Hara, Handwell Yotamu

Church of Central Africa Presbyterian

Handwell Yotamu Hara was born on February 9, 1942 to the Yotamu Chimodzimodzi family of Jonathan Hara Village, Traditional Authority Mtwaro in Mzimba District in the northern part of Malawi. [1] His home area has been heavily influenced by the Ekwendeni Mission, established by the Free Church of Scotland in 1889, and Handwell was born into a Presbyterian family of five children. [2] He was Ngoni by tribe and could speak the Nguni, Tumbuka and Chewa languages.

Hara’s early life was very difficult. His mother died while he was very young. [3] His father then married his aunt, his mother’s sister. She mistreated him and the other four children. She failed to take care of the baby, who sadly died. Hara always remembered how troubled he was at this time. [4] Things took a turn for the worse when his father died by hanging himself. [5] The children were all left hopeless and helpless. They spread out and sought refuge in the homes of various relatives. Since there seemed to be no hope even in the homes of relatives, Handwell became a herd boy, taking care of the cattle.

The difficulties he experienced in family life were compounded by the adverse economic situation prevailing in northern Malawi at this time. In the 1950s and 1960s, Malawi suffered from a marked regional imbalance, due to the historical concentration of farming in the southern part of the country. [6] This forced many people from the north to become migrant laborers, both outside and within Malawi. The growth of cash cropping on the Lilongwe Plain and in the Southern Province took place at a time when much of the Northern Province was being restructured as a labor reserve. [7] The Northern Region was described as the “Dead North”, on account of the low level of economic development in the area during the colonial era. [8]

Despite the severe adversities he faced during his childhood he came to believe that God had a great purpose for his life. When he was sixteen years old, he began to hear a disembodied voice speaking to him, which he took to be the voice of God. By this time, he had moved to the Central Region of Malawi and had been employed as a Clerk at Nkhonde Tobacco Estate. [9] The disembodied voice told him to start preparing for evangelism and preaching work. Though he was now grown up, he returned to school and entered the Standard 3 class in primary school. He persevered with his primary education until he passed the Standard 8 exams and was employed as a Primary School teacher. [10]

In 1967 Handwell married Lotasi who was from Mponela in Dowa District. Though they had no biological children, their happy home became a refuge for many. After working as a teacher for a few years, Hara applied for theological training under Nkhoma Synod (the branch of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian found in Malawi’s Central Region). Following several unsuccessful applications, he was finally accepted in 1972 and embarked on his studies at Nkhoma Theological College. Through all these experiences, he was frequently encouraged by the disembodied voice which continued to address him. [11]

He was ordained in 1975 and began his ministry at Chileka Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) congregation where he served from 1975 to 1978. [12] The Synod then appointed him to teach at Nkhoma Theological College where he served as a Lecturer from 1978 to 1979. Hara was then enrolled for a Master’s Degree in theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in the USA, graduating in 1981. [13] He was among the first Malawian ministers to be ambitious in advancing their education. [14] When he returned to Malawi, he was appointed Director of the Namoni Katengeza Lay Training Centre at Chongoni. Later the same year, the Synod nominated him to teach at the joint CCAP theological institution then known as Zomba Theological College (ZTC), where he taught from 1981 to 1984.

The dream of the former herd boy did not stop there. In 1983 he embarked on doctoral studies at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Hara left ZTC in December 1984 and went to serve at Mdzobwe congregation to allow him to have more time for his studies. [15] His matriculation at Pretoria was historic since he was the first black student to be enrolled at this institution since its inception in 1908. Though he met the ugly realities of apartheid and racism, Hara did not give up. No wonder that Professor M.J. Masango in the letter he sent on July 17, 2018, to be read at Hara’s funeral described him as a man who fought apartheid. [16] Masango underlined the historical significance of Hara’s studies as the first black man to be enrolled at an institution heavily identified with the apartheid system. After finishing his doctorate, he rejoined the teaching staff at Zomba Theological College and served there from 1996 to 2007. While there, he also undertook teaching assignments at the University of Malawi and the Evangelical Bible College of Malawi. [17] Later he taught at Josophat Mwale Theological Institute (JMTI), Mzuzu University, and the College for Christian Ministry, before retiring in 2012. In addition to his work as a Lecturer, he also worked as Nkhoma Synod Education Secretary, Synod Clerk, Dean of Student Affairs at ZTC, and Principal of JMTI.

When he was working as a Lecturer, Hara taught Pastoral Care, Christian Ethics, and Systematic Theology. [18] In all these courses he placed great emphasis on graduating spiritually mature ministers. Many ministers who studied under him including some who went on to occupy significant leadership positions. For example, among those who appreciate Hara’s influence on their lives are Alfred Nyanda of Mchemani CCAP Congregation who is also the CCAP Nkhoma Synod Clerk, Saviour Kabaghe (General Secretary, CCAP Synod of Zambia), Isaac Chibowa (Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Zomba Theological University), and Takuze Chitsulo (Vice-Chancellor, Zomba Theological University). He was fond of encouraging others to go further with their education. [19] Though he was the first minister in Nkhoma Synod to obtain a doctorate his colleagues noticed that he was never proud or arrogant but always concerned for the welfare of others.

When he was working as Synod Education Secretary, he helped Nkhoma Synod to reclaim mission schools which had been taken over by the government, such as Robert Blake in Dowa, William Murray at Nkhoma, and Mlanda Girls at Ntcheu. He recruited South African teachers to serve in the schools through his effective correspondence with the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. [20] Working hand-in-hand with school committee chairpersons, he helped the Synod to reclaim Primary Schools such as Dedza, Lilongwe and Chidothi at Mponela from the government. It was his leadership that enabled the Synod to turn the construction camp for the Lilongwe-Salima road into Mvera Girls Secondary School. [21]

He also made a significant contribution to the development of the Home of Hope, a Mchinji-based non-governmental charitable organization which takes care of vulnerable children from different parts of Malawi. As the founder of this organization says, Hara and his wife were the first to catch the vision of opening the organization and assured him that when he started the orphanage, they would support him. [22] In addition, as a man who grew up in poverty, he introduced his own non-governmental charitable organization which is known as Life-Style Christian Ministry and aims to help vulnerable children, widows, elders and disabled persons. [23]

Hara also made a major contribution to theological scholarship in Malawi, publishing several books which remain significant. His Philosophy of Living Together aims “to help people to live in a community, society or groups in peace by avoiding conflicts that are caused by lack of respect, love and consideration of others.” [24] Since he had experience of different positions, Hara aimed to outline the methods which can be used by both leaders and followers to maintain peace at all times. [25]

Reformed Soteriology and the Malawian Context is a book based on his doctoral thesis at the University of Pretoria. Hara surveys the Reformed doctrine of salvation by considering the views of John Calvin, Karl Barth and G. C. Berkouwer. He then attempts to apply their teaching to the Malawian context, asking whether or not the Reformed doctrine of salvation applies to the African situation? His finding is that despite having knowledge of the existence of many spirits, Malawians knew that there is a Great Spirit. Their traditional religion was monotheistic. [26] In his evaluation of John Mbiti’s view on the African Christian concept of salvation with reference to the Malawian context, Hara found that Mbiti’s concept of salvation differs from Western teaching. [27] Hara observes that the idea that works play a part in salvation is being taught in Nkhoma Synod even though it claims to follow Reformed teaching. [28] In the Malawian context, the concept of salvation implies being spared from uncertainty. Hence African Traditional Religion focuses more on physical salvation than spiritual salvation. Contrary to African Traditional Religion, “Calvin, (Barth to a lesser degree) and Berkouwer teach that full salvation is experienced only after the resurrection of the dead and judgement.” [29] He concludes that, even though Reformed theology and African tradition differ in their understanding of salvation, nevertheless the Reformed theology of salvation is viable in the Malawi context.

His final book, From Herd Boy to University Lecturer, is his autobiography. In this small but powerful book Hara explains how God took the poor young herd boy and gave him educational opportunities and leadership positions that allowed him to exercise extensive influence. This was evident at his funeral in 2018 when a broad spectrum of people from different sectors of society testified to what his life had meant to them. [30] He died rather unexpectedly on July 13, 2018, after a short illness and was buried at the Heroes Acre of Home of Hope in Mchinji. Through the way in which he overcame adversity and devoted himself selflessly to the service of others, he is regarded by many in Malawi as a hero of the faith.

Nephitaly W. Kalonde


  1. Handwell Hara, From Herd Boy to University Lecturer: An Autobiography (Mzuzu: Mzuni Press, 2019), 6.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Lotasi Hara, his wife, interview by author, December 27, 2021, Home of Hope, Mchinji, audio recording.
  4. Hara, From Herd Boy to University Lecturer, 6.
  5. Ibid, 7.
  6. John McCracken, Politics and Christianity in Malawi 1875-1940, 178.
  7. Ibid, 178.
  8. Tchupa N. Chibambo, “Marriage Laws of Malawi - the Evolution of African Marriage Laws under Colonial Rule” (Ph.D. Diss., University of London, 1987), 571.
  9. Hara, From Herd Boy to University Lecturer, 16.
  10. Ibid, 19.
  11. Lotasi Hara, interview.
  12. Lotasi Hara, interview.
  13. Lawrence Brown, “The Development in Self-Understanding of the CCAP Nkhoma Synod As Church During the Forty Years Of Autonomy: An Ecclesiastical Study” (Ph.D. Diss., University of Stellenbosch, 2005), 50.
  14. Rev. Dr Winston Kawale, his best friend, interview by author, July 9, 2022, Lilongwe., recorded phone call.
  15. Brown, “The Development in Self-Understanding of the CCAP Nkhoma Synod,” 54.
  16. Letter of Professor Maake J. Masango, University of Pretoria, July 27, 2018.
  17. Rev. Isaac Chibowa, his former student, interview by author, September 2, 2022, Zomba, Audio Recording.
  18. Rev. Chibowa, interview.
  19. Rev. Saviour Kabaghe, General Secretary of C.C.A.P Synod of Zambia, interview by author, August 19, 2022, Lusaka, email chats.
  20. See Brown, “The Development in Self-Understanding of the CCAP Nkhoma Synod,” 100.
  21. Winston Kawale, interview.
  22. Rev. Timothy Chipeta, founder of Home of Hope, interview by author, December 27, 2021, Home of Hope, Mchinji, audio recording.
  23. Mr. Austin Chidzenje, the current Chairperson of Life-style Christian Ministry, interview by author, July 9, 2022, Msundwe, Lilongwe, phone call recording.
  24. See Handwell Hara, The Philosophy of Living Together: How Employers and Employees, Leaders and Followers may live together in peace (Lilongwe: Nkhoma Press, 2008), 3.
  25. See Hara, The Philosophy of Living Together, 3
  26. Handwell Hara, Reformed Soteriology and Malawian Context (Zomba: Kachere Series, 2008), 120.
  27. See Hara, Reformed Soteriology, 176.
  28. See Hara, Reformed Soteriology, 180.
  29. See Hara, Reformed Soteriology, 185.
  30. Rev. Dr Takuze Chitsulo, Vice-Chancellor, Zomba Theological University, interview by author, September 16, 2022, Zomba, audio recording.


Brown, Lawrence, “The Development in Self-Understanding of the CCAP Nkhoma Synod as Church during the Forty Years of Autonomy: an Ecclesiastical Study.” Ph.D. Diss., University of Stellenbosch, 2005.

Chibowa, Isaac. Interview by author, September 2, 2022, Zomba, Audio Recording.

Chibambo, Tchupa N. “Marriage Laws Of Malawi -The Evolution Of African Marriage Laws under Colonial Rule.” Ph.D. Diss., University of London, 1987.

Chidzenje, Austin. Interview by author, July 9, 2022, Msundwe, Lilongwe, phone call recording.

Chipeta, Timothy. Interview by author, December 27, 2021, Home of Hope, Mchinji, audio recording.

Chitsulo, Takuze. Interview by author, September 16, 2022, Zomba, Audio Recording.

Hara, Handwell. From Herd Boy to University Lecturer: An Autobiography. Mzuzu: Mzuni Press, 2019.

Hara, Handwell. The Philosophy of Living Together: How Employers and Employees, Leaders and Followers may live together in peace. Lilongwe: Nkhoma Press, 2008.

Hara, Handwell. Reformed Soteriology and Malawian Context. Zomba: Kachere Series, 2008.

Hara, Lotasi. Interview by author, December 27, 2021, Home of Hope, Mchinji, Audio Recording.

Kawale, Winston. Interview by author, July 9, 2022, Lilongwe, phone call recording.

McCracken, John. Politics and Christianity in Malawi 1875-1940. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Masango, Maake J. Letter to Funeral Ceremony of Rev. Dr. Handwell Hara, July 27, 2018.

Zeze, Willy. Interview by author, July 10, 2022. Nkhoma, Lilongwe, phone call recording.

This article, submitted in January 2023, was researched and written by Nephitaly W. Kalonde, pastoral-student, Church of Central African Presbyterian, Nkhoma Synod. It was supervised by Professor Kenneth Ross, Dean of Post-Graduate Studies, Zomba Theological University, Malawi.