Southwestern mourns the death of Zambian president
FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary mourns the death of Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa, a man of faith and a friend. 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, Aug. 19. He was 59.
“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,” said Southwestern president Paige Patterson.
“After President Mwanawasa received Christ and followed Him in baptism, 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. 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.”
Mwanawasa’s pastor, Rodney Masona of Twin Palms Baptist Church in Lusaka, is currently 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,” said Masona.
“He wanted others, especially his family, to join him in that. He was a man of high principles. He held to high standards of excellence in his work. We have lost a great leader and will greatly miss him.”
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,” said Masona. “He would go through that hour uninterrupted, and then he would go onto other business.” This tradition carried on, even up until his death.
Masona and Michael Howard of the Baptist Mission of Zambia introduced Patterson to Mwanawasa in 2005. Patterson visited with Mwanawasa several times over the past few years, encouraging him in his newfound faith in Jesus Christ 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.
Recognizing the AIDS epidemic that ravages Zambia, Mwanawasa worked diligently to fight against 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 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,” said Masona.
Southwestern Seminary, Zambian Baptists and the International Mission Board (IMB) 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.