We woke up to rain pelting the windows in Taipei on the morning of Thanksgiving this year. Of course, it wasn't Thanksgiving here, since the Taiwanese don't have that holiday. Some churches have adopted a thanksgiving service, but today was a normal workday. A group of eight aboriginal pastors came to my house in the morning for our monthly meeting of Bible study, prayer, and singing. When they found it was Thanksgiving, they decided a few weeks ago that they would treat me to a Thanksgiving feast at a restaurant up the mountain from our seminary.
They arrived in the pouring rain, dripping but laughing and glad to be together. One of the pastors, who was just ordained last Sunday, brought a huge bunch of small bananas and lots of grapes. We began by singing three songs of thanksgiving. One pastor played the guitar, another played a small drum, and a third played a recorder. Two of the songs were in Mandarin and the third song we sang in their tribal language. Most aboriginals have beautiful voices and wonderful musical ability, so it is always a treat to sing with them. I think singing with them has improved my voice!
Then one of the pastors led us in a Bible study asking three questions: 1.What do you see in the text? 2.What do you hear in the text? 3.What does God want you to do because of the text? I am always pleased to hear the way they allow themselves to hear and experience the biblical text as if it was the first time. They share with intensity but always with good humor. You can't be with aboriginals very long without laughing.
We then went around the circle and shared that for which we are thankful. Some shared their thanks for loving spouses or children, for the privilege of serving God's people, for making it safely this morning on the expressway in sheets of rain.
I shared how those first Europeans relied on the Native Americans to teach them how to grow crops, hunt wild turkeys, and cook with indigenous plants in what was for the newcomers a New World. The Native Americans were amazingly generous and gracious to welcome these folks to their land. So, I told these indigenous pastors what a privilege it was for me to spend Thanksgiving with them, for like the Native Americans, the Native Taiwanese have made my life here a blessing. Their deep faith in the face of huge challenges in their communities, their families, and their churches is always an encouragement to me. They respond to the ups-and-downs of life with resilience, joy, and humor. They share whatever they have. They always welcome me to their homes and villages and make it feel like home for me. So, I was thankful as we sat in a circle at my home on the seminary campus.
We then left the campus and drove up the mountain on a winding road to a restaurant perched on the side of the mountain. The rains had stopped, and the view of the mountains framed in fog was breathtaking. They ordered and ordered and the dishes began to arrive: beef with spicy peppers, pig blood soup, pig intestine with vegetables, sweet potato leaves, cabbage, a mountain tree's leaves, clams, and bitter melon. The food was different from what was served around American tables Thanksgiving Day, but it was fresh and prepared with a variety of spices.
Folks told stories and laughed some more. When the soup came at the end of the meal, one of the pastors sang a tribal song about soup with a refrain which we sang in response.
This Thanksgiving celebration gave me a new appreciation of what those European settlers experienced hundreds of years ago. As a newcomer to this land, I am thankful for the welcome and help I receive daily from indigenous and the other Taiwanese who live here.