Bishop who defied pandemic and kept church doors open

The Tanzanian cleric says thanks to his president’s spiritual influence he was able to focus on Christ, not Covid-19

A look at Bishop Peter Mwinamila’s diary reveals a full schedule. In fact, since January his Facebook wall has been full of posters and photos of him preaching or praying for the needy almost weekly at his church in Tabora, Tanzania, and other Christian meetings in the country.

For example, from September 8-13 he held an open-air crusade in Arusha at which hundreds of people received Christ as Lord and Saviour, and several others were said to have been healed of various illnesses.

All this despite the fact that around the world, many churches have closed their doors in efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19. But Mwinamila is just one of the many preachers in Tanzania who kept their churches open despite rising cases of Covid-19 in the country. This is thanks to the decision by Tanzania’s President John Magufuli to allow in-person religious gatherings even while he suspended other social gatherings and ordered education institutions shut in March.

“My ministry programme has been running smoothly and normally, just as it used to before the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Tanzania in March, said Mwinamila, the senior pastor of Evangelistic Assemblies of God Tanzania (EAGT). “I rarely rest owing to my work that includes preaching engagements and running a church,” he told the SHEPHERD in a phone conversation on September 3.

The church has hundreds of branches in Tanzania and was founded by Archbishop Moses Kulola, who died in August 2013.

So what is it that keeps Mwinamila and his ministry going despite the major disruptions caused by the pandemic?

“It is faith and focus on Christ not Covid-19. I know the disease is there and has killed many people worldwide but I also believe in the power of the gospel to eradicate it,” he said, adding that the remaining months of the year will see him traverse many parts of Tanzania preaching the gospel in churches and at seminars, conventions and outdoor crusades.

President Magufuli’s controversial style of dealing with the pandemic has elicited criticism from the international community, including the World Health Organisation. The American embassy in Tanzania at one point expressed alarm over “overwhelmed hospitals” in the East African nation.

During a church service in the country’s capital city Dodoma in early June, Magufuli told worshippers that God had eliminated the coronavirus in the country. While the world was shocked by the video footage showing Magufuli making this declaration, Mwinamila believes God raised the president to show the world that He rules over nations and that there is nothing impossible for Him.

There were, however, some churches that initially closed their doors for fear of the disease spreading.

“Some, especially those outside Tanzania, have said we are treading on dangerous ground as far as the disease is concerned but I don’t agree with them. Jesus Christ has power to heal every disease and Covid-19 is no exception. That’s why I support my president’s stance,” said Mwinamila, who apart from preaching also sings with his wife; together they have recorded a number of gospel albums.

In April, he participated with other Christians in a nationwide three-day fast accompanied by prayers against the pandemic. The vigil was initiated by Magufuli, and was followed by another three days of thanksgiving prayers. 

“I’m a witness of prayer power. Here we even forgot about the pandemic. There is no wearing of face masks or social distancing. Everything, including schools, has been reopened and is operating normally,” he said.

Mwinamila, who has conducted gospel meetings in Kenya on invitation several times in the past, said he felt the pain of most Christians in countries where restrictions were still in place.

“I know it is not easy for you Kenyan Christians because you were stopped from congregating in churches and having open-air gospel meetings. But I’m optimistic everything will soon return to normal and I will come loaded with God’s word.”

One of the spiritual lessons he has learnt from the pandemic is that Christians should not live in fear but possess faith-inspired boldness.

“To me, this disease is devilish. Whether in church or during outdoor gospel meetings I have never stopped praying and laying hands on the sick. Many can testify that they have been healed though I cannot tell whether it is from the coronavirus or any other disease. My joy is that Christ saves and also heals all diseases,” he said.