By Jeff Brumley
Colleen Burroughs went into her unlikely meeting with Joyce Banda last week with a lot of built-in admiration for the headline-generating president of Malawi. But she came away with even more respect and inspiration when the encounter took a spiritual turn.
“I’m still walking around with chill bumps,” the former CBF moderator said a few days after her Sept. 20 one-on-one with Banda in Montgomery, Ala. “She’s a woman of God walking around feeding her children and feeding the children of Malawi.”
Burroughs admits Malawi has a special place in her heart. She grew up a missionary’s kid there and today is president and founder of Watering Malawi, which advocates for clean water and other systemic solutions to poverty and hunger in the east African nation.
But there’s also a lot of admiration and praise for Banda around the globe these days. Earlier this month, she made international headlines by announcing the government sold its jet, a Dassault Falcon 900EX, for $15 million to help feed the estimated 1 million suffering from food shortages.
She also cut her own salary by 30 percent and has pledged to sell 35 Mercedes Benz vehicles used by cabinet members, according to news reports.
In March, she was among four Africans praised by President Barack Obama at the White House for meeting extreme political, social and humanitarian challenges head-on — and with some success.
“They exemplify the progress we’re seeing in Africa,” Obama said in a White House video. “All of them have had to deal with some extraordinary challenges.”
On Tuesday, she told the United Nations General Assembly that Malawi is on track to achieving four of eight UN Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs: developing global partnerships for development, improving environmental sustainability, combating diseases including HIV/AIDS and malaria, and reducing child mortality rates.
She also told the assembly Malawi is unlikely to meet the goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, universal access to education and ensuring gender equality and empowerment of women.
But the economic growth rate is increasing through “painful but necessary reforms” undertaken by the government, Banda told the assembly.
‘Thank you for helping me’
In the United States ahead of her UN speech, Banda attended private gatherings. Burroughs said she attended the one in Alabama so she could brief Banda about Watering Malawi’s activities.
She also told the president that student participants in Passport Inc., where Burroughs serves as executive vice president, have raised $800,000 toward clean water projects in Malawi.
“And I wanted her to know there are thousands of students who know about Malawi and are interested in clean water there,” she added. “She didn’t know anything about it.”
But Burroughs was in for her own surprise.
The American had brought with her her mother’s Bible to show to Banda, who then promptly took it and began to write something in it. When Burroughs got it back, she was stunned.
It began with a reference to a passage in Exodus in which Aaron and Hur helped Moses raise his staff to remain victorious against the Amalekites. The rest confirmed to Burroughs that Banda truly understood the role Watering Malawi was having in her country.
“Thank you for helping me keep the staff up so that Malawi does not lose the fight against poverty,” Banda wrote.
Hence the chill bumps, Burroughs said.