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