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Thanksgiving meal brings church, students together

Stephanie Backus/FULTON SUN photos
Students fill out visitor cards during the dinner. The students said they were grateful for the place to have a special dinner during Thanksgiving break.

Stephanie Backus/FULTON SUN photos Students fill out visitor cards during the dinner. The students said they were grateful for the place to have a special dinner during Thanksgiving break.

To many, Thanksgiving is about being grateful for what you have and sharing with those that don’t.

Wednesday afternoon, the members of Saint James United Methodist Church in Fulton put that theory to practice as they invited Westminster College students still in town to a holiday dinner.

“The whole purpose is to offer a Thanksgiving meal to the international students and students who don’t have the opportunity to go home,” said Associate Pastor Joe LaPrise. “It’s a mission for the church. Like the Bible says, ‘Love thy neighbor.’

“It’s a good way of having fellowship and sharing in the bounty.”

Pastor Arnold Parks said the student Thanksgiving dinner “gives us an opportunity to serve this local college community, to be in partnership with the college and be good neighbors.”

Church member Lavore Richmond said he got involved with the event because of memories from his time in the military.

“I remembered how it felt when I was serving and I was away from home and thought it would be a good thing (to help),” Richmond said. “I thought it would be nice to have a good relationship with the students and maybe some of them will want to come occasionally to services and we can be their church home away from home.”

Tim Williams, program director for multicultural student development at Westminster, also helped to coordinate the shared event which he agreed was a good way to bring the church and school together.

“We’re trying to build a bridge with the community of Fulton, and this was a great way to do it,” Williams said.

It was an effort the students certainly appreciated.

“Thank you for making this happen for us, it was very nice of you,” Besa Nikoci, a senior from Albania said to LaPrise when she arrived.

The president of Westminster’s International Club, Nikoci said many of the students in attendance were freshmen and had never experienced Thanksgiving before.

“Since we’re in America we want to share cultures,” Nikoci said. “I have celebrated it, but many freshmen have not, and they’ll be excited.

“I think it’s a great celebration that brings everybody together. Everybody has something to be thankful for, whether they’re Christian, Muslim or Buddhist, it doesn’t matter.”

Bahaa Aldahoudi, a recent graduate from Palestine, said he also enjoys the American holiday — which he has celebrated before.

“I’m here because Robert Childs (a church member who helped cook and transport Wednesday’s holiday feast) is my house dad and I’ve come to this church and helped serve before,” Aldahoudi said. “(Thanksgiving) is a great American holiday. Usually when (international students) come here we share our culture. This is a chance for Americans to share their culture with us.”

Omer Aswad, a sophomore from Iraq who attended with several friends, said he attended the dinner “to get food and learn about a new tradition.”

“(We’re here) to celebrate as a family because we don’t have our families with us, but we’re a family together,” Aswad said of the group.

Friend Taha Alyas, a freshman from Iraq, said he had been looking forward to the event because “it’s interesting to have a dinner in a church.”

Companion Lamis Abumghaiseeb, a sophomore from Iraq, said she also came because “it’s an interesting experience.”

Not all of the students eating turkey and dressing in the basement of Saint James Wednesday were international students. Several others attended because they simply couldn’t afford to return home for the short Thanksgiving break.

Louvis Johnson, a freshman from Florida and Weednel Delphonse, a sophomore from Florida said they came because they were invited and since they were unable to go home, this seemed like a way to celebrate Thanksgiving without their families.

“I just look at it as a blessing and an opportunity,” Johnson said.

“It’s pretty nice (for the church to do this),” agreed Erin Wang, a freshman from California, who noted her favorite part of the holiday usually is “being with friends and family.”

Church leaders said they plan for Wednesday afternoon’s gathering to be the first of many.

“We’re hoping this is just the beginning of joint ventures we can do with Westminster,” Parks said. “We hope that from this one event, others will follow.”

It is an idea that Aswad said was “a very good initiative.”

“We live very close, but we have never been to the church or met people from the church and interacted with them,” Aswad said. “First Baptist organized an event during Halloween that attracted some of our students to come take part in as community service.

“I hope they organize more service events to help students give back to the community and interact more.”

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