Every year, we have a huge Thanksgiving Dinner, the Sunday night before Thanksgiving. We bring tons of food and pack out the sanctuary, which also serves as our fellowship space. Each year, we are almost filled to capacity with our members and their friends. We eat, sing, and people share from the floor what they are thankful to God for. It is really a beautiful time as the Body of Christ is on display and we see the beauty of Christ at work.
This year, our Thanksgiving Dinner promised to be a little different. Over the past couple of years, we have been praying about how we could reach across ethnic and cultural lines and we are starting to see that happen. We are seeing African Americans and Hispanics come to our church. Our youth group has doubled in size, primarily with African American boys who are coming to Christ and being discipled. God is at work and it is amazing to see.
Also, we live in Montgomery, AL where Maxwell AFB is colocated. So, we have a lot of military personnel in our church. Every member of the Air Force will come through Maxwell at some point in their career because Air University is here. All of the schools for the Air Force are located here. This also means that international officers and their families from the nations of the world come to Maxwell each year for Air Command and Staff College. Over the past couple of years, people from our church have been adopting these families and have been spending time with them. When a lady in our church told us that she had invited about thirty of them to our Thanksgiving Dinner, I was happy, but I was also thinking, "Where are we going to fit everyone!" Our youth minister had already invited the families of the 20 or so new youth that were coming to our church. We are already usually packed for this event. I am always talking about outreach and missional living, and here was a prime example of how our church had been doing and they wanted to bring everyone together. But, we just don't have much room! My excitement over the evening was mixed with the implications of a looming disaster as people would not have seats and would bump into each other all night.
I met with my administrative assistant and we just decided that we'd make it work and we weren't going to worry about it. Somehow, it would work out, we hoped. So, we set up every table and chair that we possibly could, started serving early, and trusted God for the rest. And . . . it all worked out! Somehow, we fit everyone in, and people didn't mind sitting in corners and along the walls and down the hall. It was our largest Thanksgiving Dinner ever! People shared with one another, gave praise to God for His work in their lives, and enjoyed being together. At one point, I asked people to shout out what nation they were from. There were people there from America (obviously), Mexico, Peru, Brazil, The Philippines, The Ukraine, Germany, India, Egypt, Jordan, Bangledesh, Pakistan, China, Turkmenistan, and other countries that I cannot remember. There were people from 19 countries in all. We also had a great number of African Americans that are coming to our church now and are getting involved in our body. That is notable because we are a Southern Baptist church that was lily white just two years ago, and I understand how difficult it is for these barriers to be broken down.
Jesus was represented and the gospel was spoken by people as they shared. It was beautiful. At one point, an international officer from the Middle East stood up and said how happy he was to be here. He thanked us for inviting him and his family. He also said something very interesting: He said that he was amazed and honored to be in a place where Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and many more could come together and gather in peace. He couldn't believe it. For many of these people, this was the first time that they had been in an environment like this. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Through Him, we, as Christians, can respect and love others, even though we know that there are differences. We believe and represent that Jesus is the only way to the Father. But, unless we build relationships with people and love them, they will not hear that message. Jesus also enables us to love people different than us because we recognize that each person is made in the image of God.
In two weeks, we will have our Christmas Extravaganza. We will join together with Family Life Bible Fellowship, an African American church in our city and have a mass choir, singing, praise dance, poetry readings, and other artistic expressions of worship on display. We will celebrate our unity in Christ. We will eat lots of good food together and we will laugh, pray, and celebrate. The international officers and their families will be invited again and the place will be packed out. I can't wait!
Christmas is the celebration of the Incarnation of Christ, where Jesus took on flesh and made His dwelling among us (John 1:14). He is doing it again in churches and communities all across the world. We'll make room for Him, no matter what it takes, or at least we should. I praise God for people in our church with great imaginations and faith to believe God for great things!