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28 August 2000

Signs of peace and symbols of hope in Liberia
Karin Achtelstetter

Liberia's guardian angels
They first set out in September last year - twelve women equipped with nothing but their unshakable faith in God. Their destination was the border area between Liberia and Sierra Leone. When their car broke down they didn't give up, they found people to help them; and those people in turn were inspired by the women's mission and travelled part of the way with them.

Victoria of the Pan African Christian Women's Alliance (PACWA) tells the story of an unusual peace effort by some unusual women. She and other women from PACWA set out "to seal Liberia's border", to protect Liberia without using force of arms.

They travelled along Liberia's western border from south to north, holding services along the way with the local population, weary of war and conflict. When they wandered into Sierra Leonean territory, they encountered ECOMOG soldiers and rebels and invited them to join them in prayer for peace. The heavily-armed fighters made confession and broke down in tears.

Victoria places her trust in guardian angels more than in people: "God's Word is carried out on earth for the benefit of human beings by ministering and guardian angels. We cannot protect Liberia with our blood, only the blood of Christ can keep us safe."

So Victoria and other women from PACWA want to set out again, this time to the Lofa area in the north-west of Liberia, heading for the place where renewed outbreaks of fighting have been reported. This seemingly non-political action has thus become a political issue. The Liberian government has so far refused the PACWA women permission to travel to the region.

As a result the women in PACWA have found their peace efforts restricted, but they are by no means inactive. Their action in September last year sparked new initiatives. Since then more than 3000 women have joined in the fasting and prayer for peace and forgiveness organized by PACWA every month.

Cartridges to crosses
Like Victoria and the PACWA women, George too wants to help bring about peace and plant signs of peace in zones of devastation and conflict. This former building worker transforms instruments of death into symbols of peace and hope, for George makes crosses out of cartridges.

"My father, two brothers and two sisters were killed by bullets during the war in Liberia," George tells us. "Now I want to turn bullets into symbols of peace."

George is supported by Reinhard Tietze, the representative of the Lutheran World Federation's Liberia programme.

Making these peace symbols now provides work and income for ten people and their families. One of the craftsmen is George's brother-in-law who was a combatant during Liberia's civil war. Today, with George, he is working for a society free of violence. "War brings nothing but destruction," he says.

With the crosses made from cartridges he and George have found their own personal way of coming to terms with the past and working for a non-violent future in Liberia.

Members of the international ecumenical team:
Hélène Yinda, World YWCA, Geneva (team leader)
Karin Achtelstetter, WCC, Geneva
Jessica Babihuga Nkuuhe, ISIS, Uganda
Lillian Chirombe, World YWCA, Zimbabwe
Ashley Seaman, WCC, Presbyterian Church (USA)

This feature was written during the visit of a five-member international ecumenical delegation of women to Liberia, from 26 July to 2 August, and is one of a series on the West African country. The five women went to Liberia to find out about the situation of women and children in the country after the war. Responding to the needs of their respective members, this solidarity visit was planned and organized by representatives of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the World YWCA, the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

Photos from Liberia are available at:
Photooikoumene or telephone: (+41.22) 791.62.95

Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010)

At the Eighth Assembly of the WCC in Harare, Zimbabwe, delegates representing more than 300 WCC member churches brought the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) into being. The Assembly declared that on issues of non-violence and reconciliation, the WCC should "work strategically with the churches... to create a culture of non-violence". The Decade, which will be launched world-wide in February 2001, will build on already existing initiatives around the world, and will offer a forum for sharing experiences and establishing relationships so as to learn from one another.

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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.