Have you ever wondered how to share a holiday with international students in a culturally sensitive way? Some IFI volunteers in Columbus, Ohio took a step of faith last year and did just that by inviting some Muslim students to a halal Thanksgiving celebration in their home.
Here are some tips that helped them create a successful culturally-sensitive event:
1. WhatsApp for Invitations
As IFI volunteers Pam, Curt, James, Sarah, and Julie made friendships with international students, they connected using a mobile phone app called WhatsApp – which is popular in many Muslim countries. Pam sent an invitation to their WhatsApp group to “Thanksgiving Dinner with halal turkey at our home.” Within 8 hours, 30 students had RSVP’d yes!
2. Avoid Regular Prayer Time
The event was scheduled from 3:00-5:00 so as not to interfere with guests’ prayer times. Muslims pray five times a day and the times change daily. When planning an event for Muslims it is best to look online to find out the exact prayer times for the day of the event and schedule in between those times. If you know your guests well and cannot avoid the prayer times, set up a room for them to wash and pray during the event.
3. Halal Food – Dietary Restrictions
It was clearly stated in the invitation that the meat provided would be halal. Halal is an Islamic term meaning “permitted” and refers both to the type of meat (no pork) and to the way in which it was raised and slaughtered. Halal meat will often be available in local and international supermarkets.
4. Thanksgiving Activities
With the inviting smells of turkey and pies wafting through the house, students began to arrive with the help of James driving students. Pam, Curt, and Julie greeted each one at the door and asked them to write their name on one of three colored name tags to divide them into three color teams.
When everyone had arrived, they divided the color teams into three different rooms of the house and led each team in a 15-minute activity, described below. After 15 minutes, the teams rotated to a new room where a new set of volunteers led them in the next activity.
Room 1: History Quiz
The first room was a fun quiz about Thanksgiving in the USA. After the students took the quiz, they matched their answers to the answer key. The highest score won a prize!
Room 2: What are you thankful for?
In the second room, students were invited to write their names on an envelope and decorate it with things they were thankful for. While they worked, Julie shared with the students about the meaning and importance of thankfulness.
After she shared, she gave students a blank piece of paper and invited them to write something on the paper that they hoped would happen in the coming year and then seal it in the envelope so that they were the only ones who knew their desire.
Before they ended their activity, Julie asked if it was all right to pray for them in Jesus’ name. After receiving their approval, Julie then prayed for them, asking God to bless them and give them their desire, according to His will.
Room 3: A God Story
Students in the third room heard a testimony from Curt, who shared about how God changed his life and taught him to be grateful.
After each group had completed all three activities, they went outside for a group photo* and returned to the house for a Thanksgiving dinner of halal turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, veggies, rolls, cranberry sauce, and pies.
*Please note that some Muslim students will not feel comfortable with their photo being taken. Be sensitive to this and do not force anything. Before taking general pictures of the activities, ask if anyone in the room would prefer not to be photographed.
We love the way Pam, Curt, and Julie tied their stories into their Thanksgiving activities. This allowed them to share the connection between the holiday and their beliefs in a genuine and non-threatening way. Please join us in thanking God for this opportunity to share God’s love with those who have come from so far away.