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Thanksgiving is an Immigration Story

A Letter from Jhan Dotel-Vellenga and Ian Vellenga, serving in Nicaragua

Fall 2023

Write to Ian Vellenga
Write to Jhanderys Dotel-Vellenga

Individuals: Give online to E132192 in honor of Ian and Jhanderys Dotel-Vellenga’s ministry

Congregations: Give to D500115 in honor of Ian and Jhanderys Dotel-Vellenga’s ministry

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).


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Dear friends,

Yes! Thanksgiving is a tradition based on immigration.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie

Often, I stop to think about the fact that in the past couple of years, I have been an immigrant in many places (including in Nicaragua where Ian, Marcella and I currently work and live). Like many, I moved to the United States in search of a better education but also with the expectation of having a better life and future. I remember reading about Thanksgiving as a celebration of those who came to America searching for a new place to live and found not only a home but also freedom and hope. I first experienced Thanksgiving at seminary, and there was always a celebration full of food and love, but mainly we got to share a little about our cultures and different backgrounds. I came to love Thanksgiving and enjoy the act of sharing and celebrating with those we care about as an expression of care and fraternity.

Thanksgiving is an immigration story that marks the beginning of America as a nation of immigrants since 1621, but it is also a tradition that gives us the opportunity to welcome newcomers to the place that many generations (now) call home. Over the years we have forgotten the real origin of this celebration and have not always reciprocated the unselfishness that the first settlers received. I have been very fortunate to have found that generosity and kindness in many of the places I have visited and lived, and for that, I am beyond grateful.

As Ian, Marcella and I celebrate our Thanksgiving here in Nicaragua surrounded by ex-pats but also locals, it is my hope that as we all rejoice with our family and friends old and new, we stop for a moment to remember all of those less fortunate and who are in search of the same things those who immigrated before America was even a nation were searching for. Let us honor these traditions by caring for the needs of our neighbors and by continuing to be welcomers ourselves.

Feliz Dia de Accion de Gracias, from us to you and all of yours.

Jhan and Ian

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