In 2003 in Liberia she led thousands of women in protests. Now she is sharing the Nobel Peace Prize. Read what this remarkable woman has to say about prayer and faith.
I was thrilled by today’s announcement that Leymah Gbowee has been made one of the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2003 in Liberia she led thousands of women in protests against the war that killed 250,000 people. Dressed in white, as though “in sackcloth and ashes,” the women sat with placards at the fish market in Monrovia, praying for peace through sweltering heat and pouring rain. Sustained by faith, they did not give up.
Leymah’s just published memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers, reminds me of what hard work such faith can be. Unflinchingly honest, she is unafraid of acknowledging her failings. She writes frankly about the abusive relationships she had with men, the loneliness she suffered separated from her children while she was fighting for peace. Time and again she cries out to God. At a very low moment during negotiations with the warlords, when nothing was being accomplished, she prayed, “You fooled me, God!” Haven’t we all felt that way?
The whole idea of the campaign came from a dream she had. Gather the women to pray for peace, said a voice. Like Moses, she figured the job was for someone else. She didn’t feel worthy. After all, she was living with a man who was married to another woman. “If God was going to speak to someone in Liberia, it wouldn’t be to me!” she thought. God, she found, can use all kinds of people, even the most imperfect ones. Like us.
Even more compelling is to read about how her faith helped her when she was in an abusive relationship. At one moment, when working with refugees from Sierra Leone, she remembers a song she sang at church: Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
“Compared with these women I had many blessings. Yes, I lived in an abusive relationship, but I had two healthy children, a warm bed, a roof over my head. The understanding put a boundary on my own pain,” she writes. Her healing was a long struggle, but when things were at their worst, she never stopped praying.
“Many years ago, I crouched in despair,” she writes, “dressed in a torn nightgown, in the bathroom of the apartment I shared, and opened my Bible. ‘God,’ I said, ‘give me a verse.’
“This is what I read: O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires...
“I saw it as a promise—and it was. It all came true.”
Leymah’s story is part of the PBS series Women, War & Peace, starting October 11. The segment about Liberia, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” airs on October 18.