The other night I gave a rant; couldn’t help it. Why are Liberian women brave and Canadian women not? Did I shout? I hope not. The women with me listened, waited a few moments and then carried on with the meeting. We were talking about poverty.
I have tried all my life to be a calm, reasonable person. In Grade 4 I deliberately sought out the quietest bookworm in the school and asked if I could be with her at recess. We each carefully chose a book and when the bell rang, retired to a small grove of trees and sat reading. It was lovely. An oasis of green quiet. We were away from the rest of the rabble as they ran around, got dirty, played, fought, yelled. I know they were doing that because after about five minutes, I was sneaking peeks to see if I was missing anything. My friendship with the bookworm lasted, but I visited the quiet grove less and less frequently. It seemed to set a pattern.
Half a century later, I still seek quiet places and people. I’ve created a quiet space in my various homes, sometimes just a simple corner. I’m drawn there again and again to be still. But then, like I did at age 10, I peek through the leaves, see what’s going on and join the fray. These days what I keep seeing are children in poverty.
It’s so obviously an emergency that children suffer needlessly. It’s so obviously a crime to have Canadian children undernourished, poorly housed (or not housed), attending terrible schools. The United Nations has again raised a red flag. We need to care for our children better.
I wish every book club in the world would read Leymah Gbowee’s book Mighty Be Our Powers
(and watch the video, Pray the Devil Back to Hell
). Gbowee’s story can help bring us to our senses.
The women of Liberia brought an end to the dreadful war there in 2003. They began when one Christian and one Muslim woman teamed up and shouted, “Enough!” The women held protests, seemingly to no avail, but like the persistent widow in the story Jesus told, they wouldn’t go away. When finally the warriors were forced to the peace table, the women surrounded the building, sat and prayed. When the men tried to leave the building, claiming that the peace talks had broken down, the women rushed them and pushed them back in. When the police tried to arrest Gbowee, she threatened to rip off her dress, to shame them.
For their grand finale, the women (and men) of Liberia elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as their president in 2005, the first female leader of an African nation. She and Gbowee were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Some say it seems there is a war against the poor in our country. Certainly poverty breeds despair, contributes to poor health, creates family stresses, and makes children and youth vulnerable to gangs, academic failure and more.
At the meeting of the Alberta and Northwest Conference this past weekend, United Church women proposed that the whole church make ending child poverty in Canada a priority. I hope this is taken seriously at the General Council meeting in Ottawa this summer. And I hope everyone will read Leymah Gbowee’s book in their own little quiet place, then come out roaring like angry bears to declare that poverty is not only a disgrace but an emergency.
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