In my half-century of service as a minister of Jesus Christ, one critical focus has emerged as the key to having a great and memorable Feast. In my experience, the amount of available funds and the temporary dwelling that you live in for eight days are subordinate to this important element.
Allow me to share it with you: I write here of the godly attribute of gratitude.
The opposite of being grateful is being an ingrate, a person who lacks appreciation or permits a self-centered “what about me” attitude to get in the way of humbly giving thanks. Judgmental criticism can emerge here.
On the other hand, people who are grateful reflect what Paul wrote to the Philippians: “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have...I have learned the secret of living in every situation…For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13 Philippians 4:11-13  Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.
 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.
 I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.
American King James Version×, New Living Translation, emphasis added throughout).
My wife Bev and I have experienced this firsthand, particularly in the Feasts we have observed in Africa. There in rural areas we slept under bed nets (to fend off malaria-carrying insects) in stifling heat, accompanied in some instances by visits from large African spiders and poisonous centipedes—Bev goodnaturedly named one such large spider “Goliath” after he continued to take up a position in our room every evening.
Despite these unusual issues, we experienced great Feasts there, ones whose memories we cherish. We formed incredible relationships at those Feasts that remain today.
Many have similar experiences. I want to share this story from Aaron Dean, a Council of Elders member and our international advisor, who frequently has traveled to challenged areas of the world. Aaron and his wife, Michelle, once volunteered to serve at the first Feast of Tabernacles held in the remote southern delta region of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). Despite visa issues and facing daunting challenges (like nearby genocide conditions in areas of Myanmar), the Deans experienced a remarkable festival. They started by flying 12,000 miles to Bangkok, Thailand, then 1 hour to Yangon, Myanmar to begin their trek. He writes:
“We had a translator for the first Feast held in the southern delta region of Myanmar (Burma) in the village of Sakhangyi, but no elder.
“Sakhangyi is a village about a nine-hour car ride from Yangon, with increasingly minimal roads, deep into the delta region off the Indian Ocean. The government does not let foreigners stay in the village and held our passports each night. We stayed in a small, outdated hotel on the river with no restaurant and only cold water. It had air conditioning, but only a choice between ‘max’ (freezing), or ‘off’ (sweating).
“Each morning we took an open-air tuk-tuk [a large motorized tricycle] for a mile to the river. Then about an hour long tail-boat trip with an open diesel engine sitting on the wooden bottom, riding up the river to Sakhangyi. We walked to the temporary building, a 50 x 30-foot tarp-covered sand floor, open-sided bamboo structure with thatched roof overhead; built by the members and some village relatives in six days the week before.
“After the sermonette, special music (almost everyone plays an instrument or sings) and giving the sermon each day, we walked to a member’s home about 200 yards from the building, where the members gave us the best that they had for lunch, usually chicken and rice with tea. We brought toys, balloons and puzzles for the children.
“We then walked a quarter mile to meet the boat for the hour ride back, a couple of times in the midst of a monsoon downpour with the engine boy bailing water out the back. It reminded me of Paul’s being ‘in the deep’ (2 Corinthians 11:25 2 Corinthians 11:25Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
American King James Version×). On arrival, we would ride the tuk-tuk to a restaurant on the river where no one spoke English, not even the shopkeepers. The menu was Sanskrit, so you couldn’t even phonetically pronounce anything. Our young member interpreter, Naw eh Sue, told us the clean food numbers, so we could point to them when ordering. Most were quite good, with us ordering family-style trying about six courses, with the local beer and ice cream to finish. Dinner for four was about $8.
“The next day the routine was repeated, sometimes in rain and sometimes in humid sunshine. Michelle wore travel pants on the boat but took a skirt to change into, as the members dressed in their very best. Their concern for us was overwhelming, as was our love for them.
“The experience was more like Indiana Jones at times, but people make a place—and members were wonderful to us. Don’t think you need a luxury resort to enjoy the feast. Going to a more rugged site in a developing country can be an inspiring experience and make you want the Kingdom more than ever.”
The Deans set a great example of grateful service, focusing on worshiping God in whatever condition they found. Such is the power of spiritual gratitude.
As I wrote in my recent letter, this Feast will be different from ones in the past. I’m still thankful to go to a Feast even with the social distancing measures and inconveniences of this pandemic. Because of dramatically varied conditions, several of our traditional Feast sites have been canceled, and others are out of bounds to transfers. Church plans have changed several times in the past two months as Ministerial and Member Services has sought the best solutions.
I know that some people will not be able to go to the Feast at all, and others are anxious of being in a large crowd for eight days. Some will stay home to protect themselves. We respect that. As Paul tells us: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 Philippians 2:3Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
American King James Version×, English Standard Version).
Recently in the Ambassador Bible College classes that I teach, we have been studying practical lessons in being disciples of Jesus Christ, based on the book of James. We are learning that faith is more than an intellectual understanding of God’s existence. It is shown in works—in deeds. James writes: “Now someone may argue, ‘Some people have faith; others have good deeds.’ But I say, ‘How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds’” (James 2:18 James 2:18Yes, a man may say, You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
American King James Version×, NLT). The point? “We are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone… Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works” (verses 24, 26).
What are these good works? “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up,” says Paul to us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 1 Thessalonians 5:11Why comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also you do.
American King James Version×(English Standard Version). James adds an important dimension here: “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so…Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:10 James 3:10Out of the same mouth proceeds blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not so to be.
American King James Version×, 13, ESV).
In light of all this, as we come into this Holy Day season, I invite you to re-read chapters 13-15 of Romans. As Paul writes, “clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14 Romans 13:14But put you on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.
American King James Version×, NLT).
In the days ahead, let us observe God’s Holy Day season in a spirit of gratitude, truly grateful that we have the opportunity to encourage and build one another up, showing our good works by putting off the old man or woman of self-centered focus (Ephesians 4:22-24 Ephesians 4:22-24  That you put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
 And that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
American King James Version×).
The choice is ours. Let us be grateful and appreciative, fulfilling our Savior’s command that we actively show real love for one another!