THE FIRST THANKGIVING
Except for the ending Scriptures, the following is an article I wrote for the newspaper several years ago. Although it is not a typical teaching, I hope it will be a blessing for the holiday.
In America they became the Pilgrims, but they were called Separatists in England because they had separated themselves from the Church of England, which had become corrupt and ungodly. As a result, they were subjected to severe persecution, including imprisonment and even execution.
At first the solution seemed to be a move to Holland, which offered religious freedom. But in Holland they found that, as foreigners, they could get only the most menial and low-paying jobs. For twelve years they put up with working twelve to fifteen hours a day for little money, but they could not put up with the deleterious effect the loose morality of Dutch society was having on their children.
Preparing to Travel to the New World
The New World seemed to be beckoning. However, stories of the deaths at Jamestown, and the knowledge that many had died at sea trying to make the voyage, loomed before them. There were savage Indians, untamed wilderness, and a good possibility of death from disease awaiting them in the New World. In that day, even measles could be deadly, and the infant mortality rate was very high.
However, they reasoned, Jamestown had failed because it was settled for one reason only – to make money. Their motive was quite different. They were willing to sacrifice everything, even their own lives, in order to start a country with freedom and equality. Their generation might see only the struggle, and not the fruition, but their progeny would surely benefit. That was all right with them, for they were people of long-term vision, and not of selfish, short-term motives. And so, selling everything they had, which scarcely brought them enough money to finance the trip, they proceeded.
Divine Care on the Mayflower
There were many problems getting underway, but more serious problems began after they sailed. The trip took nine weeks. For seven of them severe storms raged, and they could not go above deck. The Mayflower journey was no pleasure cruise. One hundred and two people were crammed into a space about the size of a volleyball court, with a five-foot ceiling that made moving around difficult. As the storms bounced the small vessel upon the waves, it pitched and rolled so much that sometimes it seemed it would tip over and they all would drown.
Children cried and screamed all night, and seasickness added to the misery. No cooking could be done for fear of fire. The captain had ordered the hatches battened down because of the storm. Consequently, the room stank with foul and putrid air. Sleep was almost impossible, and irritations mounted, testing everyone’s love and forbearance. So they sang psalms and prayed-through, asking God to give them the ability to withstand this difficult test.
The crew heard the singing, and several of them mocked it. The leader of this group called the voyagers “psalm-singing puke-stockings” and delighted in telling them how much he was looking forward to their dying so that he could throw them overboard and feed them to the fish. Interestingly, this same man fell ill and died within a single day ? even though the same people he mocked showed Christ?s love by tending to his needs. He then became the first to go overboard. Suddenly there was no more mocking from the crew, not even a word.
One John Howland could no longer stand the stench of the place. Although the captain had strictly ordered all to stay below deck, John opened a hatch and stepped out to get some fresh air. It hit him with a freezing blast, and then he saw mountainous waves, roiling and churning as they tossed the ship from side to side. A few seconds later he was thrown out into the icy ocean, where death by hypothermia would have been certain after about five minutes.
Nevertheless, miraculously Howland did not die. Instead, as he hit the freezing water and began to lose consciousness, the ship rolled so far over that one of her lines trailed the water and somehow made its way around his wrist. He instinctively grasped it. Soon one of the crew spotted him, and he was hauled on board, alive.
Halfway through the trip, the most significant incident occurred, when the wind blew down a huge cross beam that supported the mainmast. The crew and the ship’s captain saw no hope after this, but one of the pilgrims prayed, saying, “Yet Lord, thou canst save!” Then he remembered a large screw that belonged to his printing press. It was brought out and used to pull the wood back together again, and the journey continued.
Clear Evidence of God’s Intervention
The first winter was difficult; almost half of the Pilgrims went to heaven before spring came. Nevertheless, God’s divine approval was evident. The Mayflower was blown to a different shore than they intended, but where they landed the land was already cleared and ready for planting. It turned out that the land had belonged to the Patuxets, a hostile tribe that had murdered all previous settlers. The Patuxets, however, had all died of a mysterious plague four years prior to the Pilgrims’ arrival.
Next, an Indian named Squanto, who had learned English from traders who had kidnapped him and taken him to England, surprised the Pilgrims by walking into their camp and offering his services. Squanto had become a Christian years before by asking Jesus Christ to forgive him of his sins and turning his life over to Him. He was the godsend they needed for survival. He taught them to plant corn and fertilize it with fish and to catch eels and beaver pelts. Squanto even helped them in business by making certain they got a fair price for the pelts. He also acted as a liaison for the Pilgrims to make peace with the Indians around them – a peace that lasted over forty years.
A Model for Today
The Pilgrims thanked God for all circumstances, because of their faith in Him. They were willing to sacrifice and give, because they had a sense of eternity in their souls. Their pastor, John Robinson, said of them, “It is not with us as it is with other men, whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause to wish themselves at home again.”
They were also not bigots. They treated the Indians fairly and won their respect and friendship. In fact, more Indians than Pilgrims were in attendance to celebrate the first Thanksgiving, making it America’s first multicultural event. Let us remember these dedicated and humble people as an example of how we should live today. For the blessings we have now can be traced to their vision, sacrifice, and godly living.
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.” Psalm 100:4-5 (NKJV)
“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”1Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV)
“Giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20 (NKJV)