Last night was a poignant occasion for me as I returned to Chancellor College, University of Malawi, where I taught from 1988 to 1998, to give a public lecture on “World Christianity and the Global Leadership Crisis”. It was hosted by a student society – the Theology and Religious Studies Society – and they had done a great job on all the preparations.
I was feeling rather nostalgic while milling around beforehand, when people began to pay close attention to their phones. Having been silent on the threat of coronavirus, all of a sudden the Government was declaring a state of disaster, ordering all schools and Colleges to close and forbidding gatherings of more than 100 people. In Malawi’s case, this is a preventative measure. As yet there is no confirmed case of coronavirus. However, people are aware of the interconnected nature of our world and hoping that taking action before the virus begins to spread will help to contain it.
This meant that when I stepped up to the podium to give my lecture it was in a highly charged atmosphere as everyone came to terms with the imminent closure of the College. I realised that I was about to give the last lecture that would be heard at the University for quite some time.
All credit to the students and staff who, despite the very disturbed circumstances, were a highly attentive audience and responded to the lecture with a wide range of searching questions. Amongst many issues raised was the extent to which the currently ascendant populist political leadership has left the global community ill-equipped to mobilise and act together to counter the coronavirus.
Now we venture into uncharted territory in Malawi as in so much of the rest of the world. The near universal consensus here is that it is time to look to God for deliverance.