March 8, 2011
Today is International Women’s Day, a celebration of the achievements and contributions around the world. Search the Internet and you can find endless lists of the world’s most glamorous women, the most powerful women, the most desirable women, the most successful women, and more. But while names like Hillary Clinton and Lady Gaga top Forbes’ list of “Most Powerful Women,” we’re focusing the spotlight on a different type of woman. These women are impacting the world in innumerable ways in diverse places around the globe.
In a world where many women face horribly unjust treatment, where millions of women are subjected to domestic and sexual slavery, where many struggle to obtain an education, and countless others are locked in a cycle of poverty, the need for women of courage and impact is great.
Now, more than ever, we need women who will lead with compassion and seek to alleviate the suffering of their sisters around the world.
A Voice for Child Soldiers
At the age of 15, Grace Akallo was kidnapped by soldiers of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda. Grace endured horrific abuse as a child soldier at the hands of the LRA. Her faith in Christ alone sustained Grace until she was able to escape, miraculously surviving to share her story with the world.
Now a World Vision spokespersonand co-author with Faith McDonnell of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children, Grace has become a tireless advocate for child soldiers throughout the world.
Grace has testified before Congress, telling her story with disarming candor. When asked what she plans to do next, she relates that she wishes to return to Uganda in the future to aid children of war. "I want to be part of the people struggling day and night to try to bring peace in the world," she recently tolda Congressional Subcommittee.
A Woman of Deep Faith
The world is captivated by stories of women who were the “first” – the first to run for president, to climb Mount Everest, to enter space. Asia Bibi, too, is on such a list of “firsts.” She is the first woman to be sentenced to deathunder Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law.
Asia is married and has five children. She lived the life of a farm laborer in rural Pakistan – until the day that her Muslim coworkers accused her of blasphemy. When Asia offered water to her fellow workers that day, they denounced it as unclean because she was a Christian, and accused her of blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed. Since then, Asia has been imprisoned in a solitary cell in Pakistan, awaiting death for her “crime.”
Yet Asia Bibi has not given up her faith or her hope in God. The courage she has exhibited during her imprisonment and trial is remarkable. “God will hear my prayers and will help me get out of here and get back home to my family,” she told the Spanish newspaper El Pais only days ago.“I have to confront this trial with patience and courage,” she added.
Asia’s plight as also drawn worldwide attention to Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws. The international pressure has yet to effect any changes to the laws, but it does make it harder for Pakistan to enforce the maximum penalty of death.
An Artist of Candor
Raw honesty seems to be Sara Groves’ most memorable trait. Groves’ music has widely been recognized as possessing some of the most transparent and compelling lyrics found in contemporary Christian music today. Her heartfelt lyrics have met with critical acclaim, and her 2008 album, “Tell Me What You Know,” peaked at #1. Her last few albums have centered on themes of social justice and compassion, motivated largely from her ongoing involvement with International Justice Mission, and other nonprofit groups.
With her trademark candor, Groves has more recently approached topics dealt with by millions of women around the world, including a personal battle with anxiety. “I really, really believe that God wants me to be weak. He wants to be strong in my weakness,” Groves toldChristianity Today. “And he's teaching me that when I get on the other side of this [struggle], I'm going to be a stronger person. But it is not fun. It's not pleasant. It feels absolutely terrible.”
Lyrics from the song “From this One Place,” on Fireflies and Songs, indicate her struggle with anxiety, and her search for trust. “From this one place I can't see very far/This one moment I'm square in the dark/These are the things I will trust in my heart/You can see something else.”
A Symbol of Forgiveness
Bystanders could have heard a pin drop as Immaculee Ilibagizacaptivated an audience of hundreds of people on the National Mall in Washington DC in 2008. Immaculee, now an internationally bestselling author, once huddled in the bathroom of a pastor’s home in Rwanda, as a Tutsi refugee hiding from the Hutu killers who claimed the lives of her entire family. Immaculee has told her story in two bestselling books, Left to Tell, and Led by Faith.
Perhaps the most powerful element of Immaculee’s story is the forgiveness she issued the man who killed her mother and her brother during the genocide. Immaculee’s astonishing journey of forgiveness has moved millions of people through her books and appearances.
Today she operates the “Left to Tell” Charitable Fund, aiding orphans in her native homeland of Rwanda. “I hope that one day we can laugh and move on holding hands despite the past,” Immaculee says. “Life has a lot to offer and a lot of love to give.” She remains a compelling symbol of forgiveness and love in the midst of tragedy.
Women of Courage and Impact
Grace Akallo, Asia Bibi, Sara Groves and Immaculee Ilibagiza have remarkably diverse stories and backgrounds. But each one is a woman of relentless faith, strong courage, and extraordinary impact.
From speaking out for child soldiers to remaining a woman of faith in spite of persecution; from writing with candor and grace, to forgiving the unforgivable, each of these women are powerful examples of what it means to be a woman of courage and impact.
Yes, the needs of the world are vast. Women face injustice, persecution, and poverty on a daily basis throughout the world. But women like Grace, Asia, Sara, and Immaculee illustrate that God can be present and powerful in any situation. As Sara Groves saidin a recent interview, “He wants to be strong in my weakness.”
Kristin Butler has visited with Christian communities throughout the Middle East and Asia. She is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to religious freedom, human rights, and philanthropy. For further articles, visit her website at kristinbutler.netor email [email protected].