One of the most striking cultural differences I noticed during our time in Liberia was the thankfulness of the people. Granted, Americans aren’t known for being particularly grateful (especially in light of our conveniences) but the level of gratitude that I saw from the people of Liberia was humbling.

Our first day at the orphanage, we took a walk around the town of Camp Four. We had many people introduce their-selves and ask questions like what we were doing so far out into the county. But nearly everyone we talked to would thank us at least once for coming. “Thank you for coming to Liberia,” or “Thank you for coming all the way to Camp Four” were common refrains. These people didn’t even know us or receive anything from us but they were grateful for four Americans taking the far journey to their small town in the bush of Africa.

african children of different ages on a dirt road in front of a house with two motorcycle tires for games
Children in Camp Four

But more significantly people thanked God for their blessings. At church gatherings they would thank God for allowing them to come “because many who wanted to be here today were unable to come and some have fallen asleep”. Even when we gave out gifts, many of our friends thanked God for what they were given. And they were right. It was God who provided the donations we handed out. It was God who provided the funds for us to travel. It was God who got us safely to the orphanage. In reading the letters that the children at the orphanage wrote us, it is clear that Ma and Pa Jonah have been raising them up to thank God. One of the boys wrote

Thank God for your coming here. Your coming here means a lot to  me.”

Even when speaking to us, they gave God the praise just like Paul did in Romans 1:8 where Paul says

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.

I’ve tried to take some of that thankfulness with me. When I pray, I’ve been trying to recognize more of the blessings that I would normally skip over. Am I thankful for my job, for the car that allows me to travel, for the people who have supported me, for people who teach me the word of God? From our perspective, the things we have often seem ordinary but people come from all kinds of circumstances. And wherever we have come from, we have not made it on our own.

hand written letter addressed to bekah and anthony with drawings
Letter from one of the boys at the orphanage

Recently Bekah was reading in Acts chapter 3 where the Apostle Peter heals a crippled man. The man’s response struck me as being very similar to the reaction of the people of Liberia when they are blessed.

"He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. " Acts 3:8  NIV

The crippled beggar in Acts recognized that such a gift of healing can only come from God and in his joy he publicly gave God praise, not the man through whom that gift came. I think sometimes we are uncomfortable doing this. Even if I know that God showed me grace in some way, I don’t always give God the credit when I tell the story. I don’t want to share the God who has placed me where I am and provided for me with other people because I don’t want to be outcast. However, by not sharing what God has done, I make God the outcast; the one who doesn’t belong despite all he’s done.

On the flip side of the spectrum, we should avoid cheapening praising God to just a cultural phrase. In any place where Christianity is the majority religion, we need to make sure that our words about God convey meaning. Using God’s name in vain doesn’t just condemn using the phrase “Oh my God” flippantly. We need to make sure our “praise God” means “give God praise” not “I’m a good person”. And this is where true thankfulness is difficult. It requires consciously recognizing that what we have has been given to us.

I hope that thanksgiving is not a once a year thing in our society. Beyond that, I pray that we don’t misplace our thanksgiving. While it is good to thank those who have immediately helped us. we cannot loose sight of the creator who provides for us through others.

Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
 make known his deeds among the peoples!
Sing to him, sing praises to him;
 tell of all his wondrous works!
Glory in his holy name;
 let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
Seek the Lord and his strength;
 seek his presence continually!
Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
 his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,

Psalm 105:1-5

Originally published at on August 31, 2015.