In light of God stirring in our hearts and calling us to rise up, I want to introduce you to a lady named Leymah Gbowee. Leymah is a peace activist in Liberia. She led a women’s prayer movement that was pivotal in ending the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003, and now speaks on behalf of women and girls around the world.
Leymah was a single mother of 6 children when she became a social worker during the first war and helped organize a coalition called the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement. She gathered thousands of women and staged pray-ins and nonviolent protests demanding reconciliation and the resuscitation of high-level peace talks. The pressure pushed Charles Taylor (President of Liberia from 1997 to 2003) into exile, and smoothed the path for the election of Africa’s first female head of state, Leymah’s fellow 2011 Nobel Peace laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Charles Taylor was charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law. The judges will deliver their verdict on Mr. Taylor’s sentence on May 30, 2012.
Three things I want to point out about Leymah:
- She knew she was only a single mom of six children.
- She knew that what was going on in her country was wrong and not only millions were being affected, but her children were at risk!
- She knew the power of prayer.
Watch the following video or read the transcript of another interview below.
See also documentary – Pray the devil back to hell
Visit Drops of Love card sales to see the outreach to Liberia I am involved in.
Tavis: What motivated you, or put another way, what compelled you to put yourself, literally to put your life on the line to motivate, to empower, to bring women together and to do so bringing Christian and Muslim women together, which is remarkable for me.
Gbowee: Tavis, we had no life, so there was no life to put on the line. You wake up in the morning and you were grateful. Grateful for what? Nothing, because it was always in the back of your mind that one bullet could take you out and you could be gone. You go to bed at night, you’re grateful to be sleeping, but then sleep would never come. We had a horrible life. Rape was an everyday thing. Our children were being adopted and sent off to fight, so there was absolutely no future. No one is promised a tomorrow as it is, but people plan for tomorrow.
When the nation gets to the place where there is no planning and no hope that there is a tomorrow, someone had to do something. It was at that point that we, the women of Liberia, we will die sitting, so let’s die trying to bring peace. That was the motivation for us.
We needed to secure the future for our children. So for me, I had four children at the time, and they were not with me, they were living as refugees in another country. That was no life. I thought, let me get out there. Sisters, let’s do what we have to do. Those women who had seen the worst decided we will step out; we will do what we have to do. Even if we die trying, we will do it.
Tavis: Tell me, Leymah, what the purpose was and how you came upon the idea to just sit holding those signs, and always sitting, again, women, Christians and Muslims together, wearing white. Tell me more about that.
Gbowee: When we decided to do the protest we had different ideas, and the first thing was we had no idea about Dr. King, nonviolent struggle. The rest of the women – I had read King, I read Gandhi, but these were women who didn’t have any ideas of any of these things.
The only thing they knew was the bible and the Qur’an, and the Christian women were saying, “Let’s do as Esther did when the children of Israel were under threat. Let’s go to God in our sackcloth and ashes,” and we didn’t have the literal sackcloth and ashes to put on, so we thought, white. But then also as we put on the white, no makeup, no jewelry, and we cover our hair, so that’s how the white came about. So the white was symbolic, symbolizing our sackcloth and ashes. Then we decided we would do it fasting and praying.
Every day as we went out there to fast and pray we thought let’s not keep it inside. Let’s take it outside, and we decided to take that fish market because it was the major highway for President Taylor going home and going to work every day. Then someone said, “Let’s picket.” At the end of the day we kept our focus. It was about the peace of Liberia, it was about the future of our children.
Tavis: I am struck by, and I want to ask you to comment on this, I am struck by – and it’s in the subtitle of your text, but we live in a world where not everybody values the power of prayer.
No matter who you’re praying to – if you’re a Christian you’re praying to God, if you’re Muslim you’re praying – so you’re bringing, again, these Christian and Muslim women together, but the one thing they have in common, the one thing they agree upon, is the power of prayer, which again, for some people is so overrated these days. But talk to me from your perspective about the power that’s pregnant in prayer.
Gbowee: There is no way that I can talk about the work that we did, or there is no way that the success of this work can be documented without the religious or the prayer part. That part of faith. I’m sitting on your show today and it’s evident of the power that God has in using the foolish things of this world to confront the wise. When we started our work we could not have gotten the boldness to step outside if we weren’t praying to God. So every morning we went, we said a Christian prayer, we said a Muslim prayer and we sang.
Tavis, no one, not a single being in this world, can leave their children at home knowing that I could be protesting for peace and a missile could land on my house and do that protest faithfully for two years without prayers and without the power of faith in a higher power. So I know that everything we did was that guidance, that hand carrying us. There were times that we would decide we’re going to this place to do something. Some of the very people in Taylor’s government would be the one calling our cell phones to say, “Don’t go,” and it’s only through the hands of God that these things happened.
The world that we live in now, people don’t believe these things. They tend to put it, but the work of the Liberian women, God first, our nation to persevere second – I think that’s what gave us the success. But 100 percent, even from the beginning of the work, it was divinely inspired.