Malawian President Joyce Banda shares vision in Austin

Joyce Banda, president of Malawi, introduced the joys and challenges her African nation experiences through heartfelt words while several other Malawian guests told their stories and sang their songs during an almost two-hour rollicking service at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin, Sept. 18.

The Dioceses of Texas and Southern Malawi are in the third year of a partnership that gives folks in both places a broader knowledge of how Church is experienced in different parts of the world. St. David’s Churchin Austin teamed up with Warm Heart International to host the Wednesday evening service with President Banda.

Fresh off a long charter bus ride from South Bend, Indiana, earlier that day, Banda showed how faith-based organizations have teamed with her government to enhance Malawi since she was elected president in April 2012 – the first woman in her country’s history.

“Faith-based organizations operate about one-half of 172 healthcare facilities in our country. They provide a range of healthcare from safe birth deliveries, family planning, vaccinations against TB and HIV/AIDS and mental health counseling,” Banda said. “In past years, up to 1,250 women died while giving birth. That number is down to 460 now and our goal is to eliminate deaths.”

“Our government is teaming with faith-based organizations to open 76 new medical clinics. Our goal is to have a clinic within five kilometers of all Malawians,” she said.

Banda has been fighting for women’s rights as well as championing the underprivileged in Malawi throughout most of her life according to her Joyce Banda Foundation website. She survived an abusive early marriage of 10 years and found herself a single mother with three children to support – a condition common to many Malawian women.

“Our government, the Joyce Banda Foundation and the 100X Foundation continue to work together to improve the education of Malawian children and youth and the state of living in our poor nation,” Banda said.  The president’s foundation – run by her sister Rosemary – has created 35 orphan centers each housing about 70 children aged 3 to 5 around the country, in addition to opening two free schools so far. Of the hundreds of students that attend the schools – a large majority are orphans. Many students walk more than two hours to get to school every morning and girls make up more than half the school’s enrollment, according to the foundation website.

Banda also pointed to her country’s need for more reliable sources of clean water and sanitation, in addition to improving farm to market opportunities for Malawian subsistence farmers who make up 75 percent of the country’s population.

Central Presbyterian Church was ablaze with a variety of music before and after Banda’s talk. The delightful service combined contemporary, traditional and Malawian worship music with Malawians traveling with their president – most in the United States for the first time – alternating singing with the choirs of Central and Church of the Hills Presbyterian churches in Austin.

The Warrior Gospel Band from Bishop Sterling Lands II’s Greater Calvary Bible Church in East Austin funked up – Gospel style – the evening service. The seven-member band includes – at times – a toddler beating on a drum two-thirds his height.

The Rev. Katie Wright, of St. David’s Church, gave the service’s final prayer and attendees then walked across the street to a reception at St. David’s.

Texas Bishop Andy Doyle and former Southern Malawian Bishop James Tengatenga signed the diocesan partnership in 2012. Since then many diocesan churches have helped grow their Malawian partner diocese through material and financial donations, in addition to several church mission trips that Bishop Doyle describes as “pilgrimages.”

Tengatenga, former chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, knows the Texas diocese well. He is a 1985 graduate of the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest and he and his wife Jocelyn were married at St. David’s Church, Austin.

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