concrete opportunities for us to give of our time. It is truly a blessing to be Christ’s hands and feet in a world in need. When we give to others from our time and talent, it acts to connect us deeper to God’s call and spread his love to the world.
As we remember to give thanks for our own blessings this year, I hope we’ll also think of ways to bless others. Giving financially is a wonderful and important way to support those in need, and to keep programs and ministries running year-round. However, during a season where we remember all there is to be grateful for, it can be incredibly impactful for us and for our families to find ways to give of our time as well.
Looking to meet a need in your local congregation – whether that be serving coffee on Sunday mornings, gathering donations of food and clothing one afternoon, or connecting weekly with a lonely neighbor – is a powerful way to shine Christ’s light to the world. We are so grateful for those who support the ongoing work of GCI and connect followers of Jesus with the needs of those around us. We are committed to putting feet on the ground, helping hands in place, and kind faces to welcome everyone into God’s family.
Truly grateful for all who give, and for all that has been given to us,
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Grace Communion International is dedicated to helping people everywhere understand the truth about God and the gospel. Because of your generous support, we can share the good news of who God really is for us with many more around the world. We appreciate your support.