FASTING is regarded as a faith-enhancing act in the life of a Christian, but the residents of Katete District in Eastern Province are now beginning to question the true value of the practice after one of their own renowned evangelists died after fasting for 40 days and 40 nights.
Canaan Mwanza, 38, a well-known evangelist with the Charismatic Movement in Katete, agonisingly gave up his breath just days after completing his period of fasting.
His mother, Avaida Mwanza, was at pains to narrate the ordeal to this writer after the counsel of several friends, relatives and the general public - most of whom convinced her that she should not talk about the incident, saying it was an act of God.
But after much persuasion, and with the help of her husband, Godrick Mwanza, she was able to open up. And Canaan's tale of his prayer and fasting-based life unfolds like this:
Some time in 2007, Canaan, a teacher in Mfuwe District, did what Christians call light fasting - abstaining from food and water from morning till 18:30 hours for 40 days as a way of strengthening his faith, much to the amusement of fellow believers and friends.
A known family prayer warrior, Canaan followed this act a year later with a total fasting for 28 days in some hills of Mfuwe area where, according to his mother, he encountered dangerous beasts which, however, did not harm him in any way.
The mother puts his safety during the Mfuwe fasting down to divine protection!
"He was there for 28 days, without eating and bathing. He met animals such as leopards and lions, which just stared at him, without harming him As you may be aware, that area (Mfuwe) is a game reserve area," she says.
Upon his return and subsequent recovery from the 28-day fast, he was said to have gone flat out praying for people with different ailments and those who were demon-possessed.
With that somewhat strengthened and renewed faith, Canaan decided to take yet another challenging step of faith in his quest for an enhanced spiritual life.
He decided to embark on a programme to travel by road to Nigeria, with intention to go and have a face-to-face meeting with global renowned tele-evangelist, Prophet TB Joshua, who is also said to have fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before establishing his ministry - the Synagogue Church of All Nations and Emmanuel TV station.
Though it took him a lot of time to reach Nigeria, Canaan never got the chance to meet the Man of God for he (TB Joshua) always had a long-winding queue of people from all over the world with appointments to meet him.
And Canaan was surely not among the thousands who had applied from around the world.
"We became worried as a family such that we resorted to prayer because we did not hear from him for over the three weeks while he had travelled to Nigeria," the mother recalls.
Later, the Mwanzas got to hear from Canaan who assured them of his safety, and informed them that his mission to meet the Prophet of God had failed.
Canaan headed back home, but is said to have never regretted the fact that he never got to meet TB Joshua.
Instead, people who were close to him say he believed strongly that God had a purpose for not enabling him to meet the prophet.
On April 22, 2010, Canaan decided to go for yet another total fasting for 40 days and nights on Mphangwe Hills in Katete.
Initially, fellow believers accompanied him on his last prayer and fasting mission that would later lead to his death.
But confronted with the "cares of this life", just after the first two days, his fellow believers backed-off, leaving the spiritual man to continue with the fast alone.
Canaan was determined to spend 40 days and 40 nights on the hills. During the period, he ate nothing, drank nothing, not even water, and never took a bath.
The only thing he would ask from those who would visit him was for them to go and re-charge his mobile phone, which he was using to communicate with family and friends.
"What a strong faith!" many people admired him.
Like Jesus Christ, the pillar of the Christian faith, who fasted for 40 days and 40 nights before embarking on his earthly ministry, Canaan also finished his fasting, though with varied results from those of Christ.
While Jesus Christ went on to establish a ministry whose faith still saves and gives life to those who call on His name even today - over 2,000 years after his death - Canaan never got to establish any ministry.
Two days before he finished his fast, the people who went to visit him (the sister and brother-in-law) reported to have found him too weak to do anything. But defiantly, he refused to break his fast, determined to finish the 40 days.
He told them that although his body was weak, his spirit was stronger than ever. And so, they left him to finish despite their worry.
Afterwards, the father accompanied by his fellow charismatic friends, went to get him down from the hills, as he was too weak to come down on his own.
When they reached home, Canaan's mother put him on a light diet of porridge to help him regain his strength gradually.
But five days later, the man started hallucinating. Suggestions that he be taken to the hospital were shot down by some of his fellow believers who said the hallucinations were a sign that he was seeing God and having conversation with the Creator.
Convinced, the family left Canaan to recuperate from home, away from the healthcare workers who are trained to preserve lives!
But one Friday afternoon, which Ms Mwanza reckons she will live to remember, her son died right before her eyes.
"When I went to his room to give him some food, I just saw him stretch up and that was it. I thought he was sleeping but when I called his name three times and without response, I touched him and realised that he had died," she sobbed.
The death of Canaan has been received with mixed feelings in Katete with many people blaming the family for not taking him to the hospital.
But on the other side, Canaan's family is convinced that his death came at an appointed time, which was foretold.
"We found a piece of cloth in his room written 'Friday' (the day he died) and we don't know where it came from It is all from God and must be treated as such," the family believes.
A large, framed and captioned portrait of the smiling Canaan Mwanza still hangs just above the door in the Mwanzas' house as a remembrance to their hero of faith, whose death is now causing some to begin questioning the true value of prayer and fasting.