Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee was one of three women to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this morning. According to the Nobel committee, Leymah was honored for mobilizing women “across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women’s participation in elections.” Leymah is a founding member of the Women in Peacebuilding Program/West African Network for Peacebuilding (WIPNET/WANEP). The other Peace Prize recipients were Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen.
Women of the ELCA has a long relationship with Leymah: She was a keynote speaker at the Triennial Gathering in Spokane,Wash., in July. She recently visited the churchwide office of Women of the ELCA in Chicago while on tour promoting her new book, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War. We hosted her for a presentation at the Lutheran Center on September 19.
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 Eva Jensen, former ELCA global mission personnel. 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 forLiberia. 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’s story inspires us as women of faith to have the courage to work for peace and justice wherever we are—we can make a difference, just as our Lutheran sister has in her country. We congratulation her and celebrate her recognition!
Kate Sprutta Elliott is editor of Gather, the magazine of Women of the ELCA.