I just watched a wonderful documentary about women in the country where I was born. It’s called Pray the Devil Back to Hell, and it’s about how the women of Liberia helped bring peace to that country after 14 years of civil war. They demonstrated peacefully until the president—Charles Taylor! the devil’s own chum!—agreed to meet with them; mobilized women across the country and in refugee camps around West Africa; forced a resolution in peace talks by sitting outside a meeting hall to prevent delegates from leaving until they reached an agreement; and later led efforts toelect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia’s current president.
One of the leaders, Leymah Gbowee, will also be a plenary speaker at next weekend’s Faith and International Development Conference at Calvin. I feel inarticulate trying to express what a powerful story the movie tells, and I wish everyone I know could see it. The humiliation and tragedy these women faced is amazing enough, and that they could channel their outrage into a movement that has inspired women from Bosnia to Sri Lanka is too incredible to put into words.
There are many memorable scenes in this documentary, but one that sticks out in my memory was a rather ordinary line spoken by Ms. Gbowee. She said she “was baptized into the women’s movement” when she witnessed the violence and poor conditions of women’s lives in the refugee camps in Monrovia. It started me thinking about when I was baptized into the movement. It wasn’t dramatic, but I can recall a number of experiences and conversations that have made me see the simple and fundamental importance of women’s empowerment in my life and in the world.
The metaphor is apt, I think, because it also reminds me that in this movement—and others—I’m supported by a whole community of believers who have informally but significantly pledged to support me, and I them, just like in a church congregation at the baptism of its members. That’s encouraging, and it also reminds me of my responsibilities as a community member.
Maybe it’s only a really powerful metaphor for people of faith, but I’m one of those, and so are most of the women featured in the film, Christians and Muslims working together across ethnic and religious lines to piece together a shattered society. I hope you’ll watch the film. It’s available on Netflix.