This has been Luther Hostel week at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary – a week with credit and continuing education events, as well as special worship and recreation events. Last night we had opportunity to see the documentary film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.” This movie is about groups of women, both Christian and Muslim, who worked for peace in war torn Liberia.
The story is stark, and difficult to hear: sons enslaved as soldiers, daughters raped by marauding gangs intoxicated with guns and the numbing power of drugs, mothers and fathers forced to see and hear the unspeakable, moments before their death.
I do not know so very much about this story. The film served as a correction, even while alerting me to the fact that there is so much more to learn. While a film such as this is disturbingly dark, it also came with moments of hope. Seeing the women dance and sing – each turn, each stanza made into a prayer – was incredibly moving. Hope shone through in strength of these women who refused to let the devil have the last word in their communities. Together, in sit down strikes and stand out defiance, they turned faux peace talks into a test of accountability.
The film also chronicled the difficult task of facing former child soldiers, now young men, in this post-war situation. We have the good fortune of having Esther and Lazarus, two church workers from Liberia, with us for a couple of months. They were able to comment on the work being done in this area by the Lutheran Church in Liberia. They reminded us that these former child soldiers have had their childhood robbed from them, even as they robbed life, and hope, and community from others. In the film, some of the victims spoke of the difficult task of forgiving these. Not all are able to do this. I can certainly understand that. But for those who are beginning to see their way into forgiveness, an important step was seeing them again as children rather than child soldiers.
I will never forget the strength of the women in this movie. Their righteous anger echoed the beatitudes proclaimed by an itinerant preacher of a time long ago. He talked of tables being turned, of the weak taking power, of the meek inheriting mantels, and the mighty being brought low. Something of this was experienced in Liberia. A new Reign fell upon this land. Prayer and solidarity held hands as mercy and truth met in these strong women. Much work remains to be done in Liberia, where our thoughts, prayers, and solidarity are coveted. But hope is being enacted in the form of former child soldiers now learning talents and trades to contribute to a new Liberia, to a new kind of freedom.