November. It used to mean cold smacking your nose so hard it hurt, fires in the wood stove, sweaters, and the start of The Holidays.
Now it means the end of rainy season, the start of the winds and a time that can be filled with a whole lot of missing family and the familiar of the Great Lakes.
We’ve been in our host country and working with our ministry for just over a year now. And while this won’t be our first holiday season here, this one seems harder somehow.
Maybe it’s because it’s been a hard year. There have been many ups and downs in our family life, in the ministry we are working with, in the adjustment to living as foreigners in a strange land. The other day as I looked at our calendar, trying to get a handle on the what the next month holds, I found myself thinking about another group of foreigners in a strange land.
There was 102 of them, people who left everything for what they knew to obey God. They set off on a crazy journey, way, way too late in the year (note: don’t leave England by boat in September of any year. Not a good plan). They didn’t get to what would become Massachusetts until November and really didn’t find a place to live until December of 1620. No food, no shelter, diseases, no understanding of culture (note: don’t steal corn from native burial grounds, just saying.) No language to communicate with the Native Americas. That first winter 45 of them died. Just under half.
Then spring came. And with it Samoset, and Squanto and Massosite, all Native Americans who knew English, Squanto even had spent extended time in England. These men helped the Pilgrims learn their new land. They taught them what to hunt, how to grow crops that were new to them (note: Tomatoes and potatoes are good.) And they survived. They learned how to get along and work side by side with the people they encountered. They grew food, and built houses, had babies and lived and thrived.
When the harvest came around in the fall of 1621, the remaining Pilgrims had a three day party and invited their new friends, without whom they would all have been dead. They thanked God for what He had done to get them through that year. They also thanked the men and women who taught them how to live in the New World.
I was a bit overwhelmed by the similarities in our stories. We left everything we knew to obey God. We set off on our crazy journey in the fall too (note: leaving for Costa Rica in the fall is a good idea. Ticket prices are a lot cheaper.) We felt that weird moment somewhere over the ocean, when we realized we didn’t have a house, a car, a phone, or anything more than the suitcases in the belly of the airplane. We’ve gotten sick this year, a lot. We had little understanding of the culture (note: asking impatiently for a calendar with important dates for the next year doesn’t go over well.) We have stumbled over the language more times than we can count (note: año and ano are very, very different). We haven’t died, but some days it feels like parts of us have.
And then spring came. And with it a group of people who are nationals, some who speak English and some have even spent extend time in the United States, but more importantly, they know Jesus. They have shown us so much grace, teaching where to shop (note: try the crazy alien fruits at the market), what to say, how to say it, how to pass the annual car inspection. And we have survived. We are still learning how to get along and work side by side with our new friends. But we are growing, and building friendships and living, and learning to thrive.
So yesterday we shared a very traditional Thanksgiving meal with our new friends. To thank God for what He had done to get us through this last year and to thank the men and women who have let us into their lives and shown us how to navigate this new land.