Thanksgiving provides a natural way to the gospel – Update Alaba

Everyone huddled excitedly around the Thanksgiving holiday. Tables overflowed with sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, pumpkin and pecan pies. The turkey was cooked to a perfect golden brown. The juice rolled down the sides of the meat bowl like someone was carving.

The picture was perfect. Phones immediately came out of their pockets to document this not-so-traditional feast in Lisbon, Portugal. For most, it was the first time they had experienced an American Thanksgiving outside of watching a movie. It was also the first time some heard what the hosts of the celebration were most thankful for – the saving grace of Jesus.

A team of volunteers from Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas prepared 13 Thanksgiving meals in one week to help IMB missionaries Jonathan and Bethany Sharp and local Portuguese believers access the gospel within their community. Cans of pumpkin and cranberry sauce stuffed in Texans’ luggage turned into opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ and be invited back.

‘Cultural Exchange’

“People in Portugal are very interested in anything culturally ‘American,'” Jonathan said. “Such an event becomes a cultural exchange. We share food and praise music and they share back.”

The Sharps held their first Thanksgiving in Portugal nine years ago when they were in language school. They used it to meet their neighbors and practice their Portuguese. With each passing year, the event grew and teams from churches in the USA helped. It became a way to share the gospel in a non-threatening way and mentor local believers.

This year, the Travis Avenue team made it possible to move the festivities outside of their home and church, Igreja Baptista Vida Nova. They partnered with small groups and four church plants to host a cultural exchange in various locations.

Europe is considered the least accessible continent in the world with less than 1% evangelical Christians. The Fort Worth Praying Congregation, their short-term mission team, IMB missionaries, and local believers worked together to address a very real problem in Portugal – loss.

“In one week, we can make more contacts with those who are open to a conversation about the gospel than we could go out every day for a year alone,” Bethany said. The team fed nearly 370 people, with more than half being unchurched people invited by their friends. “It’s an opportunity to be hospitable and be [Christ’s] hands. Talking about culture and food is a great way to bond.”

Easy bridge

Randy Roberts used a historical presentation about an American holiday to teach about culture and entertainment. The Travis Avenue volunteer explained that his family often says what they are “most thankful for” when they gather for a Thanksgiving meal. Roberts said he is thankful for Jesus and explained why by giving his testimony.

The participants sat enthralled by the stories. Bethany said one of the reasons there was an easy bridge to the gospel was that the Portuguese instinctively understood that Texans spent many hours preparing food just for them to experience an American-style Thanksgiving. The team started cooking early each day, sometimes making two feasts and sending them in different directions.

“The responses to something as simple as a Thanksgiving meal were so exciting,” volunteer Melody Freeman said during a short break from cooking.

Texans got hugs, handshakes, and lots of “thank yous,” but their favorite response was when they found someone open to hearing the gospel. Bill Falkner was able to share one-on-one with many people without being “in your face aggressive, he explained. However, he was most excited about working with the local believers throughout the week.

“We were able to encourage fellow believers and local pastors,” said Falkner of his Travis Avenue team.

“God is lifting them up. We just came to help.”

Every Portuguese church plans to follow up with guests after the holidays. Working alongside the Texans gave them confidence. They saw that they could have a spiritual impact on their community.

“This is what these Thanksgiving dinners do. It allows us to meet people we have never met, share the gospel and have the connections to invite them to Bible study groups,” said Bethany. “All have heard the gospel.”


EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by Sue Sprenkle and originally published by the International Mission Board.

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