A Malawian Christian brings his faith to the United States and back home again to Africa.
On the opposite side of the world, other Lutherans right now are praying to Jesus, singing hymns of praise, and hearing the gospel. The songs they sing may be ones you have never heard before with melodies unlike what you know, and the house of worship may look different than your own. But at the heart of the message, it’s the same as your own worship. It’s centered around salvation found in Christ alone.
Lusayo Mwakatika has found that no matter what our cultural differences may be, our faith unites us.
Lusayo grew up in Malawi, Africa, and was born into the Lutheran faith. He found most of his childhood friends within his own congregation and participated in Bible studies, choir, and youth ministries. “I always associate church with wonderful and fun memories,” Lusayo shares.
When he was ten years old, Lusayo and his family moved from a rural area of Malawi into the city of Lilongwe, where his dad began his job as a professor at the Lutheran Bible Institute. That’s a WELS training program which prepares students for their seminary studies. Lusayo saw firsthand how passionate his father is about his work: “He loves meeting new students. It has been very rewarding for him.”
As Lusayo decided what path to take for his life and career, he applied to colleges in the United States. Lusayo sent applications to about 15 different universities and eventually narrowed it down to just a few options.
In the end, he chose to attend University of Wisconsin–Madison because he heard his dad speak about the WELS chapel on the college’s campus and Lusayo knew he wanted to be part of a Christian community.
In the summer of 2017, Lusayo flew to the United States for the first time to begin his schooling. It was a difficult transition at first, adjusting to an entirely new culture, food, and climate. Others at the university seemed to know one another from high school or different clubs, while Lusayo came to school not knowing anyone.
His only connection was Phil Anderson, a staff member at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, the WELS campus ministry at UW–Madison. He had visited Malawi before Lusayo moved to Wisconsin, and the two kept in touch as Lusayo began his transition to the United States.
When Lusayo arrived on campus, one of his first stops was to visit the chapel. Phil introduced him to a few people, and Lusayo could already feel a connection. “Even though we had grown up far apart, we are really one community,” Lusayo says. “We have the same faith and believe in the same things.”
Lusayo began to make further connections within the church and felt a familiarity that reminded him of home. Even some of the songs they sang were the same as what they had sung in his church in Africa. “Going someplace like chapel, where people share the same values and beliefs as you, can make you feel grounded, even if you are away from home or family,” he says.
In Lusayo’s second year, he began to take on more responsibilities and became more involved on campus. He was chosen as one of the eight house fellows at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel. House fellows live at the chapel, help take care of the property, and volunteer in different capacities throughout the year.
Jon Bilitz, pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel, remembers Lusayo’s dedication to his role as a fellow and his passion for sharing the gospel. “He was such a good ambassador—not just for chapel but for his faith,” he says. “I can remember him bringing in visitors from his program and those who were new to the Christian faith.”
Lusayo recalls how this opportunity helped him meet a variety of new people and taught him valuable lessons in responsibility too. “It was a really great experience for me because we are such a close community,” Lusayo explains. “I’ve gained longtime friends. We still stay in touch even though we are miles apart.”
Lusayo majored in agricultural business management. Farming is a pillar of the culture in Malawi, and Lusayo hoped to serve his community by providing better opportunities for farmers, with a focus on modernizing farming practices.
As a branch of this passion, Lusayo became very involved on campus with Project Malawi and served as president for two years. Project Malawi aims to promote farming among the country’s youth and spur economic development for individuals as well as the entire nation.
Lusayo also competed nationally for the speech and debate club, served on the governing board his senior year, spoke as the commencement speaker at his graduation, and even spent some time performing stand-up comedy.
Bilitz shares how the first word that comes to mind when he thinks of Lusayo is committed. “He was committed to his program—gaining agricultural knowledge to take back to his home country—and committed in his life as a Christian too.”
Through all these endeavors, Lusayo sees the hand of God. “God is always there to help direct my life,” he says. “Things may change but God will always be there.”
A life of service
Lusayo has since returned home to Malawi. It’s been another culture shock, returning back to the place where he grew up after spending so much time abroad.
During this time of transition, Lusayo finds his comfort in the same place: “Even though my situation changes, God doesn’t. The same God in Malawi is the same God in the United States. He is my center point to always be grounded. He always sets me back in the right direction.”
He is currently working with the Associated Center for Agro-based Development (ACADES), where he helps to give loans to young farmers without collateral. He’s passionate about his job and considers it an incredible chance to improve people’s lives. “In school you have theories about how you’re going to change the world, and now I’m going to try mine out to see if they work and try new experiences,” he shares. “I want to find the place where I can make the most impact and maximize that as much as I can.”
Bilitz sees the impact that Lusayo is making and knows his life will serve as an inspiration to others. “Lusayo is an example of what campus ministry has the opportunity to do. It’s amazing the connection we can make with students, not just in our own state, but around the country and around the world. I think about what Lusayo took back to Malawi with him. He’s helping people in their earthly lives and also in their faith walk.”
Lusayo’s last piece of advice? He says to always keep your eyes on God. “College is like an all-you-can-eat buffet,” Lusayo shares. “There’s a lot you can get involved in. There’s a lot that can challenge you in different ways. As a Christian, I’ve realized faith is the most important thing to keep your priorities in the right place.”
Author: Gabriella Blauert
Volume 109, Number 04
Issue: April 2022