Christmas songs and Third World Violence

It’s my “airport day,” flying from my home in Colorado to the West African nation of Liberia, where, after 18 years of brutal civil war, they are enjoying a very fragile peace and trying to rebuild a country that was quite literally destroyed.

The Colorado Springs airport – my ‘home’ airport is small, easy to navigate and today filled with festive Christmas decorations and piped in Christmas music.  It’s the usual fare – ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas tree,” several Elvis versions of classics, and just now, one of my new ‘favorites’ which so aptly sets the tone for this trip.

Natalie Cole, daughter of the famous crooner, Nat King Cole recorded her version of “Grown up Christmas list” some years ago.  In fact, the first time I heard it was about ten years ago.  I was in my car, about this time of year, having just returned from our African refugee camp project when I listened to the tune.

As the lyrics go, the singer is remembering fond memories of sitting on Santa’s lap as a child with a list of what she wanted for Christmas.  The twist is that now she has a “grown-up Christmas list,” which builds as the song’s chorus and is quite moving musically.  But that first time I heard it, all I could think about were the thousands of refugees I had met, who had seen their lives torn apart because of war and violence.

No more lives torn apart,

That wars would never start,

That love would heal all hearts.

Every one would have a friend,

And right would always win,

And love would never end,

This is my grown up Christmas list.

Both saccharine and sentimental to be sure, but the first time I heard this chorus, while driving in my car, I wept – images of my Congolese friends whose lives had most certainly been ‘torn apart.’

Today I’m listening without the obvious tears, but can’t help but consider once again, where I’m headed.  Liberia is one of the poorest nations on earth, reeling from war and economic ruin, where there is likely no “Christmas season” but rather the daily struggle to simply survive.

I grew up in a very ‘normal’ middle-class Lutheran home where nobody I knew ever traveled, well, much of anywhere.  Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine my life today.  Yet, back when I was in Lutheran parochial school, probably 5th or 6th grade, missionaries from Liberia came to our church.  I recall crying as I saw the slides of their work and heard their stories.  I do remember, in my simple ‘Lutheran’ way, asking God if there was any way I could help these people?  Little did I know the plans He had for me, and little do any of us know how God can and will fulfill his plans in our lives!

“I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…”  Jer. 29:11


4 thoughts on “Christmas songs and Third World Violence

  1. I love that song, too. It always seems so odd that we have this month long shopping frenzy and time of excess to celebrate the birth of our Savior. What does one have to do with the other? The needs in this world and the things that would bring real hope and healing have so much more to do with compassion and reaching out to one another in love. It always blesses me to see how God has brought you full circle from the child whose heart was moved with compassion for those who were hurting to the man who travels half way around the world to “help these people” in some way. I know God was the one who put that simple desire in your heart and equipped you to be of service. Be blessed, my friend! And may God use you powerfully!

  2. Thank you, Steve! I love how you write. As I read your comments, I had a flashback of my parochial school days; a snapshot of myself wearing a little blue & white uniform, sitting in the weekly Chapel and daily Bible Classes with my white friends in my white city on a white Christmas.

    I remember seeing many a slide-show presentation intended to broaden our understanding of our world and to educate us about the needs that exist in other countries. But when the bell rang and we all headed to the next class, to lunch or to volleyball practice, the pictures we saw became lost in the background. The images got fuzzy as our focus “adjusted”. Bless you for being one who did not forget that which God moved on your heart to do all those years ago.

    I’m curious. As you recall the images you saw and the stories you heard about Liberia as a child, what are the contrasts/similarities (if any) when you compare them with what you see in Liberia today?

  3. A couple of interesting quotes I ran across as I was researching the Liberia of the 70’s, 80’s & ’90’s compared with the Liberia of 2012:

    “Great war leaves the country with three armies – an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves”. ~German Proverb

    (I think we should add a fourth army…well-equipped pastors spreading the
    message of God’s love & salvation. I can even think of a fifth army; those who
    receive & believe that message. We can pray that the other three armies will be
    either outnumbered or recruited!)

    “Give me the money that has been spent in war and I will clothe every man, woman, and child in an attire of which kings and queens will be proud. I will build a schoolhouse in every valley over the whole earth. I will crown every hillside with a place of worship consecrated to peace”. ~Charles Sumner

    (As those fourth and fifth armies recruit from & outnumber the other three,
    you think this could happen?)

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