Africa's Billy Graham goes home to be with Jesus

COVID claims a great evangelist

Once a freedom fighter in Zimbabwe and a follower of Marxist ideology who hated God, Stephen Lungu became known as “Africa’s Billy Graham”.

The man who had a powerful conversion story, led thousands to Christ and became head of the evangelistic African Enterprise (AE) organisation, was promoted to glory this week.

He died from COVID-19 on Monday, January 18, in Malawi.

“I have known many preachers over the years in African Enterprise, and beyond it, but I don’t think I have ever known a more passionate and endlessly energetic preacher of the gospel than Stephen,” says Michael Cassidy, who founded AE.

“None of us could ever match his energy or his day and night sharing of the gospel, whether from public platforms or in shops and restaurants.

To be sure, there will be thousands and thousands of people in heaven because of Stephen Lungu.

“I will always remember the night in the early 1980s when Stephen interpreted for me in a Malawi Keswick Convention. I was always convinced in that sermon that Stephen was preaching a much better message than I! Afterwards, we sat together in a little Volkswagen where I felt constrained to invite him into African Enterprise. Not long thereafter, Stephen joined us and became a frontline preacher and ball of fire for Christ preaching the gospel all over Africa, and around the world, sometimes in astonishing places, such as the Oxford Union, and even the Pentagon!”

“As a result of Lungu’s sermon and ‘altar call’, 10,000 people came forward to accept Christ.” – Ben Campbell

Ben Campbell, CEO of African Enterprise Australia, has been passing on his share of Lungu stories. “A year after the 1991 fall of Colonel Mengistu in Ethiopia, under whose reign Christians were persecuted, churches with AE organised a rally in Addis Ababa in which thousands turned up.”

“As a result of Lungu’s sermon and ‘altar call’, 10,000 people came forward to accept Christ, with 900 event administrators kept busy all day processing the decision cards.”

You could not get a more gripping conversion story than Lungu’s. In his biography Out of the Black Shadows – named after a gang he led – he tells of how he plotted to blow up a tent mission. The Black Shadows approached a strange tent and asked a woman what was going on …

‘They are Christians from South Africa. Come to the meeting and hear them.’ And she hurried on. South African Christians! My, oh my! I was galvanised. It would have been a crime to leave it alone. I turned to my gang. ‘Hey, nothing good comes from South Africa. It is full of segregation and apartheid. Why should such people come here to Rhodesia to preach about their god? They’ve really come to brainwash us black people, to make us too soft to fight for our freedom.’ They nodded angrily, and a plan began to form. Hastily I continued: ‘These Christians, they need a lesson. Tonight we’ll give it to them – let’s blow them up!’ It didn’t take much of an imagination to foresee that some well-aimed petrol bombs thrown into the tent would produce panic and damage well worth seeing …

Quickly I worked out a simple plan, and divided my twelve friends into pairs. I would get them to surround the tent. No one would suspect the lads wandering about at the entrance. They would mingle with all the other curious passers-by. Now to co-ordinate our attack. This was the biggest thing I had ever planned, and I wanted it done in style. I decided that we were to attack at 7pm. ‘At 7pm I will whistle and everybody throw their stones and petrol bombs into the tent entrance,’ I said. They grinned in anticipation. ‘I want,’ I continued, ‘everyone inside that tent to die.’ ‘

‘Fine,’ said the Black Shadows.

Of course this was impossible, given our limited weap­ons, but my friends shared my hatred of Christianity, and were as inflamed as me by that morning’s political rally …

After whispered consultation as to what we would do afterwards, and an agreement to meet up eventually in the shopping centre, George suddenly pointed out: ‘But it is only five minutes to seven. We still have five minutes.’ 

‘Five minutes? Right, then let’s go in and see what’s going on,’ I suggested. ‘We’ll stay for only two minutes.’ Little did I realise what those two minutes were going to cost me.

Lungu is stopped in his tracks by the word of God. “The wages of sin is death,” the tent preacher proclaimed. It had an instant effect.

The silence seemed to echo with the phrase. Seconds piled up into several minutes. He was simply stand­ing there staring at us, but he certainly had the electrified attention of the crowd. Sin is death! Through my mind flashed all the evil things I had done of late, all the hatred I had shown. Death, death. No one had to tell me I was going to die as I had lived: in evil and misery. My mind flashed back to my family: how I hated my father and mother and aunts. My mind flashed forward to my present lifestyle of violence and robbery and hatred of everyone outside my gang. And then, this man’s face began to crumple up. His great dark eyes filled with tears. They ran down his cheeks. Harsh sobs racked him. He was crying! Well, I was astounded. I’d been prepared for ranting and raving, and would have shut my mind to it. But nothing had prepared me for this.

“I was armed with deadly weapons, but frightened stiff of the accusing finger of an unarmed preacher.” – Stephen Lungu

But the preacher continued: ‘You have disobeyed God, and you think he does not see your evil lives? Even every time you open your mouth, you sin. Your language is full of blasphemy and deceit. Your tongues are as full of poison as vipers.’

I was stunned. Only the previous day Robert’s primus stove would not light. I had kicked it violently, and sworn at it, sending it to hell several times over. But how did this man know? I could think of only one way. Robert, sitting near me on the bench, must have told him. So I pulled out my knife and whispered to him savagely. ‘How dare you tell this man my sins? I will kill you!’ 

Robert jumped and stared at me in total amazement. Obviously, though, he was feeling guilty as well, because he said, ‘Well, you’ve told him about me as well, so I will kill you too.’

We glared angrily at each other, but meanwhile the preacher carried on talking about sin and the damage it did. He kept on pointing, and the more he spoke, the more I felt he was talking directly to me. I know now that I, Stephen Lungu, had without warning hit a spiritual crisis in my life. But at the time I didn’t know I had a spirit, and I did not in the least understand what was happening to me. I was a very simple, literal person, with no sophistication whatever, and to me it was as if that preacher was standing up there talking only about me, and telling everyone the secrets of my heart. I had not realised then that people’s hearts are very much the same. By now our planned attack was quite forgotten. The preacher’s pointing finger had me mesmerised. But I never dreamed of just leaving the tent. Instead, I decided to be clever, and in my very simple, literal way, avoid his finger by ducking down every time he pointed. Soon I was bob­bing up and down like a duck, and trying Edson’ s patience to the utmost. My bag of home-made petrol bombs bounced about alarmingly. It was a strange way in which to hold the greatest spiri­tual crisis of my life, shying about at the back of a dusty tent, armed with deadly weapons, but frightened stiff of the accusing finger of an unarmed preacher. 

And then the preacher turned to the solution. He preached about Jesus. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

“That was the first time I laughed.” – Stephen Lungu

And as Lungu tells it, this was a Jesus he could identify with. “He had suffered in all the ways I knew so well. Poverty, oppression, hunger, thirst loneliness.” And the offer of Jesus’ riches, and an end to self hatred and fear, bought Lungu to tears. He sat sobbing in the tent’s crowd while also experiencing something he had never known.

“I never used to laugh until when I accepted Jesus at the age of 20,” Lungu often said. “That was the first time I laughed.”

A powerful conversion, led to a life as a powerful preacher.

African Enterprises’ Australia CEO Ben Campbell tells Eternity that approximately 100,000 people are making decisions for Jesus every year, through the work of 50 AE evangelists and thousands of church volunteers. A new generation of evangelists, inspired by Stephen Lungu, is rising, made possible by the supporters of African Enterprise.

COVID has robbed us of a great evangelist, during a resurgence of the disease in Malawi. Stephen’s wife, Rachel, a devoted intercessor and mother to their six children, also has COVID and is currently isolating in Lilongwe, according to Gateway News, an African Christian site.

Out of the Black Shadows is in stock at Koorong

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