The Zambian president, Levy Mwanawasa, a committed Christian died in France on Monday, August 19, nearly two months after suffering a stroke during an African Union conference. He was 59.
The baptism of President Levy Mwanawasa (Baptist Press photo by Troy Lewis)
According to media reports, doctors at the Percy military hospital near Paris had performed emergency surgery on Mwanawasa Sunday following a sharp deterioration in his condition. Though the operation was initially described as successful, Zambian state television broke the news of the death this morning.
“Fellow countrymen, with deep sorrow and grief, I would like to inform the people of Zambia that our president Dr Levy Patrick Mwanawasa died this morning at 1030 hours,” said the vice-president, Rupiah Banda. “I also wish to inform the nation that national mourning starts today and will be for seven days.”Banda will take over as acting president until elections, expected to be held within 90 days.
“A former lawyer, Mwanawasa was regarded as one of the Africa's most progressive leaders,” said the Guardian newspaper in the UK. “His efforts to tackle corruption helped win Zambia widespread debt relief. Under his leadership, Zambia's economy grew at 5%, helped by the buoyant copper price, while inflation dropped to the lowest level in three decades. Mwanawasa freely admitted, however, that the benefits had not trickled down sufficiently to the poor.
“Beyond Zambia, he became best known as a vocal - and rare - African critic of the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, leading to strained relations between the southern African neighbors.”
Leading the tributes, the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, described Mwanawasa's death as “a great loss for the African continent.”
The President’s baptism
The baptism of President Levy Mwanawasa, caused a sensation back in 2005 when he gave his life to Christ and, as President of Zambia, was baptized at local Baptist church in Lusaka, the country’s capital city.
This was revealed in a story from Michael Ireland in ANS who wrote, “A crowd clapped and cheered as President Levy Mwanawasa rose from the water in an outdoor baptistery behind a Baptist seminary chapel building in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital.”
The event drew hundreds of people, including public officials, leaders and pastors from the area and neighboring countries, wrote Shawn Hendricks of the Southern Baptist Church International Mission Board.
“This baptism was an incredible occasion for the Baptist witness to many people who we have not had in church before,” said Troy Lewis, a Southern Baptist missionary in the southern African nation of more than 10 million people. “They heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Hendricks says on the day of his baptism, Mwanawasa shared his spiritual journey before a packed chapel service. He told listeners he had been “struck” by Jesus—similar to the Apostle Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. Mwanawasa, a successful lawyer and former vice president, took office in 2002. Respected for his reputation for honesty, he was known as “Mr. Integrity” even by his political opponents before his election. Now in his mid-50s, he survived a near-fatal car accident in 1992 but insists he is in excellent health, Hendricks writes.
He reported that Mwanawasa remembers attending a Baptist school as a boy, but his relationship with Christ began to transform when he started attending Twin Palm Baptist Church in Lusaka in 2003. The small church meets at the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zambia in Lusaka.
As he came week after week with his “entourage,” the church tried to maintain business as usual—but it wasn’t easy, Hendricks writes.
“All of us here were immensely excited about this,” Lewis told him. “Our excitement and prayers increased when he returned to church again and kept coming whenever he was in the country.”
Hendricks said the president began asking questions about the Christian faith and how he could join the church. Church members answered his questions and ministered to him during difficult times.
Dan Wooding interviews for Safe Worlds IPTV, the First Lady of Zambia, Mrs. Maureen Mwanawasa (Photo: Rob Milligan)
After Mwanawasa began attending the church, his mother died from injuries caused by a fire. He also lost his two brothers. One died unexpectedly of illness; the other was murdered, said Hendricks.
Mwanawasa soon shared how Christ had moved in his life—and that he wanted to be baptized. Franklin Kilpatrick, missionary in Zambia for 35 years, helped disciple Mwanawasa during this process. Kilpatrick and his wife, Paula, are members of Twin Palm Baptist Church.
“The impact is not just in Zambia; this could have an impact on an international level,” said Kilpatrick, who is temporarily on U.S. assignment. “He could impact a lot of leaders. He is in a position of influence, and people need encouragement.”
The Kilpatricks were originally concerned about drawing too much attention to the event. Local missionaries tried to remain low-key about Mwanawasa’s decision, Hendricks reported.
But the news quickly spread all over Zambia—and to other parts of the world. Others have commented on how the president’s life has changed. He already has invited friends and leaders from around the world to attend church with him. Paula Kilpatrick is excited about what God has planned for the future. “We feel like the story is not over,” she said.
A few months back, I was about to interview Mrs. Maureen Mwanawasa, the First Lady of Zambia who stated that her country has become a “Christian nation.”
At last November’s 3rd Annual Global Summit on AIDS and the Church held at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, hosted by Pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay, I asked the first lady, a Christian, like her husband, President Levy Mwanawasa, what role the church in Zambia was playing in the battle against HIV and AIDS.
She replied, “The church is one of the biggest helpers of government in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We have the churches association of Zambia which is looking after the interests of the church as far as AIDS is concerned. It gets support from government. The church’s organization has its own health centers which they run. So the Christian faith in the country is very strong.
“Actually our country was declared a Christian nation, so you can see how spiritual everyone is and how dependent we are on God for an answer to the challenge.”
Dan Wooding interviews for Safe Worlds IPTV, the First Lady of Zambia, Mrs. Maureen Mwanawasa