Monday, July 25, 2011

Women of Liberia

A friend emailed me to ask if I had seen the documentary
"Pray the Devil Back to Hell."
"No," I said, "but I would love to."
The next day she dropped it by our house saying,
"I think you need to see this."
Original Artwork--Olaf Hajek       Poster Design--PrettyCo
So I did and took these notes while watching the movie.

It's a story about the incredibly courageous women of Liberia who joined together in 2003 to fast and pray for peace in their country which had been in a horrible civil war for many years. There was hatred between ethnic groups and an enormous gap between the rich and poor. Fear ruled their lives and they were tired of it.

Leymah Gbowee, leader of the peaceful protesters said, "In the past we were silent, but after being killed, raped, dehumanized, and infected with diseases, and watching our children and families destroyed, war taught us that the future lies in saying NO to violence and YES to peace!"
Photo Credit--Michael Angelo for Wonderland
Women rose up out of their silence and started speaking. Inspired by the "Christian Women's Peace Initiative" they formed the "Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Campaign" and got Christian and Muslim sisters to unite together. That was historic. The message they took on was, "Can a bullet pick and choose?" And their banner read, "Women of Liberia want peace now!"

Photo Credit--Pewee Flomoku
Many Liberians moved to refugee camps because of the violence, but there was despicable poverty there and the children were especially being impacted. Regardless, these remarkable women endured in their valiant effort with exemplary character, and despite witnessing the worst horrors of war, still had hope and vitality.

The women began talking to leaders of their churches and mosques informing them of their plans for getting involved in the peace process and breaking their bondage of silence.

With increasing boldness, through radio announcements they called the women of Liberia to rally. To make a greater visual statement, they encouraged women to dress in white as a symbol of peace.

Determined to rally until they got attention from the President, they sat in front of a strategic location--the fish market--praying and singing day after day. They weren't afraid. Their attitude was, "If I get killed just remember I was fighting for peace." The President's convoy would pass this location day after day without acknowledging them.

Their cry onto the streets was: "Peace and no more war; our children are dying. We are tired of suffering. We want peace."

Eventually the Muslim and Christian women soon began to empathize with each other, and thousands of women mobilized their efforts. And finally the women's perseverance paid off--President Taylor agreed to meet with them.  

Photo Credit--Pewee Flomoku
On the back of their shirts is printed "We Want Peace, No More War,"
and on their skirts "Peace Forever."
The women were further emboldened when they heard about the Internal Community's call for peace talks in Ghana. Risking their lives and leaving their families behind, for the sake of peace in their country, a delegation of Liberian women went to Ghana to continue to apply pressure on the warring factions during the peace process.

And then they did something even more daring! They staged a "sit in" outside of the Presidential Palace, blocking all the doors and windows and preventing anyone from leaving the peace talks without a resolution. Isn't that amazing? Their influence made a difference and peace negotiations eventually resulted in a peace agreement which helped end the war that killed over 200,000 people.

The story didn't end there though. These great women remained involved because there was still much work to do. So they moved forward in forgiving, reconciling and living together in peace. They wanted disarmament and an elected democracy. Three years later, Liberia was the first African country to elect a woman as President.

These Liberian women are heroes in my book of life. They sacrificed everything for the sake of peace. And their cry was heard in the heavens above by God, the Father of us all.

Thank you, women of Liberia, for being excellent role models for women in the world. Thank you for your bravery and for standing up for the children. You are an inspiration!

Grace & peace be with you and in your country.

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