I grew up loving American Thanksgiving. I loved preparing special food and gathering with family to celebrate the things that we were grateful for.
Shortly after arriving in the Belgium/Netherlands mission, I began to feel homesick at the thought of my family gathering for Thanksgiving without me. That homesickness deepened because I knew that Europeans do not celebrate American Thanksgiving, so there would be no opportunity for the missionaries to gather with others to celebrate like we do at home.
At the beginning of November, all the missionaries in the ward gathered at the ward mission leader’s home for a missionary meeting and dinner. During dinner, we all chatted about the upcoming holidays, and the ward mission leader and his family began asking about each of our family’s Christmas traditions. They also asked about American Thanksgiving because they, like most Europeans, had never experienced it before.
Each American missionary took a turn to talk about their favorite traditional Thanksgiving food and the activities that their families and friends did to celebrate the holiday.
I was touched by these members and their genuine interest in our traditions. Their next request was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Our ward mission leader asked all the missionaries in the ward to join him and his family on Thanksgiving Day for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
I did not have the words (in English or Dutch) to even begin to tell them how much their offer meant to me. I don’t think this family will ever know just how thankful I was for their kindness. Their thoughtfulness helped me feel truly seen and ministered to.
As all the missionaries in the ward made our way into our ward mission leader’s home on Thanksgiving Day, familiar smells of home drifted through the air. After discussing our missionary work in the area, we all gathered around the table for one of the most beautiful meals I have ever seen. The family had spent the week researching traditional Thanksgiving recipes to make them just right for us, and once again, I was overcome with emotion.
I realized in that moment just how much I had to be thankful for. I was a missionary serving Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I was serving in a beautiful area of the world where the members of the Church, like this family, were thoughtful and kind. In the few short months I’d been on my mission, I had seen people come closer to the Savior, and I knew that the gospel is true. These are some of the greatest blessings in my life, and I knew that the Lord was watching out for me and the missionaries that I served with.
I have thought about that evening a lot in the past few years. This family taught me about service, about Christlike love, and about following the promptings of the Spirit. Though this family told us they had fun creating this meal for us, I know that they sacrificed their time and resources to bless the lives of several homesick missionaries, myself included. The Lord knew our needs, and He sent this family to do His work.
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said:
“Our Heavenly Father wants us to recall His and His Beloved Son’s goodness, not for Their own gratification but for the influence such remembrance has on us. By considering Their kindness, our perspective and understanding are enlarged. By reflecting on Their compassion, we become more humble, prayerful, and steadfast. …
“When we consider the goodness of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, our trust in Them increases. Our prayers change because we know God is our Father and we are His children. We seek not to change His will but to align our will with His and secure for ourselves blessings that He wants to grant, conditioned on our asking for them. We yearn to be more meek, more pure, more steadfast, more Christlike.”1
My gratitude for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ has inspired me to try to serve in every way that I can. I try to follow the example of these faithful members to serve in meaningful ways. They did not serve the missionaries so they could tell the entire ward about the experience. Rather, they served us in order to show love for the Savior. I am thankful for their example and for their commitment to ministering to the one.