When we think of the first Thanksgiving, images of English colonists and native Wampanoag people often come to mind. History tells us they gathered together in 1621 to celebrate a successful harvest, marking an extraordinary moment when two vastly different cultures came together. It was an occasion where different races of people who didn’t speak the same language, dress the same, worship the same and so on, came together to share food.
On Saturday, November 20, 2021, another first Thanksgiving was happening in Raleigh, North Carolina. Similar to that historic first Thanksgiving 400 years ago, it involved people of different races, languages and cultures who came together in celebration and to share a meal.
Ridge Road Baptist Church of Raleigh hosted the first Thanksgiving meal for the immigrant/refugee guests of Welcome House Raleigh. A group of about 35 people gathered on the church grounds to share a traditional American Thanksgiving meal with these new neighbors. The guests were Congolese and Afghan refugees, including several that are new arrivals in the United States and our state. It was the first Thanksgiving—celebration and meal—for all of the refugee guests.
Volunteers from Ridge Road Baptist and Welcome House Raleigh staff and volunteers provided the hospitality. Much of the traditional American Thanksgiving food was served. Children played games, did crafts and created sidewalk chalk drawings. Stories were shared and new friendships began. New neighbors who escaped violence and suffering felt welcome in this foreign land.
The radical hospitality and love of Jesus was on full display at this first Thanksgiving.
“We wanted to do something that was actually needed around Thanksgiving such as providing a meal. We talked with CBF Field Personnel Kim and Marc Wyatt and they told us they had been considering doing something like this for Welcome House guests,” said Trey Davis, pastor of Ridge Road Baptist-Raleigh. “It felt like a natural connection so we ran with it.”
“Our church is always looking for opportunities to help others. Coming out of the pandemic-months, we were also looking for something that would help us reactivate. Sharing a meal with people in our community who are looking for the opportunity to connect seemed like a good fit. For us, meeting with them and talking over a dinner plate was a great way to learn a little of their stories,” Trey added. “We’re hoping that we might be able to do something similar in the future and that this could grow.”
Yasmin is a refugee that arrived with her family in North Carolina three years ago. She and two of her siblings graduated from high school in June and she is now attending Wake Tech Community College while also working part-time as an interpreter for a local refugee agency. Yasmin was a guest at Ridge Road’s Thanksgiving celebration and she says, “We are so grateful to be coming together here. It’s really good to be seeing each other and I’m so thankful to God to be having our families together.”
Amanda Atkin is part of the Welcome House Raleigh team and helped provide hospitality during the Thanksgiving celebration at Ridge Road Baptist. “Welcome House reminds me that I am not powerless in face of all that is wrong in this world. I can use the superpower of hospitality and then watch in gratitude and amazement as God brings forth the new,” she said.
Welcome House Raleigh is part of CBFNC’s Welcome House Community Network, a collaborative partnership between CBFNC, CBF Field Personnel Kim and Marc Wyatt, churches and individuals to provide hospitality ministry to vulnerable neighbors throughout North Carolina.