Bringing peace and hope to LiberiaParticipants on the 25th Annivesary Trip to Liberia in late 2012 met with Leymah Gbowee. Pictured here, left to right, are Valora K Starr, Women of the ELCA director for discipleship; Mae Helen Jackson, Chicago, Il.; Leymah Gbowee; and Stephanie Lewis, Shamokin Dam, Pa.
In a Facebook status today, April 3, Leymah Gbowee reminded us: “Ten years ago on this day, a few of us—sick and tired of the Liberian civil war—joined forces and started the women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Campaign. We had three major agenda items: immediate unconditional ceasefire, a fruitful dialogue by the warring parties and the deployment of an intervention force. Ten years today, we can say we were successful; not only did we achieve the three agenda items, we also achieved an unprecedented bonus: Africa’s first female president.” For this work Gbowee was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
“We thank God for the women of Liberia who brought peace to their country,” says Linda Post Bushkofsky, executive director of Women of the ELCA, on this 10th anniversary. “They inspire us all.”
Women of the ELCA has a long relationship with Gbowee. While she was a keynote speaker at the organization’s Triennial Gathering in Spokane, Wash., in July 2011, Lutheran women first learned of the Liberian women’s peace efforts in the January/February 2004 issue of Lutheran Woman Today (now Gather) magazine in an article “Lutheran Liberian Women Unify for Peace,” written by Eva Jensen, former ELCA global mission personnel. In what is likely one of the first accounts of what would become a worldwide story of inspiration, Eva wrote,
“Leymah Gbowee, president of the women’s organization at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in the capital city of Monrovia, and Comfort Freeman, president of the National Lutheran Church Women in Liberia, began organizing WIPNET Liberia in June 2002. In their daily life and work, Gbowee and Freeman recognize the reality that Liberia’s people — individually and collectively — have been traumatized by war.
‘By virtue of where we sit, the people of Liberia have hope,’ said Gbowee, referring to the women who began their daily sit-in for peace in mid-April on the Monrovia Airfield next to the main road leading into the city. Under the hot sun and in pouring rain, the women of Liberia gathered to convey their commitment to peace. They gathered to protest the actions of all who perpetuate Liberia’s violent civil war. ‘Some say we are an embarrassment to the government,’ Gbowee continued, ‘but sun and rain are better than the bullets of war. Our vision is for the unity of families and the elimination of hunger and disease. We believe God’s hands are under us in this effort now. God has turned ears toward us.’”
One year later, in the January/February 2005 issue of the magazine, Leymah told her own story in an article, “Persistence and Peace.” In it she wrote,
“We had been pushed as women to our physical, psychological, and spiritual limits. We had been pushed to the wall, and we had two options. We could either fight back, or we could give up. For us, giving up was not an option. We would fight back.
“Christian and Muslim women from all walks of life in Liberia decided ‘enough is enough.’ We would take the destiny of this tiny nation into our own hands by embarking on a journey called peace activism. We had no knowledge of how long it would take or the financial implications, but we were determined to make things right.”
Leymah goes on to tell how her faith informed their work for peace:
“If I were to say that this has been done on our own, I would be lying. I feel that God has ordained our work. We’ve done, and we continue to do, what God has called us to do for Liberia. When my kids tell me, ‘Mama, when we really needed you, we stayed in Ghana and you stayed in Liberia.” I can proudly knock my chest and say, ‘I did a work for peace, a peace that has a home today.’….
“I believe very strongly that when God created women, God put something in us that was exhibiting itself within that parable of the widow and the unjust judge — persistence. Perhaps in the parable Jesus was saying, ‘Go deeper within yourself. God has given you a double portion of determination, a double portion of resilience, a double portion of perseverance. You can do anything that you put your heart to do.’”
Leymah tells more of her story in the 2011 book Mighty Be Our Powers. The acclaimed documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” also tells the story of the courageous women who brought peace to Liberia.