When he was 19 years old, an anxious Ackrion Mangimela boarded a plane to China. It was his first time inside an airplane, and he was on his way to begin a six-year medical school program. During the flight, Mangimela felt the Lord nudging him to a particular passage of Scripture, Isaiah 41:10:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
That plane ride would certainly not be the last time Mangimela made the decision to jump into the unknown, nor the last time he felt anxious about the future. But each time since, he’s remembered that moment, that nudge from the Lord, and that passage.
“I’ve held onto that verse,” he said. “Every time I’m about to leap into something I don’t really know… that verse comes to mind, that promise.”
This year, as Mangimela begins a full-time role at Oklahoma Wesleyan University as an Assistant Professor of Biology, he’s still drawing on that promise. It’s a job he’s uniquely qualified for, having taken an impressive pathway through the medical field.
“In a setting like OKWU, there’s more to what students should take home than knowledge. One of the things I hope they can take home is to actually meet Christ.”
Mangimela was born in Zambia, the fourth child in a family of ten. Growing up, he always imagined he’d take one of three career paths: law, medicine, or computer science, as each field held something that interested him. But after an experience as an adolescent helping his ill mother back to health, Mangimela made the decision that would come to define the rest of his life.
“That really sparked the passion for me to get into the medical field,” he said.
After graduating from secondary school, Mangimela boarded the plane to Beijing to begin his medical schooling. He spent a total of six years in the country, the first learning the language in Beijing and the last five years at China Medical University in Shenyang. It was a formative time for him, and not only academically. The friendships he formed there are what stand out to him now, looking back at the experience.
“You meet foreign students, and they become your family,” he said. “Most of these people were good, strong believers… for me, going to China wasn’t just an educational thing. It was also a moment of spiritual growth.”
It was in China that he met his wife, Anna, who also serves as a professor at OKWU. She had come to China in 2010, and the two met at the international church they attended. As the program progressed, their relationship grew, and the two were married in 2013.
“I graduated on a Friday, and we got married on a Saturday,” Ackrion said. “Within two weeks, we were in Zambia.”
Back in his home country, Mangimela worked through a number of clinical training rotations in different specialties—internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, and even surgery. After that, he spent two years with the Ministry of Health as a junior resident medical officer at Livingstone Central Hospital. At the end of these residencies, and armed with his full practicing license, Mangimela served at a family medical clinic for one year.
It was around this time that Anna and Ackrion began to feel a pull towards America. There were a number of reasons for this—family health issues, the possibility of increased difficulty in immigrating in the coming years, and a desire for Ackrion to do a medical residency in the United States. It was enough for the two of them to take the leap. When they arrived, Anna returned to bedside nursing and Ackrion began working at a regional medical lab. He also pursued his MBA in Healthcare Administration online at Indiana Wesleyan University. When the role at OKWU opened up, he jumped at the chance.
“I’ve held onto that verse. Every time I’m about to leap into something I don’t really know… that verse comes to mind, that promise.”
To Meet Christ
For Mangimela, the opportunity to teach is about more than just imparting knowledge to his students; he sees his role as a mentor and as a spiritual helper, too. Working at a Christian campus was non-negotiable, especially after the freedom he had in Zambia to share his faith with patients and peers.
“I think that it’s crucial for me,” he said. “Being here allows me to still continue pouring into the spiritual lives of students, helping them, pointing them to Christ.”
It’s a distinctive OKWU offers—professors who deeply care not only for their students’ minds but for their hearts and faith, too.
“In a setting like OKWU, there’s more to what students should take home than knowledge,” Mangimela said. “One of the things I hope they can take home is to actually meet Christ… when we look at what we want them to become, our goal is to make them Christ-like.”
His experience in the medical field also provides a practical door through which his students can access opportunities in their careers.
“I’ve been on the side they want to be. They want to be physicians, they want to be in healthcare, and I can see the steps that they need to take,” he said. “It’s not just a fact, it’s about—alright, how does this relate to a patient who is in the bed? How do we tie biochemistry to what you’re seeing with the patient?”
Mangimela doesn’t know how long he plans to stay in the classroom—in the future, he’s interested in hands-on healthcare again, probably to become a specialist. For now, he’s here, and that’s enough.
One thing is for sure. The next time Ackrion Mangimela steps out into the unknown, he’ll be drawing on the same promise God gave him at 19, as he boarded his first airplane:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.”