For most Americans, Thanksgiving means turkey dinner with more side dishes than there is room on the table. But some of LSU’s international students got their first taste of the traditional meal Monday evening at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry.
Thanksgiving turkey was not the only item on the menu, said Sarah Farley, the ministry’s associate director. Making friendships, building relationships and sharing American culture and Christianity with the 300 students from an estimated 20 nations was why the BCM hosted this fifth annual event.
“Thanksgiving is a traditional American holiday that a lot of international students don’t experience, so we strive here at the BCM to not only provide a spiritual connection but a cultural connection with American culture and life,” Farley said. “So we find Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to talk about an American cultural holiday — Thanksgiving — and, for us as Christians, as Jesus followers, we’re thankful for Jesus and our relationship with him.”
Plates were piled high with turkey — either deep fried or baked — dressing, green bean casserole, corn, sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows, homemade macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce and dinner rolls. Pumpkin pie, brownies and chocolate cookies were served for dessert.
“It’s good!” George Zhao, a graduate chemistry student from China, said of the turkey. “It tastes like chicken.”
All of the food was prepared by a small army of volunteers from Oak Grove Baptist Church, First Baptist Church, The Ring Church and parents of BCM students. About 50 adults and students served the meal and hosted the dozens of crowded tables.
“We prepared six turkeys — three fried and three oven baked,” said the Rev. John Carrigan, pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church.
At the end of the night every serving pan was empty.
Carrigan said he and his wife had in years past hosted an LSU student from China, and it was an experience from which both they and the student benefited.
“So many international students don’t ever get into American homes, and this is sort of a staging area where that might take place, where the BCM can place international students with American families volunteering to get together on a regular basis,” Carrigan said.
After Richard Wright, a college ministry leader, offered a prayer, he suggested the group discuss at each of their tables what they are thankful for.
“I’m thankful for God, for his support, for fresh air and the environment,” Zhao said.
“I’m thankful to be here,” added his friend, Xiao Gaung-En, another grad student from China who also had never tasted a Thanksgiving turkey before.
Eli Roblero, a post-doctoral student in math from Mexico, offered that he was “thankful for my home, my experience to be here, very good friends. People here are very friendly. I’ve found friends from India, China. This is very nice, very unique.”
Angi Wang, another grad student from China, said he was “thankful for friends, my parents, being here and really great turkey; (it) feels like home.”
Along with the food, the evening included music by the Brother’s Bear band, a selection of a cappella songs by the BCM Ensemble and an inspirational message by the Rev. Jeff Ginn, senior pastor of Istrouma Baptist Church.
After they paused for a moment of silence and prayer for the victims of the recent terror attacks in Paris, Ginn talked about the gift God gave to mankind as described in John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life,” he said.
“When you are given a gift, what is the appropriate response?” Ginn asked. “You say ‘thank you.’ That is why we are celebrating Thanksgiving, to give thanks to God for his greatest gift — Jesus Christ.”
As the crowd spilled out into the muggy evening, a group of grad students from Sri Lanka was asked about their experience.
Visal Subasinghedon, who is majoring in chemistry, has been here a couple of months. The meal “was quite good,” he said, and Ginn’s message “speaks pretty much similar to our religion, too.”
Thilini Ukwatstage, a chemistry major, said she has been here for 5 months. She’d eaten turkey before but, “not like this,” adding she was thankful for “everything I have.”
Prabhashi Pidanapathrana, a chemistry major, said she’s been here for four years and had visited the BCM once before, several years ago.
“I liked his (Ginn’s) speech,” she said. “It was, like, applicable for everyday life for everybody.”