STEVEN MVULA & KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka
â€œDID you pray and fast?â€
That is the question that was being asked by almost everyone, a day after the nation observed the day of repentance, prayer and fasting last Sunday.
Perhaps not since the Gabon air disaster that decimated what is generally regarded as one of the countryâ€™s best footballing generations has the country been so united in turning to God in such manner.
After a presidential election that exposed sharp regional divides in voting, and the economic challenges that were unforeseen a few months ago, President Lungu, the countryâ€™s sixth President since independence – other than taking some physical measures â€“ decided to look to Him above for divine intervention and guidance.
He had read the national mood well.
â€œAnxiety and distress prevail throughout the landâ€¦ Indeed, hope seems to have deserted the minds of the people. It is almost as if the wise counsel of the learned among us are not a match to the crisis before us,â€ Mr Lungu said when he proclaimed the day of repentance, prayer and fasting duringÂ the official opening of Parliament on September 18.
When the day, October 18, itself came, it proved that when it comes to Zambians recognising and acknowledging God as the supreme authority, the nation is united on that score.
â€œI feel proud as a Zambian today [Sunday, Oct 18] to see so many of my countrymen and women abandoning their usual programmes and uniting in prayer and fasting for the good of our country,â€ said Tamara Musonda of Lusaka.
It is easy to understand why Ms Musonda felt so proud of her nationality.
Zambians can generally differ sometimes so sharply on many matters including football – Nkana supporters against â€˜Mightyâ€™ Mufulira Wanderers or indeed Manchester United vs Arsenal – but when it comes to appealing to God for some divine guidance, there is normally a real unity of purpose that is manifested.
The focus last Sunday may have been the Lusaka Showgrounds, where President Lungu, together with founding President Kenneth Kaunda and fourth head of state Rupiah Banda joined hundreds of other Lusaka residents in a five-hour prayer session.
There were prayers almost everywhere you could find Zambians.
Other than in various towns across the country holding their own respective prayer sessions, Zambians in the diaspora also joined; in fact, others were even joined by non-Zambians.
Those who held prayers outside the country include the Zambian missions in Malawi and South Africa, as well as Sweden where they were joined by the Dean of all African missions in Stockholm, Andre Hombesa, of Congo Brazzaville, and Namibian Ambassador to Sweden Melese Marimo.
It was a historic moment, underlined by President Lungu declaring October 18 as a public holiday for national prayers.
â€œWe want to thank God that October 18 was successful. We all buried our denominations, political affiliation, beliefs and totally depended on God who has assured us that it is well for Zambia,â€ Bible Gospel Church in Central Africa overseer Peter Ndhlovu says.
The declaration of October 18 as a national day of repentance, prayer and fasting, has been broadly welcomed.
â€œWe are delighted with his pronouncement. Zambia still stands as a centre of influence in the region and the world as a whole, for the peace and unity that reigns, which many countries could have loved to have,â€ says Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia executive director Pukuta Mwanza.
There is certainly no going back.
â€œThis is a bombshell to the devil. I am sure wherever he (the devil) is now, he is wreathing and seething with shock and disappointment. God loves this country,â€ Stella Manda, who attended the open-air session in the showgrounds, says.
Pioneer tele-evangelist and opposition MMD leader Nevers Mumba who was among those who attended the Showground session, believes in the mantra â€˜Zambia shall be savedâ€™.
Of course the â€˜Zambia shall be savedâ€™ is a message that Dr Mumba has been preaching for decades.
But he still fervently believes in it.
â€œWe are a rich country. Zambia shall be saved!â€ the charismatic tele-evangelist declared at the Showgrounds, as the audience responded with shouts of amen.
For President Lungu, it is simple: â€œOur God has heard our cries, He has forgiven us our sins and we are sure He will heal our country as we face serious socio-economic challenges.â€
The socio-economic challenges are of course real, not made any easier by low copper prices, the countryâ€™s major source of foreign exchange as well as the electricity shortages that are putting a strain on production.
Like the Mail and Guardian reported, in the midst of the challenges that the country faces, it is still a unique leader in Africa.
The publication, Africaâ€™s first online newspaper, and one of the first online newspapers in the world, which offers a deeper understanding to Africaâ€™s possibilities and difficulties, challenges conventional views and explores the future of the continent, highlighted a number of factors that make Zambia unique.
One of them is that the country is an island of peace.
â€œDespite having 72 different ethnic groups, and being surrounded by neighbours afflicted by insecurity, war and instability, Zambia is one of Africaâ€™s most peaceful countries.
â€œThe country consistently features in Africaâ€™s top 10 on the Global Peace Index due to its negligible scores in internal and external conflict and because it is able to have peaceful transfers of power happen, the latest being in 2015 when Edgar Lungu won the presidency,â€ the publication wrote on the day the nation went for prayers.
That is why Ms Musonda and many others feel proud to be Zambians.
It is also the reason President Lungu appealed to Zambians with â€œbrilliant ideasâ€ to come forward and share their thoughts.
â€œThere are many out there who have brilliant ideas, let them come forward, we run an open government,â€ he said.
â€œWe should never seek political success on the back of our national failure or disaster. It is our people who will sufferâ€¦ You all know that God is love and I appeal to all of you to do the best and leave the rest to God.â€
The foundation for a smart Zambia has been laid.
STEVEN MVULA & KELVIN KACHINGWE, Lusaka