As I write, we are still several days away from national elections here in the United States. We clearly don't know the outcome at this juncture, but by the time you receive this letter, it will have been decided. These "midterms" have been said to be among the most important in our nation's history. At stake is the direction this country will move, for good or ill, for decades to come. If progressives win and capture the majority in either the House or Senate, they will create chaos in government like nothing we have seen in recent years. We are praying for a miracle, although we do not deserve it.
Since I can't write knowingly about what the voters are about to do, I want to devote this letter to a review of the history of this great country. Thanksgiving Day will soon be upon us, and it is a time to remember, and to tell our children about the forebears who first came to these shores. It grieves me to know that many boys and girls in public schools are being taught that Thanksgiving is a day to be thankful, but they are not told for whom or what to be thankful. Many educators in public schools are prohibited from teaching gratitude to God or the precious homeland He gave to us. Many will be taught that the settlers set aside a day to show gratefulness to the "Indians" who showed them how to plant corn. That misses the mark by a mile.
I hope you will read the following story to your children who are old enough to understand it. Or, ask your older boys and girls to read it for themselves.
Let's begin with the basics. The Pilgrims were a group of Separatists who broke away from the Church of England in an effort to return to a more biblically based way of life. They immigrated to Holland, where they enjoyed a greater degree of religious freedom but faced a host of other economic and social difficulties. After about a decade, they returned to England and resolved to set sail for the New World, which we know and love as America. On September 16, 1620, 102 passengers boarded the Mayflower with the hope of finding religious freedom and a better way of life.
The 65-day voyage across the strong, storm-tossed Atlantic was itself very dangerous for the Pilgrims. Nevertheless, feeling God's calling, they pressed forward, and sighted Cape Cod on November 19. Hundreds of miles north of their original destination of Virginia, the Mayflower dropped anchor at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts, on November 21. In December, they made their way across the bay to settle at Plymouth. It was near Provincetown that 41 men signed the Mayflower Compact—an agreement that would soon become the basis for government in the Plymouth Colony and would later greatly influence the formation of the United States government. As they looked out at the gray, windswept coast on that cold November day, many of the Pilgrims must have wondered if it really was God's will for them to relocate to this desolate land. Little did they know that the true test of their resolve was yet to come.
That first harsh winter was devastating to the men, women, and children who had already traveled far and sacrificed so much. Poor nutrition, inadequate housing, and the unforgiving winter took their toll. Many died. The new year brought more of the same. Eight perished in January, and 17 in February. By the time spring descended on the North Atlantic coast, nearly half of the original group was gone.
Christopher Jones, the captain of the Mayflower, anchored his ship in the harbor throughout the winter. He felt so sorry for the settlers that he allowed many from the colony to take refuge in the hull of his ship since shelter was scarce and the winter was so fierce. Finally, on April 5, 1621, he decided that he'd had enough, and resolved to return home. I can imagine him standing before his weary passengers imploring, "You must return to England with me. You are dying. Look at the graves up there on the sandy hill. More than half who came are now dead. It's time to go back."
Not one of those remaining settlers left with Captain Jones when he set sail that day. Each one of them felt the call of God deep within his or her heart, and as a group, they refused to go back. Undoubtedly, they were afraid, and they probably didn't have a lot of optimism about the uncertain future lying before them. But, in essence, they said, "We would rather die here and remain true to what our Lord has called us to do than to turn our backs on Him and return to the warm hearth of England."
God bless their memories today.
What an amazing display of faith and resolve in the face of adversity! Without a doubt, it was the Pilgrims' reliance on the Lord that carried them through that incredibly difficult time. Our wonderful nation—the land of the free and the home of the brave—exists today in its present form because those courageous men and women chose to stay here and tough it out rather than to throw in the towel and return to Europe. God used the gritty determination and the spiritual leadership of men such as John Carver, William Bradford, Edward Winslow, and William Brewster—some of our earliest national heroes—to create a firm foundation on which our country would be built.
Other Puritans and subsequent settlers took heart because of the brave example set by the Pilgrims. Their determination—and most importantly, their faith—is evident in many of the beliefs and laws that govern our country today.
The faith that motivated those first settlers is best described in their own words. William Bradford, one of the original leaders who would go on to serve as governor of Plymouth Colony for more than 30 years, wrote a firsthand account of the Pilgrims' journey, called Of Plymouth Plantation. Of the incredible hardships the settlers endured in seeking freedom, he wrote:
"But these things did not dismay them (though they did sometimes trouble them) for their desires were set on the ways of God, and to enjoy His ordinances; but they rested on His providence, and knew whom they had believed."
Mr. Bradford's statement reminds me of the words of Job, who also trusted God amidst his despair, when he said, "Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him" (Job 13:15a NIV).
Looking back on these traumatic events, it's hard to believe that they laid the foundation for the holiday that we now know as Thanksgiving! Despite the trials and difficulties that our forebears endured, the Pilgrims did indeed hold a feast of thanksgiving to praise God after their first harvest in 1621. The Native Americans joined them in this gathering of goodwill, as one of their own, Squanto, had been instrumental in teaching the Pilgrims how to plant corn, and in showing them where to fish and trap beaver.
Bradford wrote, "Squanto continued with them and was their interpreter and was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation."
The following was written by the Apostle Paul while chained in a stinking Roman prison. I'm sure these words were an inspiration to the Pilgrims in their plight, but they were also intended for our encouragement. They read, ". . . for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:11b-13 NIV).
Perhaps that should be the theme of this year's Thanksgiving remembrance. Millions of our countrymen and women will bow their heads and their hearts in humble gratitude for this great land and its Creator. Never in the history of the world has a nation been so blessed as we. As you gather with your families "from sea to shining sea," remember to tell your children again about the sacrifices made by the Pilgrims who helped pass along the freedoms we enjoy today. And may we be eternally grateful for the men and women who shed their blood on battlefields and on ships far from home that we might conquer tyrants and dictators who would have enslaved us. We must never forget what they handed down to our generation and those yet to come. Their faith has been a model for us all.
On a final note, I want to express my deep appreciation for the friends who have prayed for this ministry and given sacrificially that we may continue to teach our message of righteousness and biblical truth. When I left Focus on the Family in 2010 and began the next day to found a new non-profit organization, it was because I felt the hand of the Lord in my back. He said to me then, "Your work is not finished. Marriage and the family are still in jeopardy. Keep doing what I called you to do."
Some well-meaning friends at that time were saying to me, "You have worked hard for many years. Why don't you just retire and take life easy?" It was a seductive argument. I had nothing with which to begin to build a new ministry from scratch. My mailing list consisted of 400 friends from our personal Christmas card register. None of them had wealth, to my knowledge. But once more, I heard the unspoken voice of Jesus Christ. He said, "Trust Me, and I will give you a little help." How graciously He has fulfilled that promise. And He accomplished it through many of you, our friends.
On Thanksgiving Day and beyond, Shirley and I will be praying specifically for our great nation. Not since the Civil War in the 1860s has there been such hatred and strife between us as a people. Jesus said in Luke 11:17, "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall." We desperately need divine intervention to restore a spirit of peace and unity. Will you join us in expressing an urgent appeal to our Heavenly Father?
Blessings to you all,
1. Chuck Colson, "Pilgrim Fathers…and Kids," Breakpoint, November 1999.
2. "Remembering Three Great Journeys," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 19 November 2000, p. F2.
4. Louis J. Salome, "Voyage of 'Pilgrim Fathers,'" The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 23 November 1995, p. A3; Jeff McLaughlin, "Provincetown Wants Record on Mayflower Set Straight," The Boston Globe, 16 April 1995, p. 36.
5. "Remembering Three Great Journeys," op. cit.; Jeff McLaughlin, op. cit.
6. Amy Wilson, "Pilgrims Progress: Long Voyage to Freedom," The Orange County Register, 28 November 1996, p. E1.
7. "Remembering Three Great Journeys," op. cit.; Chuck Colson, "Gobbling Up Tradition: Resisting Thanksgiving Revisionists," Breakpoint, November 1996.
8. Joy Fowler, "The First Thanksgiving," The Cincinnati Enquirer, 24 November 1999, p. A15.
9. Louis J. Salome, op. cit.
10. "Pilgrims Inspire Us to Be Thankful," The Indianapolis Star, 23 November 2000, p. F2.
11. Alison Young, "Puritan William Bradford: His Desire for Religious Freedom Helped Build the Foundation of Our Country," Investor's Business Daily, 19 December 2000, p. A4.
12. William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647. See The Plymouth Colony Archive Project.
13. Chuck Colson, "Dead Pilgrims' Society: Putting the Thanks Back Into Thanksgiving," Breakpoint, November 1997.
14. William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647. See Fordham University.
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