The next time someone laments to you about the sad state of theology in Tanzania, or the poor examples of Christian leadership, ask them about Christopher Mwakasege.
Mwakasege is not a pastor or apostle or prophet: he uses the title “Mwalimu” (teacher). He’s an itinerant teacher, moving from place to place giving seminars, and he packs out huge stadiums. His seminars mainly consist of teaching from the Bible and prayers for healing. Because it’s teaching not preaching, much of it is more toned down than you find in a revival meeting: the aggressive style I call ‘The Cookie Monster’ is notably absent. When I saw him in Dodoma, most people also came with exercise books in which to take notes.
Something that makes Mwakasege unique is that in my experience he is almost universally loved and respected. I am yet to meet a Tanzanian who speaks negatively about him. Churches across the denominational spectrum advertise his seminars. They are attended from people across socio-economic classes: I went with a university student friend, but our house helper also attended. Others bused in from villages. He has a reputation for being faithful to his wife, Diana, who features prominently alongside him. He dresses humbly. He also seems to be content with his ministry in Tanzania rather than seeking a platform for himself overseas, and he teaches exclusively in Swahili. Someone told me Mwakasege is a TAFES graduate but I have not confirmed that. However, with this kind of reputation, it would not surprise me.
What of his theology? In truth, I went along expecting some kind of prosperity gospel that preyed upon the people there to give money in order to receive blessing or healing. That was not what I found at all. He was teaching over several days, but the bit I heard was about how covenant worked in the Old Testament. It didn’t seem to have much sense of biblical theology in its technical sense, but he did communicate that God interacts differently with people at different points in history.
There are aspects of Mwakasege that I find troubling, such as his support for the modern country of Israel on biblical grounds, but in my experience you’ll be hard pressed to find a Tanzanian teacher or pastor who is doesn’t think that. From my cultural background there seems to be an overemphasis on prayers for healing, but I’ve also learned that Tanzanians see these prayers as an essential to Christian discipleship and formation, not an option extra.
Mwakasege’s commitment to the word of God is clear. The banner on his website quotes John 21:17: Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” It’s unclear to me exactly what impact his ministry has beyond these seminars or whether he raises up others like him. However, TAFES staff, associates and students cite him as an inspiration because of his humility and his commitment to good Bible teaching. Here is the Big Man of Tanzania done well, they say, a man with a platform who uses it for the benefit of others and to point them to Jesus.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.