Why part of my family Thanksgiving will always include International Students

One night when I was on staff at my church as Girls Minister, let me rephrase- the night before our large girls retreat, my husband leaned over and said, “I know you have a busy weekend so we can talk about this Monday, but I think we are supposed to move to New York.”

There is much more detail about this phase in our lives that I will save for another post. For this post let's fast forward 6 months where we sold or gave away most of our things and Kyle packed a U-haul bound for Manhattan. At this time I was about 6 weeks prego and because of the lovely #morningsickness I would’ve turned a 24 hour road trip into 3 days of straight up nausea, so I got a one way flight and met him there. ha

Part of what we did during our time in NYC was working with international students at Columbia and NYU. We would simply ask if anyone wanted to read the Bible. We had over 150 students the first semester who had never seen a Bible before and signed up for Bible study. Many said things like, “Being in America I am open to your religion- I would love to read the Bible with a Christian.” Or my favorite, “I’ve never seen a Bible. It has been around for a 1000 years, and to be well-rounded in literature I should read it.”

We made friends with students from all over the world. I loved asking them questions about their home. I would ask questions like, “What is something you eat at your grandma’s house?” And, everyone from the 19 year old student from Australia to the 40 year old visiting scholar from Japan would beam with pride to share about home.

We also asked the Bible study groups (which had 6-8 students) if they would like to do anything fun as a group. “We want to come to your house to see you bake a cake!” “We want to come to your home for dinner to see what you eat!” Wait…what? We live in NYC! We could go to the Statue of Liberty, people watch, and eat cheesecake in Times Square, and more touristy things. But, no there was a resounding answer from everyone: Those are things we can do with our friends or classmates. 

They were so curious about what life was like in our home: How did I decorate? Did we wear shoes in our home? What did my plates look like? 

We baked cakes. We had groups over for dinner. But, my favorite thing we did was celebrate Thanksgiving. Our 400 sq ft apartment wouldn’t hold 100 people. Thankfully the University let us use a large room. We asked each student to bring a dish they loved from their hometown. And, we brought traditional Thanksgiving items: turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole, and cranberry sauce. They LOVED it!

Everyone took pictures with the celeb of the night…the turkey. We had a football game playing on tv. We had tables of Jenga (tip: Jenga is the best for international students…no major rules to explain or follow, so no matter the English level anyone can play.) We had a blast!

Some major religions were represented, but the Bible study group was primarily atheist. We prayed for our meal. And, to conclude the night Kyle shared that the Thanksgiving meal is primarily about being thankful, which easily tied into what we have to be most thankful for: the Gospel. We shared the Gospel and how it has transformed our lives. 

When I was in college, I can remember loading up my car with laundry and heading home for the holidays so ready for a home cooked meal and time with my family. Many universities close for Thanksgiving and Christmas leaving many international students “holiday orphans” with no family or home for a break. As Christians we are to take care of the widow and the orphan and the sojourner among us.

Pray about inviting a group of internationals over to see how you live and love your family for Thanksgiving. Share your testimony about being thankful that God has changed your life. This will impact them and will model Gospel fueled hospitality for your family.

My next post will include how to invite international students over and a script of how you can share the Gospel at your meal. Praying for you as you consider joining me in making this part of your holiday traditions! - Amy