This week I had the incredible privilege to attend workshops and hear speeches at HDS by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee, who mobilized women to demand peace during Liberia’s long and devastating civil war. After Gbowee heard a voice tell her in a dream to bring women together to pray for peace, she went on to play a major role in helping end her country’s conflict in 2003. I can’t do justice to Gbowee’s powerful presence. Leymah’s influence lit a passion inside me to stand for sisterhood. This may sound strange, but in the past I didn’t spend much time thinking specifically about the power of sisterhood. And I hadn’t considered the power of uniting women to demand men to stop torturing, massacring, and raping fellow women and children. Leymah planted seeds in my mind and she buoyed me up and empowered me as she led me to further consider my identity and influence as a woman. She reminds me of President Nelson’s October 2015 General Conference Address, A Plea to My Sisters: “We, your brethren, need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices. The kingdom of God is not and cannot be complete without women who make sacred covenants and then keep them, women who can speak with the power and authority of God!” Nelson then quoted President Packer: “We need women who are organized and women who can organize. We need women with executive ability who can plan and direct and administer; women who can teach, women who can speak out…We need women with the gift of discernment who can view the trends in the world and detect those that, however popular, are shallow or dangerous.” Then Nelson adds that we need “women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly.” Leymah is one of those women. She risked her life to protect children and families; she taught and today continues to teach fearlessly and to boldly testify of God.
As I prepared for Leymah’s visit, I watched a short documentary about her movement (Pray the Devil Back to Hell) and also read her memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers. (I highly recommend both of these, especially her memoir. Heads up, though: the book is full of war descriptions, including explicit language and sexual violence.) While I was preparing for Leymah’s visit by learning about her life, at some point I felt like I should give her a Book of Mormon. I decided to bring the book with me to school and write a message in it for Leymah. I started praying to have the chance to hand her the book as a gift. When someone famous comes to campus, it’s a high demand event with lots of people, and I anticipated it might be difficult for me to have a chance to interact with Leymah. On Wednesday when she came and gave a special workshop for students in the Religions and Practice of Peace course, I just so happened to get a seat in the front, as close as possible to Leymah. She even came up and put her hand on my shoulder and asked me a question during her workshop (“What keeps you up at night?” she asked. She was teaching us the importance of doing what we are passionately called to do—the thing that keeps us up at night). Immediately after the workshop, though, before I had a chance to approach her, she was whisked away. By then I was even more excited about Leymah’s work than when I went into the workshop, because she was such a thrilling speaker and gifted story-teller, and so passionate and bold.
After hearing her story in person, and having her as a teacher for a few hours, I loved her even more than I thought I would! She is a true soul sister; I even said to myself and wrote in my journal, “I think I knew her before this life.” I felt like she is a soul very close to my soul. The Lord answered my prayers; after the second (and final) workshop of the day, I managed to get a quick photo with Leymah before she was called for a group photo. Then as she quickly made her way to exit the room with an escort (before people could grab her for individual photos), I ran up behind her and handed her the Book of Mormon. Definitely not the most graceful moment of my life—I practically shoved the book into her hands (just kidding, but it was definitely a quick move!). I hope she opens it and reads the note I wrote. Most importantly, I hope she reads the book! In my note, I thanked her for her life and for testifying of Christ. I told her that the book teaches about peace.