An American Thanksgiving in Amsterdam

I was put in charge of Thanksgiving dinner at the Shelter Jordan, along with one of my American co-workers. This resulted in a lesson on the intense labour of love.

The preparation

Together we made a plan of action. We spent 48 hours running all around Amsterdam in order to pull the dinner off. Living in another country means going on a treasure hunt for food products that are normally so easy to find in America. For example, pureed pumpkin that’s needed to make pumpkin pie is only found in American stores. And I can’t tell you how long I looked for corn syrup (maizstroop) before eventually finding in it an organic food store.

Not only did my co-worker and I spend countless hours shopping, and baking. We also had the task of getting three turkeys from our sister hostel, the Shelter City. The day before Thanksgiving, my co-worker strapped a basket to her bike rack; bravely setting out to retrieve the turkeys. She biked with two turkeys in her basket through one of the busiest sections of Amsterdam, making it back in one piece. On the day of Thanksgiving I had to bring another turkey to the hostel. I biked to the Shelter City with an empty backpack, stole the turkey and smuggled it away in my backpack. Never in my life did I think I would do something so crazy!

The day itself

Our preparations for the big day included baking four pies and cooking three turkeys. Finally the day arrived and we got to sit down and enjoy the fruit of our labour. We started the night with an explanation of what Thanksgiving means to Americans and how it became a holiday. We then shared what we were thankful for, which is a tradition in most families. Dinner was served and everyone had more than enough to eat. After dinner, another staff member shared what it is to be thankful for a God who loves us and promises to be the source of everything we need. A God who is there in the midst of our struggles and calls us to not worry for He is with us. We ended the night by sharing dessert and singing worship songs to praise God for the wondrous things He has done for us all.

Being away from home

I was celebrating this holiday in a different country than my own, and people who are not my family. However I was struck by how much I felt a part of a family that is much bigger than my own. And I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. Many guests, and some people who used to work on our cleaning team said that they also felt like they were with family.

For me, this Thanksgiving was one of those rare and small glimpses of Heaven. In Heaven, Jesus says that there is no wife nor husband; no one great or small; no Jew or gentile-all are equal in His eyes because we are all His children. We are welcomed into, and made a part of a family larger than just the ones we live with. I’ve come to see that family is whoever you share a meal with. Whoever you do life with. Whoever you love as if they were your own.

Jesus’ Prayer for us

One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible is John chapter 17 which is Jesus’ High Priestly prayer for all believers. In this prayer Jesus prays, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one-I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me”.

On Thanksgiving night, I truly saw all of us loving each other in a way that reflected Christ’s love for us. Whether this was through cooking the food, serving others, cleaning dishes, or just listening to someone share their story. We all love in different ways. But we love simply because God loved us first. It is amazing how our imperfect and broken love still magnifies God’s overwhelming and perfect love towards us. It is amazing how a group of 30 people made up of different ages, cultures, and life experiences feels like a family. This sense of unity alone testifies to God’s love because in no other circumstance could a group like this feel like a family. But a group that focuses on loving others well, serving well, and loving God well can-and does.

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