Five things church leaders can learn from Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Leymah Gbowee, recent winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, offers a parenthetical clause to this beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (and as they keep walking) they shall be satisfied.” As the leader of a women’s movement for peace in Liberia, Gbowee believes: “If you’re hungry, keep walking. If you’re thirsty, keep walking. If you want a taste of freedom, keep walking.”
The movement from hunger and thirst to satisfaction sounds all too brief in the beatitude. The wait between longing and satisfaction is often long. Satisfaction doesn’t come easily or quickly, nor without effort. Satisfaction, for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, is not dispensed by God’s hand without our hands hard at work.
We have much to learn from Leymah Gbowee. The prize-winning documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” tells her story well. Angered and frustrated by failed peace-talks and decades of brutality, an interreligious group of women led by Gbowee and armed with songs and white t-shirts took on the brutal regime of Charles Taylor and the accompanying warlords. The warlords, placated by the luxurious hotels where the peace-talks were held, delayed reaching a peace accord, so the women linked arms and encircled the building where they convened. They wouldn’t let the men out until a peace agreement was signed.
For anyone who might doubt that prayer can affect nation-states and political leaders, this documentary proves otherwise. It’s a must-see for American churches afraid of protest signs, political involvement and partnerships with religious organizations outside of the Christian faith.
The church and its leadership can learn five things from Gbowee to bridge the gap between initial longing and Godly satisfaction -- to “keep walking,” we might say:
Pray boldly. During Liberia’s civil war, Gbowee worked tirelessly to bring healing to trauma victims. One night after a long day of work she had a dream. A voice spoke; she sensed something of God in the words, “Gather the women and pray for peace.” So she did.
Partner creatively. While there was strength amid Gbowee’s Christian women friends, they knew that women outside of their faith were suffering, victimized and in need of empowerment. Gbowee and a Muslim friend Asatu circulated to mosques and churches alike to partner Christian and Muslim women together in the peace movement. They passed out fliers which proclaimed, "We are tired! We are tired of our children being killed! We are tired of being raped! Women, wake up – you have a voice in the peace process!"
Respond personally . Too often we look to a deus-ex-machina salvation that will change our situations instead of taking personal responsibility. Gbowee counters this by saying, "Rise up and do something to change your situation. Don't wait for a Gandhi, don't wait for a King, don't wait for a Mandela. You are your own Mandela, you are your own Gandhi, you are your own King."
Pound on the doors of tyranny. Throughout the regime of Charles Taylor, Gbowee and other women pounded on the doors of tyranny, praying fervently for peace. Their prayers brought down that dictatorship. Even now that peace has been reached, Gbowee continues to pound on the door of the President -- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a fellow Peace Prize recipient -- to garner attention for needs of the women and children in Liberia. Gbowee says that now, when she approaches President Sirleaf, “she sees me coming and she’s weary because I always say, ‘Madame President you need to do this.’”
Pick up our feet and get to walking. While Christians in America might be nervous to pick up protest signs, certainly we can learn from the prayer life of Gbowee and the women of Liberia. Let all of us who hunger and thirst for righteousness, get to walking, and in our walking may we meet both the wayfarer who has lost faith as well as the Savior who puts his faith in us to be his hands and his feet in this broken world.
Lisa Nichols Hickman is pastor of New Wilmington Presbyterian Church in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.