I was privileged to go to Russia with a church mission group in the mid-1990s a few years after the Wall had come down and U.S.-Soviet relations had mellowed. We flew from Dallas to Frankfurt to Moscow and spent a few days there looking around and then got on an Aeroflot (the Russian airlines) flight to Tomsk which is in Siberia. We stayed for a week at a Russian orphanage doing repair work to the buildings there and making friends with the children and staff. Everyone was so very nice to us, despite the language barrier. I learned a few phrases in Russian that I used liberally and had my little Russian guidebook in my hand most of the time to resort to finding an answer if I found myself in a jam. One word that I learned and used many times was pronounced "Spa-see-bah" and it means "Thank you." I said it every time someone helped me or gave me something to eat or drink or said something to me that I did not understand. I figured it was a pretty safe word to say.
Each morning many of us Texans would arise early since the sun comes up at about 3 a.m. in the summer in Siberia and does not go down until about midnight or 1 a.m. Many of us could not sleep much so we would be up early and go to a small dining area where we would have some instant coffee. A nice lady would be there at that time of the morning and pour hot water over our instant coffee and we would add sugar or cream if we desired and would enjoy a few cups as we woke up to begin our day. The lady would always smile at us and if I said "Spaseebah" to her she would reply "Prezhaltah" (you are welcome) in a cheerful voice. This went on daily until the last day we were there and as we had our morning coffee and thanked her for it on that last day, her "Prezhaltah" was more weary and strained. I think she was tired of getting up so early for these Americans--a bit weary in well doing.
Being thankful is something that we often take for granted. Many times when we say "Thank you" to someone, they reply, "No problem". I guess that has become the new "You're welcome" to many people. It may be equivalent to "De nada" in Spanish which loosely translates into "it's nothing". When we say "no problem" in reply to a "Thank you" we are saying "it was no sacrifice for me to do this for you" or "it caused me no problem to help you." It is a recognition that what we did to made another say thanks to us was something we do naturally for others or something that is a natural part of our lives. Doing good deeds for others is an outgrowth of a spirit that seeks to be of service to God and neighbor. Saying thanks for those deeds is something we do to show our appreciation. The two work together in harmony.
The people of Israel were reminded not to forget the source of all their blessings. They had traveled across the burning desert to reach the Promised Land and once they were settled into life in that land they were to look around them at how good it was and remember the source of all goodness. We live in a similar place in the United States, a land of bountiful blessings. We enjoy so many blessings that we often fail to consider the source of all of them. God has given us the skills, the good health, the opportunities to achieve and succeed and we return thanks to God for all which we have and know that God is the source of all good things.
So, as you gather around your Thanksgiving Table this holiday season, pause and give God thanks for all the many blessings in whatever language you choose to use....Thank you, Gracias, Merci, Danke Schon, Spaseeba...and I am sure God will speak a "You are welcome" to your spirit in return.