Joseph Lekeleni Mkumpha was a renowned evangelist, known particularly for his contribution to the expansion of Presbyterian mission work in Kapiri, Mchinji, in the central part of Malawi. He was born on July 10, 1926 in Chiradzulu District in southern Malawi where his father was working with Providence Industrial Mission (PIM). He was the only surviving child in the family of Chiwunjiza Mkumpha and Monise Jere. After his six elder sisters died in infancy, his mother gave her son the name Lekeleni (leave him for me). Barely three months after his birth, his parents moved from Chiradzulu to Kapiri, Mchinji, his father’s original home. Since there was no PIM church in Kapiri, the Mkumpha family started to worship at the Roman Catholic Church, where their son received the name Joseph at his baptism. He enrolled at Mchinji Primary School when he was 11 years old. His father encouraged him to study hard and become an icon in the society like John Chilembwe, the founder of PIM who was an inspirational figure in Malawi because of his resistance to colonial rule. It was the stories his father told him about John Chilembwe that first prompted the young Joseph to develop an interest in becoming a preacher of the gospel. Since he was a Roman Catholic he thought of becoming a priest.
To reach school he had to walk 27km barefooted and, since he was the only child, he was often needed at home where his mother relied on his help. Despite his father’s encouragement Joseph often failed to attend. In 1952, contrary to his parents’ wishes, Joseph went to Zimbabwe where he joined many other Malawian migrant workers and stayed for the next four years. When he came home to Kapiri in 1956 he did not return to the Catholic Church but joined the Nkhoma Synod, the branch of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian that was active in Mchinji. In 1959 he married Zeresi Kanyatula and they had two sons, Mackford and Jerenje.
Mkumpha’s gifts began to manifest themselves when he became a catechumen class teacher. He had a special talent for teaching and became very popular with the catechumens. He could recite and explain the catechism as if he were the original author. He was often found reading the Bible or the catechism. After he was elected to be a church elder, he was frequently invited to preach at Sunday services, funerals or other occasions. His preaching was powerful, and it did not take long for Mchinji mission station to recognize Joseph Mkumpha as an evangelist. The church started using him in revival meetings where he would preach powerful sermons to large congregations.
When Nkhoma Synod started to register evangelists to work under the supervision of a minister, Mkumpha was among the first cohort. He completed the training course for evangelists at Namoni Katengeza Lay Training Centre. When he returned to Kapiri he preached with such authority that people thought he had become a minister and began to address him as Abusa (Pastor) Mkumpha. Since Mchinji mission covered a very large area, he was given Kapiri zone as the sphere for his evangelistic activities. Under his influence the church membership grew dramatically. He rarely missed funeral services since he regarded them as a major opportunity to reach many unbelievers with the gospel. Under his leadership the church in Kapiri zone attained the status of a full congregation.
Even when Kapiri became a full congregation Mkumpha never ceased to work as an evangelist. On many occasions people encouraged him to become an ordained minister but he remained faithful to his calling and continued his evangelistic ministry. When Nkhoma Synod suspended the system of having registered evangelists in the 1980s, Mkumpha continued his evangelistic work regardless. He supported the pastor in works of administration and more especially in the field of evangelism. He did not receive any remuneration from the church and supported himself in his evangelistic ministry. Today all the prayer houses which were within Kapiri zone when Mkumpha was active as an evangelist are full congregations and Kapiri zone has become a Presbytery. The Presbytery comprises Kapiri CCAP, Ulongwe CCAP, Chigodi CCAP, Mponda CCAP, Chilima CCAP, Kalungu CCAP and Sopa CCAP – all churches that grew out of the evangelistic work of Joseph Mkumpha.
In 2005, Mkumpha’s wife Zeresi was involved in a car accident and died on the spot. During the funeral service Mkumpha announced that he would never get married again and he prayed a prayer which touched many people. It is a prayer that has been remembered for its convicting power. He kept his promise until he died of prostate cancer at Kapiri mission hospital in 2018. He is lovingly remembered as a Christian revival preacher whose strong, passionate and straight-to-the-point messages made him a popular figure. There are many people who testify that it was through Mkumpha’s evangelistic ministry that they received Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.
Banda, Andrew, nephew raised in Mkumpha’s home. Interview by author, July 10, 2022, Mchilumba Village, Mchinji, Malawi.
Kampota, Rev. B.B.C., a minister who worked with Mkumpha for many years. Interview by author, September 10, 2022, Nkhumbu CCAP, Lilongwe, Malawi.
Kanyatula, Austin, an in-law of Mkumpha. Interview by author, 13 September, 2022, Kanyatula Village, Kasungu, Malawi.
Kasonjola, Mark, close friend of Mkumpha. Interview by author, August 15, 2022, Kapiri CCAP, Mchinji, Malawi.
Zichepe, Medson, converted through Mkumpha’s preaching. Interview by author, July 10, 2022, Kapiri, Mchinji Malawi.
This article, submitted in November 2022, was researched and written by Alexander Kambiri, minister of Mthawira congregation in the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Nkhoma Synod, under the supervision of Professor Kenneth R. Ross as one of the requirements of the Church History course on the MTh in Contextual Theology at Zomba Theological University.