Several years ago, when I was serving with my husband as a Mission Leader in the Dominican Republic, I went through a long period where I was unable to sleep, due to the noise level of the house across the street, which belonged to someone who fancied himself the king of parties in Santiago.  He sponsored parties on every weekend and often on weekdays, which would go until four or five o’clock in the morning.  He would have live bands playing at earsplitting levels.  In addition, the mission home was in an area that was often hit by thieves, so every home had an alarm system.  There routinely were nights when 3-7 alarms went off during the night, waking me.

As the time dragged on and my insomnia became worse, I spent many days functioning on only three or four of hours of sleep.  It was taking a toll!  This went on for a  number of months.  Then one night, inexplicably I got 8 hours of sleep.  I couldn’t believe it.  I was so grateful that I teasingly said to my husband, “I feel like I need to offer a burnt offering of thanksgiving.”  His response surprised me.  He suggested that we make lunches.  I thought, “What in the world???”  But then, as soon as he suggested it, I realized what he was thinking.  I thought, “This is perfect!”

We often passed a large garbage dump near the Haitian border, encompassing many acres of steaming, rotting trash, where many Haitians worked as “ragpickers”.  They would comb the heaps of trash for recyclables or any items of value.  They were guarded by Dominican soldiers with machine guns, to make sure they didn’t “escape” into the Dominican Republic.  They were of course, filthy because of their work, and were stick thin.  John suggested that we make lunches for them.  So, we made dozens and dozens of lunches.  We also had a large bag of soaps, shampoos, toothbrushes, etc. we had gathered from different hotels.  We divided those into many individual packets.  Then we drove to the garbage dump.

When we tried to explain to the Dominican soldiers what we were doing, they were very skeptical and refused to let us enter.  They suggested it wouldn’t be safe for us to take anything into the dump as we would be engulfed and likely mobbed by the hungry workers.  I insisted that we would be safe.  I told the soldiers I was confident that workers would react respectfully and not violently.  The soldiers were very hesitant,  but finally, we prevailed.  With soldiers on both sides of us with machine guns at the ready, we pulled our van into the dump, opened up the back door of the van and brought out our lunches.  I was praying that we would be safe.

It was beautiful. The workers all lined up respectfully.  We were able to give a lunch and a bag of soaps to many workers.  They were so grateful!  They thanked us over and over again.  We smiled, shook their hands, and assured them that they were special to God.  There was no rushing the van, no pushing or shoving.  When we ran out of lunches, the remaining workers simply shuffled away.  They actually thanked us for coming!!  I thought, “Why, oh why didn’t we make hundreds of lunches?!”  The guards were stunned.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.

Okay, so it wasn’t a burnt offering.  It was a simple offering to God for some of His children who were suffering.  But I don’t remember ever feeling happier.  I also distinctly felt that God was also happy. He had accepted my offering!

As a child, hearing Old Testament stories read by my mother, I often wondered about the practice of offering burnt offerings at times of great thanksgiving.  I wondered why people would want to kill animals and why God would want them to?  I’m thinking of Adam offering a burnt sacrifice after leaving the Garden of Eden.  God actually commanded him to do it.  Later, Noah offered a burnt sacrifice.  For him, that must have been a pretty painful sacrifice, given the paucity of animals at that time!  And yet, the account in Genesis conveys a feeling of joy, rejoicing and thanksgiving.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all offered burnt offerings in gratitude.  So did many prophets of Israel at the request of the king at times of national peril, as they pled for miracles of protection and success.  At other times, Israel offered burnt offerings as a sign of gratitude for overcoming national peril.

As I’ve matured and had more opportunity to travel the world, I’ve come to realize how great a sacrifice it must have been for these people in ancient times.  Even today, in visiting countries in South America, I was often surprised to learn that the chickens belonging to a family, actually slept in the house at night with the family.  They were too precious to risk losing!

In other countries, it is not uncommon to have a goat or even a cow cared for indoors.  In India, a cow is so precious that it often comes before the children of the house in receiving medical care.  Owning a cow in India is a sign of having been blessed by God and is a status symbol.  Cows not only provide milk which is a great form of protein, but the cow dung is often used to create the flooring of their homes, because it packs so strongly.  It is also valuable for fertilizing the family garden plots.  The dung is also formed into large round patties and dried in the sun, which are then used as fuel for fires.  In some states of India, until recently it was very common to see a woman following behind a cow with her hands ready to catch the dung in her hands so that none would escape.  Cows are venerated as a God in India.

It is hard for me to understand how a family would willingly sacrifice such a valuable animal.

The law of animal sacrifice is no longer with us.  So, what do we do in times of great gratitude?  I know what we do in times of great peril or when we need an extra blessing by God.  Typically, we fast and pray.  I have found in my own life, that when such a prayer is granted, I feel moved to show God by some action, just how grateful I am.  But how?

The Lord said in D&C 59:21, “And in nothing doth man offend God and against none is his wrath kindled save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.”  As disciples of Christ, we are commanded:  “Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things.   (D&C 59:7) 1 Thess 5:18: In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.  Mos 26:39 speaks of being commanded of God to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things.  Alma 7:23: asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.

Notice the command over and over again is to give thanks in ALL things.   I believe that peace, joy and healing can be found by giving thanks.  Each of us has a way of giving thanks that is unique to us.  Sometimes a bowed head and a whispered, heartfelt prayer of gratitude feels sufficient.  Sometimes, like my experience with the ragpickers, we feel invited to reach out and serve God’s children.  Sometimes, we feel to acknowledge blessings by sharing public acknowledgement of His goodness.  I have a friend who doubles her Fast Offering when she is feeing especially grateful.  I believe God accepts and rejoices in all efforts to thank Him.  Why?  Because He knows what blessings gratitude brings to those who offer it!

In our work in India with families whose lives are impacted by leprosy, we are required to have our license renewed every five years.  Each time we get a renewal we immediately begin to fast and pray for the next renewal.  We feel like it takes the full five years for us to petition for this blessing!  Without a license we would be completely unable to run our charity and so many lives would be affected.

Nearly eight years ago, we were due to have our license renewed but at that time, India began to deny the licenses of many foreign charities.   Charities not receiving a suspension, were not granted renewals.  Instead, they were put on a delay for six months.  We renewed our prayers and tried to strengthen our faith.  Six months later, the approvals were delayed for another six months.  Aaaaaa!  This happened several more times.  In the meantime, we kept hearing of more and more charities receiving suspensions of their licenses.  Panic!

We were beginning to feel frantic.  While our leaders and Board members had joined together in several fasts, we still felt a need to find a way to increase our faith more.  We explained to the students at our schools what our predicament was.  India has a great tradition of fasting, thanks to Mahatma Gandhi.  We encouraged our students to honor that tradition and join with us in a fast.  Each of them who was willing to join, would forego their breakfast the next day.  The students were quite somber, realizing that all their dreams were on the line.

The next day, we were stunned when every child chose to participate in the fast.  In brought tears to our eyes.  But then at lunchtime, when we had our kitchen staff prepare the noon meal, one of the students asked our leaders if they were also going to eat.  Prakash, our National General Manager, explained to the students that adults usually fasted for 24 hours, so he and the other staff would not be joining the students for lunch.  At that, all the nearly 400 students decided together that they, too, extend their fast for 24 hours!

Hundreds of students, of all ages, observed a 24-hour fast, for the first time in their lives.  Still, the license didn’t come. Instead, across India, there was another six-month delay announced. . . .

Months went by.  We continued to hold days of fasting and prayer.  Several of our partners had their licenses suspended.  I felt that our faith was truly being tested.  Then, finally, the miracle came.  I got a call from a tearful Prakash, announcing that we had received our renewal.  Hallelujah!  I was so overcome with gratitude that I wanted to offer God a burnt offering.  But, of course, that wasn’t possible!  So instead, at Rising Star Outreach we proclaimed a day of fasting and gratitude.  Instead of fasting to petition God for a blessing, we fasted to thank God for a blessing received—a gratitude fast.  I finally understood the great rejoicing suggested by the scriptures at the offering of a burnt sacrifice.

We all find our own ways of expressing our love and gratitude to God for His incredible blessings in our lives.  There are, however,  simply some occasions when we want to do more than just say thanks.  While we can’t offer burnt offerings anymore, perhaps there are other ways we can experience the rejoicing, gratitude and joy of offering a special thanks.  These are just a couple of ideas.  I’m sure you have more.