FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is mourning the death of Zambia’s president, Levy Mwanawasa, on Aug. 19 at the age of 59.
Mwanawasa’s pastor, Rodney Masona of Twin Palms Baptist Church in Lusaka, currently is a Ph.D. candidate at Southwestern. “President Mwanawasa was a man of God; a man who feared his God; a man who wanted to worship God in truth,” Masona said.
Mwanawasa suffered a stroke in June during an African Union summit in Egypt and was taken to a Paris hospital where he remained until his death.
Masona had the privilege of leading Mwanawasa to Christ and baptizing him in 2003. Mwanawasa had been invited to the church by his uncle and, being a former lawyer, he was captivated by the sermon about Jesus being an advocate for Christians.
Masona and the members of his church began to disciple Mwanawasa, who set aside Tuesday evenings for Bible study with them. “He wouldn’t allow interruptions,” Masona said. “He would go through that hour uninterrupted and then he would go on to other business.” This tradition continued until he was incapacitated.
“We have lost a great leader and will greatly miss him,” the pastor said.
Masona and Michael Howard of the Baptist Mission of Zambia introduced Southwestern Seminary’s president, Paige Patterson, to Mwanawasa in 2005. Patterson visited with Mwanawasa several times in recent years, encouraging him in his newfound faith and discussing the future of Christianity in the poverty-stricken country. On several occasions, Patterson offered him a formal invitation to visit the seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
“Africa and the entire Christian world has suffered a devastating loss in the premature home-going of my precious friend, President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia,” Patterson said.
“I never witnessed a man more determined to right wrongs, root out corruption and injustice and produce a noble nation than was the case with this giant of a man,” Patterson said. “I will never forget the times we spent together in prayer for God’s wisdom for him and in behalf of the people of Zambia. Humility, determination, zeal, strength, humor, faith and courage were all blended together in this magnificent leader. All of us touched by his life are better men as a result.”
Recognizing the AIDS epidemic that ravages Zambia, Mwanawasa worked diligently to fight the disease and expressed gratitude for programs stressing abstinence until marriage in his country. He also expressed spiritual concerns for the people of Zambia and was interested in how Southern Baptists could aid in developing churches, orphanages, clean water sources and the Zambian Theological Seminary.
Mwanawasa had served as Zambia’s president since 2002. His leadership and integrity were a stark contrast to his predecessor, Frederick Chiluba, who was notorious for corruption and stealing from state coffers. Mwanawasa worked toward overcoming economic stagnation and openly opposed Zimbabwe’s autocratic President Robert Mugabe.
At the beginning of June, Masona had his last phone conversation with the late president, who mentioned looking forward to retirement one day. Masona joked with him, saying there is no retirement from the Lord. Mwanawasa replied, “I could never retire from Jesus. I will always work for Him.”
Masona has seen the president’s illness unite the country. He mentioned that many groups said they were praying for Mwanawasa. “I believe this is a good sign for the country in terms of people getting to know God and what salvation is,” Masona said.
Southwestern Seminary, Zambian Baptists and the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention have coordinated efforts to bring the Gospel to unreached people groups in the northeastern sector of the country. Additionally, Zambia was the focus country for Southwestern’s 2+2 M.Div. program for training missionaries in 2007.
Keith Collier is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.