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Malawi’s New President, a Christian Theologian, Confronts Corruption and Coronavirus

Lazarus Chakwera, an Assemblies of God minister and alumnus of TEDS and Haggai International, hopes his servant leadership will restore faith in government of struggling country.
Malawi’s New President, a Christian Theologian, Confronts Corruption and Coronavirus
Image: Thoko Chikondi / AP

In his second week in office, the new president of Malawi—theologian and former Assemblies of God leader Lazarus Chakwera—has called on the African nation to join in three days of prayer and fasting against the spread of the coronavirus.

Despite the challenges of the current circumstances, with the pandemic taking a significant economic toll on one of the world’s poorest countries, Christians across the region are hopeful about Chakwera’s leadership.

He pledged in his inauguration speech: “With your help we will restore faith in having a government that serves; not a government that rules, a government that inspires, not a government that infuriates, a government that listens, not a government that shouts but a government that fights for you and not against you.”

The pastor spent more than 20 years as the head of one of the country’s largest denominations, the Assemblies of God, before he entered politics as the Malawi Congress Party leader in 2013. In the presidential election held last month, following more than a year of political protests, Chakwera won with 58 percent of the vote. It was the first time in Africa that a court-overturned vote resulted in the defeat of an incumbent president.

Describing his political ambitions as a divine calling, Chakwera said, “God spoke to my heart…. He said, ‘I am not pulling you out of ministry. Instead I am extending your ministry. I want you to get into politics.’”

The new president has repeatedly targeted the corruption, nepotism, and injustice that has plagued his country and said he wants to work for economic progress that allows everyone to prosper.

“Christians dream for a better country and an improved leadership,” said Matilda Matabwa, secretary general of the Malawian Assemblies of God. “We expect to see and experience the birth of a new nation, and are excited to have a highly respected man of God as the head of state.”

The 65-year-old leader had trained with the ministry Haggai International, attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and worked in partnership with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, whose president Franklin Graham congratulated him on Twitter.

Chakwera taught at the Pan African Theological Seminary and the Assemblies of God School of Theology, where he also served as chair. Over 80 percent of the population in Malawi is Christian.

Christian leaders in Kenya have also voiced their support, according to a report by Nairobi-based reporter Tom Osanjo for Religion Unplugged.

Edward Munene, head of the International Christian Center in Mombasa, called Chakwera a “focused, wise, eloquent and godly man,” and said, “I believe he will lead this nation as a leader of integrity, leading with wisdom and the humility to take Malawi forward.”

Leo Kinuthia, a pastor with the International Christian Centre Nairobi, a Kenyan Assemblies of God church, said “the Malawians have spoken clearly and loudly” by electing Chakwera, and “may Africa learn from you what it means to lead with a servant’s heart.”

This week, Agenzia Fides reported that Chakwera asked for prayers “for the healing of those affected by the virus; for the protection and support of frontline health workers in the struggle; for the protection and zeal of those who have not contracted the virus.”

The three days of prayer and fasting conclude Sunday with a national Day of Thanksgiving.

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