A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman

If you are interested in reading about one woman’s journey as she became involved in issues on the other side of the globe, then I do recommend this book.

If you are interested in finding out more about what’s happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I only partially recommend this book.  Having already done a lot of reading on Congo, I didn’t find that this book particularly added anything to my depth of knowledge, although the personal stories of the Congolese women were very moving. If you’re not already aware of what’s happening in DR Congo, this may be a good entry point for you.

Lisa Shannon first learned about the Congo while she was going through a period of deep depression and watching an episode on Oprah. Moved deeply, viewing that episode started Lisa down a path of personal action and advocacy that led to Lisa’s involvement with Women to Women International and the formation of the Thousand Sisters campaign. Lisa began doing sponsored runs to raise funds for Women to Women International and eventually, with the help of her mother, friends, and many supporters, events named Run for Congo Women in cities across the U.S. have raised more than $600,000 that has gone towards supporting women in DR Congo.

The book shares her personal journey of involvement, including several journeys into the heart of DR Congo. She is honest about her mistakes and fears, although I did find at times some portions felt a bit self-congratulatory. For me, the strength of the book is in the individual women’s stories that she shares–I simply found myself repeatedly wishing as I read that those women were a greater focus in the book. Perhaps I’m simply too used to reading books like Half the Sky which focus on other people’s stories, not the author’s, and I had a mistaken expectation of what the book would be as I read it. I had to remind myself that it was clearly advertised as one woman’s journey, and that’s what it truly was.

This review is solely of the book itself, and not a judgment on the A Thousand Sisters Campaign, which I encourage you to look into. The campaign emphasizes both action and advocacy, including using your voice with the U.S. government and international community to take steps towards ending violence in Congo. Women for Women International has now taken over management of Run for Congo Women; A Thousand Sisters Campaign is a separate organization.

A Thousand Sisters: My Journey into the Worst Place on Earth to Be a Woman, by Lisa Shannon (Seal Press, 2011).

–Sandy Hasenauer


Not for Sale–Book Recommendation

“I believe in the power of individuals to change the world…. When you tell yourself that there is nothing that you can do to arrest the global slave trade, you underestimate your own potential and abandon hope for those trapped in captivity.” (Not for Sale, p. 269).

This book has reached “classic” status in my mind–one that anyone who wants to learn more about human trafficking should have on their shelves.

First published in 2007 and updated in 2010 (2007 edition pictured) , Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It, by David Batstone, explores human trafficking in Southeast Asia, Europe, Africa, South America, and the U.S. Batstone, a professor of Ethics at the University of San Francisco, spent years researching human trafficking and conducted hundreds of interviews as part of the process. But he begins with the very personal experience of having discovered the existence of slavery at a restaurant that he and his wife liked to frequent, right in their hometown. His point? That even if we’re aware of the existence of trafficking we tend to think of it as a “problem over there,” but the reality is that it’s everywhere, even in on our own neighborhoods.

This book focuses not on the statistics but on the stories–stories of those caught up in trafficking, and stories of abolitionists who are working to both save the victims and prevent trafficking in the first place. The stories are intertwined, presenting the stories and perspectives of victims and survivors side-by-side with stories and perspectives from those at work as abolitionists, woven back and forth, providing a more wholistic picture of human trafficking than most books provide.

But Batstone isn’t just about lifting up folks already at work in the field, here. Nope–he wants you. Batstone enthusiastically encourages his readers to get involved, to take action, to become abolitionists. Using his own experience of discovering–to his surprise–what one person could accomplish when faced with injustice, he encourages the rest of us to do the same. “Sometimes it is simply who you are, and not only what you can do, that can make a difference. Truly, the hardest step to take is the first one: the commitment to take action. The ensuing steps have a way of revealing themselves,” (p. 273).

Maybe your first step is reading this book. Or maybe you’ve already read some of the other books we’ve already recommended in this blog or those you’ve found on your own–and your next “first step” is to contact organizations already at work in this area, or to do a presentation on human trafficking at your church, or to write editorials or articles for your local newspaper, or to become an abolitionist wherever you live or traveling abroad. Whatever it is, Batstone encourages you–strongly–to take it. And then the next step will appear, and the next….

Do you have other books you’ve read on trafficking that you’d like us to know about? Mention them in the comments, and provide links. We’re always on the lookout for more resources!

–Sandy Hasenauer

(For those of you reading this blog who happen to be American Baptist, you’ll be interested to know that American Baptist missionary Annie Dieselberg of Nightlight Ministries in Bangkok figures prominently in the first chapter.)

Lifting Women’s Voices–Book Recommendation

 God of thunder

don’t just lift my voice,

throw it into

the wide world.

Let me bellow your anger

and outrage at wickedness

and all injustice.

(from “Lift My Voice,” by Alison Swinfen, p. 297)

“Say a prayer. Change the world,” states the back cover of Lifting Women’s Voices: Prayers to Change the World. This is a substantial collection of prayers written by Anglican women from all over the world, a follow-up to an earlier collection, Women’s Uncommon Prayers, which included prayers from women in the United States.

Lifting Women’s Voices, a collection inspired in part by the Millenium Development Goals of the United Nations, includes prayers encompassing the whole of women’s experience. Beginning with prayers specific to the development goals themselves, including an outline of a Benedictine Hours observance and a eucharistic celebration, the collection then builds on that foundation with prayers for women’s empowerment, equality, healthy children and mothers, a healthy environment, global partnerships, peace, sorrow, God’s guidance, discipleship, and the church’s mission.

Although produced by the Anglican communion, this particular Baptist  found this a prayer resource easily applicable to any Christian setting. Indeed, some of these prayers have found their way into worship times at gatherings of praying women that I’ve had the privilege to be a part of.

They are strong and powerful words, these prayers. I would highly recommend this book as a resource for worship or for your own personal prayer time. “We pray for ourselves, our sisters and brothers, to change our hearts and theirs, to give thanks for creation, for God’s continued presence, and to remember that we wait and work in hope for the restored creation God intended from the beginning. We pray because we live in hope,” (p. xii).

–Sandy Hasenauer

Mighty Be Our Powers–Book Recommendation

“When courageous women work together, it reflects the best we have to offer the world. Courageous women often work in the homes, and for our children, often in the shadows to support those in the limelight.” Leymah Gbowee

Mighty Be Our Powers is the story of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee. The story begins about one woman and her struggles through oppressed situations that dictate her life, including poverty, domestic violence, and civil war. Through her struggles, Leymah finds her voice and empowers women in war-torn Liberia to find their voice.

The powerful stories throughout this book of women coming together and helping one another are fully inspiring and move you to stand up for women who are in oppressed situations and do not have a voice.

The faith that Leymah models throughout her life and the faith of women in Liberia is amazing. Women from all faiths come together to work towards peace for their country and their families. They are a true example of building bridges and becoming unified to make a difference. Their voice was heard and now with peace in Liberia, they work towards rebuilding their country and helping others achieve peace in their communities.

This book would be great for a book discussion along with the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” which features the women’s movement work towards peace in Liberia. Leymah has become one of my “sheroes” in the 21st century. I hope she becomes yours too.

Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed A Nation at War, by Leymah Gbowee (Beast Books, 2011)

–Barbara Anderson

Barbara Anderson currently serves as the national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

Inside Out and Back Again–by Thanhha Lai

This was a fascinating book, and unexpected. I found myself much more deeply engaged than I thought I would be when I first started reading.

While the book is fiction, it’s based on the author’s own experience of fleeing Vietnam and beginning a new life in the United States. A 2012 Newbery Honor recipient, the book is aimed at young adults but provided this particular adult an engrossing read as well.

The format is as if we’re reading ten-year-old Hà’s own short, free-verse poems documenting her life in Saigon as the Vietnam War drew closer and closer, her family’s flight to a tent city in Guam, and the eventual move to Alabama after the family is connected with sponsors there. She writes about little things like the tree in her backyard in Vietnam, to big issues like starvation on the boats, and dealing with bullies in her new school in Alabama.

Having spent several years now volunteering with members of refugee communities here in my home town and across the country, plus having grown up with a Vietnamese foster sister and brother when my own family was a sponsor family in the 1980s, I found much of this book describing what I knew to be true for new arrivals as they struggled to adjust to our culture, society, language, clothing, and so forth. But it also provided much-needed depth to my understanding as I read about Hà’s struggles with feeling beholden to others for help, to missing little details about home, like that tree, and her own anger at going from being one of the smartest kids in her class back in Vietnam to feeling “stupid” in her new school because she didn’t know the language.

The book was honest, endearing, and revealing. I’d highly recommend this for anyone–but, since it is aimed at young adults, it’s a particularly good way to help kids become more aware of global issues at the same time as they become more aware of what their classmates and friends may have experienced in their own pasts.

Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai (Scholastic, 2012)

The Middle of Everywhere–Book Recommendation

This is one of my all-time favorite, and probably most frequently recommended, books. Mary Pipher, probably best known as the author of Reviving Ophelia, turns her pen here to her experience working with refugee communities who have been resettled in her hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska.

Mary Pipher’s book The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community  is a highly readable account of the resiliency of refugee peoples, as well as  describing the many ways that we can engage in helping them in their transition to their new life. Pipher, a family therapist, looks at psychological sociological, and cultural issues through the stories she shares of individuals and families she has met in her professional life as well as her volunteer work. This isn’t a textbook. Rather, it is full of stories–wonderful stories, heartbreaking stories, frustrating stories, and stories of hope, all revealing the lives behind the facts, and drawing us into the daily experiences of people who are doing their best to rebuild.

Whenever I meet someone who is new to volunteering with refugee and immigrant communities, I recommend this as required reading! I have read it myself a couple of times, and even after being immersed in refugee ministries for several years I still find helpful insights and reminders. This is one to have on your book list, even if you aren’t a volunteer with refugee communities. The insights you gain into family systems under duress, and how to help others build their own capacity for resilience, are helpful for everyone to learn. Besides, Pipher is an excellent writer and it is just a very good read.

The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community, by Mary Pipher, (Mariner Books, 2003)


Review–Half the Sky

Reading the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide transformed my perception of the issues that women and girls face around the world. It moved me outside my comfort zone into the reality of the 21st century.

Half the Sky is a well written and researched book by a husband and wife team about the oppression of women and girls in the 21st century.  Nicholas Kristof is a writer for the New York Times and has been writing about women’s issues for many years. Sheryl WuDunn, who was also a correspondent for the Times, is now a business executive and lecturer. Kristof and WuDunn won a Pulitzer Prize together for their coverage of China and the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. They’ve co-authored two other books before this, both non-fiction studies on Asia, and both have several journalism awards between them. Kristoff won a second Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for his commentary on Darfur and other global situations.  WuDunn was named by Newsweek in 2011 as one of “150 Women Who Shake the World.”

Half the Sky deals with a variety of issues including: human trafficking, maternal health, education of girls, violence against women and girls, economic empowerment and more. However, the book deals with these dark issues in a compassionate way, always leaving you with a story of hope and simple ways for you to make a difference. This book made me realize that I am a woman empowered, and that I need to use my voice to assist women and girls who are in oppressed situations. You can’t just read this book and not do anything.

I recommend this book to all women and young adult women. I have given this book to family members and friends and have participated in numerous book discussions (it’s a great book for a women’s book discussion). I highly recommend reading this book: Don’t be surprised if you become a voice for women and girls around the world.

(Contributed by Barbara Anderson, national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries 2009-2012. You may visit Barbara’s blog at A Woman Destined for God’s Purpose.)