Thanksgiving, God and America's bounty

Friday, November 21, 2008

True story: Two girls, separated from their mothers, wandered for three days in danger, dirty, without food or water. The 11-year-old carried her sobbing, frightened, 3-year-old niece on her back. Their only respite was through the kindness of strangers, their refuge a night in a local church. Back at the village they fled, dead bodies lay on the ground, casualties of war and corruption.

You may know about these girls, Protegee and Reponse, because of a story by the Associated Press printed in the Southeast Missourian last week. An AP journalist who photographed the girls on a dusty road in Congo later circled back hoping to help their search for family. A week later, he found Protegee's mother Esperance, sick, in a Catholic church 12 miles from the village, on the edge of an ongoing war. With help he reunited her with the children.

The photographer wrote: "Hundreds of children have been separated from their families since fighting flared in eastern Congo in August and more than 1,600 children in the province were seeking their parents last week alone, according to UNICEF. The children's young ages and inability to give detailed information ¬-- in addition to the lack of official records in the Congolese countryside ¬-- make it even more difficult to track down their families."

I will not repeat the story's facts in this column. Links to it and photos of the children can be found in the online version at semissourian.com. Instead, on this Sunday before Thanksgiving, I hope you will join me to consider the blessings we hold as Americans. Where other lands are torn internally by war ¬-- and famine, poverty and disease are too often the norm, we live in a place with more than most of the world can dream.


A side theme of the family's struggles in Congo is that they did find some help in local churches. The details are sparsely reported in the original story, but at least twice, a church became a refuge and place to sleep. No food was to be found, but shelter was offered.

In Cape Girardeau, many churches are reaching out to offer their own help in Africa, sending nets to combat malaria, grain to fight hunger, and people to assist in the building of homes, to name just a few of their good works.

In September the Southeast Missourian reported about a missionary team from Cape First who traveled to an impoverished area of South Africa to help children with severe vision problems.

"Fifty percent of the children there are HIV positive," pastor Carol Lucy told the newspaper. "Another 30 percent have active TB and 60 percent are orphans because of the AIDs virus. Many of the parents had passed away because of AIDS. And 70 percent of the women over the age of 12 had been raped. The greatest need in that country is hope."

In September a team from La Croix Church traveled to Mozambique. In a sermon that touched upon his experience, the Rev. Ron Watts told his congregation of a question he overheard mission team member and Cape Girardeau businessman Phil Brinson ask a friend: "Why would you want to play the lottery? You already won the lottery. You were born in the United States of America." Watts went on to talk about the incredible material blessings we enjoy in our country versus much of the rest of the world, especially the two billion people who live on $2 a day.

Think about that.


Recognizing that we are blessed is one thing. But with blessings come responsibility. The congregations and churches here in Cape Girardeau are doing their part, whether it is reaching out to those in other lands or helping neighbors at home. Other people volunteer, donate money and provide assistance through secular means.

Such service has a way of changing those who give.

Jean Fulton, who was on the mission trip with Cape First, explained that she became less bothered by small things after her trip to Africa.

"I'm more laid-back and more accepting of people's differences," she told the newspaper.

Her twin sister Jan added, "When I don't think God can use us, I found that he can. We just have to trust him and rely on him."


This week, we will celebrate Thanksgiving, which became a regular holiday with the following proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863:

"The year that is drawing toward its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added... . It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."


To all of you, happy Thanksgiving. May your week be filled with happiness, hope and gratitude.

Jon K. Rust is publisher of the Southeast Missourian. Email: jrust@semissourian.com.

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