The end of November.
A break from school/work.
Turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, pumpkin pie.
Kick-off of the Christmas season.
That’s Thanksgiving American Style.
In Uganda, the word has a totally different indication.
Here it is usually referring to a special type of offering at church. But even in Uganda, different churches do thanksgiving differently. (I guess it’s kinda like how some families have macaroni and cheese at Thanksgiving…what??? Not my family!)
In ABIDE we have students from different backgrounds, regions, denominations, etc. So they have not all had the same church experiences in their lives. When we are together, we are often visiting different churches for ministry, so sometimes we have conversations afterwards, discussing our observations or questions. One day I remember students asking questions about thanksgiving. Some churches will give their regular tithes and offerings, then immediately following, they will call for a thanksgiving offering. Then, anyone who wants to give God a special offering as a way of thanking him for doing something in his or her life, they will bring it forward and offer that. Other churches do not have it in every service, but instead you schedule a time with the church and they will devote a portion of the service to you publicly thanking God for whatever He has done (new baby, healed from some sickness, graduation, etc.), and encourage others to also give in response to that. We were chatting about what the different students were used to. Then they asked me, Aunt Lisa, how do you do thanksgiving offerings in America?
When I told them we don’t do thanksgiving offerings (at least not in any church I’ve heard of), they couldn’t believe it. How do you thank God for what He has done for you?!?!?
Well today I had a special opportunity to be a part of a thanksgiving service. Let me tell you a little bit about it. But before I get there, I need to back up a little bit.
When I came to Uganda for the first time, in 2010, I sensed God telling me to sponsor an ABIDE graduate so that he could go to college (or in Uganda, we would say go to university). I didn’t know exactly what kind of commitment that would mean at first, or if I would be able to manage it on my meager teacher salary. But I just kept the idea quietly in my head.
I was able to spend a few days getting to know one particular student: John Jude, or JJ to most people. I quietly observed JJ and asked him questions, not indicating that I had any intentions concerning his education. I spent time praying about possibly helping him. When I got home, I sent a message to Matt, the missionary and Founder of ABIDE. I asked him what he thought about me sponsoring JJ, and for any advice he might have. I remember him saying that JJ really grew throughout the program, and it would be a big blessing to JJ, and that he supported the idea. So, I asked Matt to help get things arranged with JJ and see if it was still possible for him to go to school since it was already mid-August.
Four years later…my little brother finished his degree and is a college graduate. He waited to have his graduation party when I could be here for it since I missed the actual graduation.
Today was that day.
We started the day by having a thanksgiving service at his church here in Mbarara. The service started at 10 am and finished at around 1:15pm. He and another girl had both arranged a time for thanksgiving offerings in response to graduating from college. The service was largely devoted to it. Envelopes were passed out to the congregation for us to give thanksgiving offerings on their behalf. They both went up front with their families and shared a little bit. Even the sermon was focused on the idea.
Now, the preacher was speaking in Runyonkole, not English (though he did translate for himself for my benefit a few times), so I didn’t get the whole message. But I was looking through the passage myself and trying to pick out what points I could.
He spoke on Psalm 116:12-19.
12 What shall I return to the Lord
for all his goodness to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the Lord.
14 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people.
15 Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his faithful servants.
16 Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.
17 I will sacrifice a thank offering to you
and call on the name of the Lord.
18 I will fulfill my vows to the Lord
in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the Lord—
in your midst, Jerusalem.
Praise the Lord.
I will give you my basic summary (since I know this is already a really long post).
God is so good to us in so many ways. How can we possibly repay Him?
What we can do is praise His name, live faithfully as His servants, and offering thanksgiving offerings. All of this is said to be done in the presence of His people.
So, we should publicly thank God for all the good things He does for us, and be willing to give back to Him to show that gratitude.
In fact I wrote down a quote from the preacher: We must always respond to God’s blessings to us out of thankfulness and with sacrifice.
Wow…I think these Ugandans have really taken this passage seriously! I love that this is a regular part of worship services.
It has challenged me to think of all the ways God has blessed me, and to think if I have even said thank you in my heart, let alone publicly thanked him and made a sacrifice to give back to Him as a response.
So, join me in being challenged to be more active in responding to the goodness God pours out on us…even if it isn’t a worship service dedicated to such an occasion.
(I’ll share more about the graduation party after that church service another day.)