January 16, 2017

A Konichiwa Thanksgiving at Grandma’s House

by Marc Wyatt

This Thanksgiving we invited our new international friends from UNC Wilmington to join us in Hillsborough as we gathered for the Traditional Family Meal at Kim’s mom’s house. Home from field service abroad, it promised to be a special time for us as our college-aged children, Rebecca (senior Meredith College) and Jon Marc (freshman Gardner Webb U.) would be there, too, along with an assortment of about 40 extended family  from three months to 88 years old.

My wife Kim and I — both North Carolina natives — serve as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Field Personnel on the Internationals Team. With our teammates across North America and Europe, we work with refugees, those caught up in human trafficking, immigrant and international student communities.

We were wonderfully surprised to discover the International Student Program at UNCW encourages domestic students as well as the local off-campus community to join them in helping International students learn all they can about American culture while studying there. International students often find themselves alone on the college campus during breaks and holidays. And sadly, most are never invited into the home of an American family while in the US. They gain the best possible education in the world but never really get to know us. All to say, we signed right up and found ourselves the happy hosts of 10 students; 7 Japanese, 1 Vietnamese, 1 Colombian and 1 student from Saudi Arabia.

Of our new friends, Yuri and Yuhei traveled with us from the coast to the countryside home of Kim’s mom, LaRee New. With every space in the house occupied with a relative from somewhere near or far away, the table was ready by noon. While holding hands we gave thanks for God’s blessings and grace through the year, for the love of our family and for our friends, especially our new friends from Japan. Giving thanks and praying are a new cultural experience for the students. The Japanese we have met aren’t religious;  very few are Christian. We all smiled afterward as Grandmother rang the dinner bell. Our new friends went first. Our daughter translated.

The table was set with so many delicious foods. Here is just a sampling; sweet potato casserole, seven layered salad, green bean casserole, pineapple casserole, Presbyterian cornbread, potato salad, fresh corn, coconut cake, brownie surprise cupcakes and of course the traditional foods, turkey, ham, dressing, cranberry sauce (homemade not canned) and pumpkin pie. But this year there was a twist. We also served tuna dumplings, sushi, calamari and sea weed salad with wasabi and soy sauce. There were even chop sticks for the adventurous.

After enjoying all the yummy Thanksgiving foods, holding babies, listening to stories (mostly true), and trading hugs and kisses farewell, we helped clean up the kitchen. We explained that cleaning up was a part of the holiday experience. And then we all pitched in for the final tradition – setting up Grandmother’s 9 foot tall artificial Christmas tree with lights attached.

After testing the lights we hugged all remaining family and packed into the minivan for the trip back to Wilmington. Kim asked Yuhei and Yuri their thoughts about our annual family event. They said it reminded them of New Year’s Day and Senior Adult Day all wrapped into one. Yuri said she really liked the sweet potato casserole and Yuhei added his favorite was mashed potatoes with gravy. The international students also shared how much fun it was to put up the Christmas tree. They took pictures.

On the ride home Kim and I enjoyed recalling the many experiences of this year’s Family Thanksgiving. We gave thanks for being able to share our American traditions with our new friends from Japan. When we looked in the back of the van, the students including our two home from school were fast asleep. Love and turkey will do that to ya you know.

Story by Marc Wyatt, CBF Field Personnel, Internationals Team

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