A Thanksgiving message from the desk of WFA president Julaine Appling:
I want to take this opportunity, first, to wish you and your family a very blessed Thanksgiving. I also want to, as the Scriptures say, put you in remembrance, of what this uniquely American holiday is all about. I urge you to share the story with your family; don’t assume they are learning it somewhere else or that they are somehow absorbing it by osmosis. It’s each generation’s responsibility to consciously, purposefully pass on this incredible true story of the history of our nation and God’s blessing. So please even if you think you know all the details of what I’m going to say next, listen closely with the intention of telling others the truth about America’s Thanksgiving celebration. I believe it is especially important today; we are losing so much of who we have been as a people and religious freedom is under threat like never before. We have much to gain from rehearsing this great story.
Almost four centuries ago, in 1621, the Pilgrims set aside 3 days of feasting and celebration to thank the Lord for His provision and protection throughout the previous year and for a bountiful harvest. At that celebration, from which we derive our present-day Thanksgiving, the Pilgrims gave thanks despite the hardship and deprivation they experienced during their first year in the New World.
Most of the Pilgrims buried one or more loved ones during the previous harsh New England winter. They lived in conditions that, by today’s standards, were barbaric to put it nicely and probably not even comparable to living conditions in Developing Countries. The New World was inhospitable, dangerous, unfamiliar and for many, fatal.
That first year in the New World was absolutely devastating, until Squanto befriended the Pilgrims and taught them how to survive, how to cultivate the land and grow their own food. Governor William Bradford said Squanto was “a special instrument sent of God for [our] good…and never left [us] till he died.”
The Pilgrim’s relationship with the Wampanoag Tribe is a legacy of integrity and friendship. It was a friendship that lasted throughout the lifetime of the original inhabitants of Plymouth and significantly contributed to the survival of the Pilgrims. In fact, about ninety Indians joined the Pilgrims for that first Thanksgiving.
I cannot look back on the story of the Pilgrims and their Thanksgiving feast without being struck by the apparent incongruity of the conditions those brave pioneers lived under and their attitude toward those conditions. My gas and electric bill goes up and I think I have it hard.
What could possibly move people to such dire straits that they sail to an unknown land and brave terrifying conditions to scratch a meager existence out of foreign soil? Religious persecution that makes them seek a place where there is true religious freedom. Most of the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower were religious refugees, hunted by the British government because of their opposition to the Church of England.
They were Puritans; part of the movement to purify the Church of England from rituals and practices which the Puritans believed were unbiblical. Because of their desire to purify the church, they were political and social outcasts—the original pioneers of religious freedom.
The Mayflower Compact, signed by Pilgrim leaders, beautifully illustrates the motivation behind the Plymouth Colony.
Having undertaken, for the Glory of God and the advancement of the Christian Faith and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one another, Covenant and Combine ourselves together and a Civil Body Politic, for our better ordering and perseveration and furtherance of the end aforesaid.”
There it is in black and white: for the glory of God, the advancement of the Christian faith and the honor of king and country. Look at the priority here: God’s glory, Christianity and country. Isn’t it interesting how the natural means of achieving these three purposes is a civil body politic? Amazing!
I could not have said it better. As Christians we do not and cannot exist in a vacuum. The means through which we worship God, pursue a Christian life and live in peace with our fellow man is through the administration of a God-ordained institution—government.
This was their purpose, to practice their faith freely, raise their children in the ways of the Lord and live in peace. They believed in this goal so fiercely that after that first terrible, fatal winter, when a ship came and offered passage back to England, not a single, surviving Pilgrim abandoned the New World for the old one. Not a single one!
What courage! What faith! What perseverance! Despite the setbacks, despite the hardship, despite the danger, despite the discomfort, they would not be deterred from their purpose—to establish a government where they could live, worship God and raise their families freely.
Do you and I have that courage today? Do we possess the faith and perseverance to carry on in our purpose despite the opposition, for the sake of our children? It’s a sobering question—one that I am faced with daily.
Look at the results in our lives today. Almost four centuries of freedom, struggle, prosperity, pioneering, hardship and courage, through the grace of God, have given us the liberties we enjoy today: the freedom to worship God freely, to speak our minds, to vote for our leaders, to provide for ourselves and our families.
When I look at those freedoms today, I can honestly say it was worth it. Every ounce of sweat and blood was worth the America we enjoy today. I am grateful for God’s providence, for his protection for this City on a Hill. And I am ready, with you, to defend and advance those freedoms in my lifetime, so that the next generation can enjoy the liberty our ancestors handed down to us.