Pray the Devil Back to Hell
There is a lot of talk these days about change. But change doesn't happen just by talking about it. It happens when people join hands and mobilize to actually get things done. There are inspiring tales of this sort of change happening every day, across the world, but how many of them do we ever actually hear about? Thank goodness for unassuming little documentaries like Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which tell us not only that change can happen in the world, but how it can be done.
Produced by Abigail Disney and directed by Gini Reticker, Pray the Devil Back to Hell recently won the Best Documentary Award at the Heartland Film Festival. It's a quick, 72-minute glimpse inside the nation of Liberia—a country with American roots (it was a colony settled by ex-slaves from America) that is all but invisible to the average American today. It's a country that has a complicated 160-year history and has suffered through two civil wars over the last 20 years. For most movie audiences, Liberia is an exotic place they've heard mentioned on the occasional NPR brief, but otherwise know nothing about. Pray the Devil Back to Hell goes some way toward changing this.
For such a short film, Pray manages to provide a relatively comprehensible lesson in recent Liberian history. The narration by Leymah Gbowee is well written and concise, telling us of the troubles that have raged in the country at the hands of president Charles Taylor (later convicted of war crimes) and the bloody warlords who control the countryside and seek to overthrow and take over the government. In 2003, a large coalition of Liberian women banded together to put their collective foot down against the violence, staging sit-ins and human barricades to force the dueling factions to come up with a peaceful resolution. Their courage, conviction, and quiet confidence worked—and faith was arguably the biggest part of their story.
"I had a dream," Gbowee says, looking at the camera, "that someone actually telling me to get the women of the church together to pray for peace." She soon formed the Christian Women's Peace Initiative, which eventually numbered well into the thousands, joining their forces for the pursuit of peace—and all along, with much prayer and fasting.
As for the film's title, that's a reference to President Taylor's penchant for "preaching" in area churches, saying that his leadership came from "Jehovah God Almighty"—all while he's ordering terror and atrocities upon his own people. Gbowee narrates: "Taylor would pray the Devil out of hell. And we said of this man who is so 'religious,' we need to get to that thing he holds firmly to. So if the women started pressuring the pastors and the bishops, the pastors and bishops would pressure the leaders [of the warring factions, who were meeting in churches]."
Another way the women "encouraged" the men to be more active in pursuing peace: They staged a "sex strike," denying their men intimate relations until they were playing an active role in the peace process.