Wyatt Emmerich: The Mississippi-Malawi connection


Wyatt Emmerich



Something happened recently that made me shake my head in wonder. Lazarus Chakwera, a Christian minister, was elected president of Malawi, in one of the most stunning upsets in African history.


It seems like just yesterday, Lazarus was sitting in my office talking with me about the huge challenges facing his impoverished country. Some readers may recall the column.


I wrote him a check, as did many other Northsiders at a fundraiser at the house of Mike Espy in Madison. I didn't think he had a snowball's chance in hell of ever winning. I viewed the donation as sort of a tithe.



Lazarus lost the first time he ran, defeated by the brother of the previous president. It looked liked yet another story of rigged nepotism and African hopelessness.


But Lazarus Chakwera refused to give up. Six months ago, he lost again in yet another rigged election. Then lo and behold, another miracle happened.


The white out on the election totals was so obvious that the Malawi electoral commission demanded a new election. This time Lazarus Chakwera won by a landslide. It is the first time in African history that an election overturned by the judiciary resulted in the defeat of an incumbent president. African political observers are beside themselves over the significance of this event.


Mississippi played a key role in this event by helping to fund this unlikely candidate, who appears to be the antithesis to the self-dealing tyrants plaguing that continent.


It all relates back to the Chinchen family and Jackson's First Presbyterian Church which established a powerful seminary in Llongwe, the capital of Malawi. Literally hundreds of ministers were trained there and have helped make Malawi a faithful country.


You can read the story about the Mississippi-Malawi connection in a book by Nell Robertson Chinchen titled "The Yankee Officer and the Southern Belle." It is one unfolding miracle after another.


I eventually got caught up in this unfolding miracle through an organization called Clean Water for Malawi, founded by Northsider Victor Smith, which drilled hundreds of water wells in Malawi and has provided clean water to a half million Malawians.


It was a great privilege to go to Africa and witness firsthand the same astounding miracles that powered the Chinchen family. I could write a book.


And now decades later from the first move, Lazarus Chakwera, a Christian minister, has become president of the entire country.


We should not fear change. We should embrace it. Although change may seem scary and even threatening, God is the ultimate change agent. Our job is to remain faithful and work as hard as providence allows.


Speaking of change, we all know the digital landscape is disrupting traditional media such as newspapers. I feared this change for years. Now I embrace it and have never been more excited about the future.


Scott Waller, Mississippi Economic Council president, called me Wednesday before the historic vote. Things were moving fast. He knew it was too late for our print deadlines. Was there anything we could do to publish the change-the-flag ad with the dozens of signatures?


As it turns out, we had just installed state-of-the-art software that allows us to place a high resolution ad instantly on our newspaper websites throughout the state. By the time the legislature voted, over 100,000 Mississippians had viewed the ad online. Perhaps we made a difference.


Don't fear. Stay faithful. Embrace change.




Wyatt Emmerich is the editor and publisher of The Northside Sun, a weekly newspaper in Jackson. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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