Reinhard Bonnke, the 'Billy Graham of Africa', dies

Pentecostal evangelist preached the gospel to millions

The New York Times calls him “the Billy Graham of Africa.” Reinhard Bonnke, the Pentecostal evangelist who drew millions to his mass rallies, has died aged 79.

Bonnke’s Christ For All Nations (CFAN) ministry puts the number of “salvation decision cards” at 78,800,704 and counting. The rallies continue.

Bonnke was Billy-Graham-like in drawing crowds, and preaching the gospel, but there was a key difference. As a faith healer, Bonnke is held to have caused the blind to see, the deaf to hear and the dead to be raised.

After attending Bible College in Wales, and his ordination in Germany, Bonnke pastored a church and then went on to start missionary work in Africa, according to CFAN’s biography of Bonnke. “It was there, in the small mountain kingdom of Lesotho, that God placed upon his heart the vision of ‘the continent of Africa, being washed in the precious Blood of Jesus’ — an entire continent, from Cape Town to Cairo and from Dakar to Djibouti that needed to be reached and to hear the proclamation of the sign-following gospel.”

“Evangelist Bonnke began holding meetings in a tent that accommodated just 800 people, but, as attendance steadily increased, larger and larger tents had to be purchased, until finally, in 1984, he commissioned the construction of the world’s largest mobile structure — a tent capable of seating 34,000 people! Soon, attendance at his meetings even exceeded the capacity of this huge structure, and he began open-air gospel campaigns with an initial gathering of over 150,000 people per service! Since then, he has conducted city-wide meetings across the continent with as many as 1,600,000 people attending a single meeting using towering sound systems that can be heard for miles.”

Even Christians who are most sceptical of Pentecostalism could see the strengths in Bonnke. In an extremely critical review of the 2006 Hillsong conference, the Matthias Media magazine The Briefing’s Tony Payne and Gordon Cheng noted that Bonnke was the speaker who most clearly preached the gospel.

Bonnke has been a featured speaker at Hillsong conference several times. Hillsong’s Global Senior Pastor Brian Houston gave this tribute on learning of Bonnke’s death: ‘Over the years, his unwavering passion to win souls for the Kingdom has never ceased to inspire me to connect people to Jesus, their Saviour. I love the way salvation resonates in his spirit, whether he’s on a platform speaking to millions or behind the scenes having a chat – Jesus is always on his lips.”

Billy Graham’s son Franklin Graham told the Christian Broadcasting Network: “Reinhard Bonnke was a powerful evangelist throughout the world, but particularly on the continent of Africa where his heart burned with compassion for people’s souls. Through the preaching of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, millions of lives will be in Heaven and we give praise and glory to God that his word never returns void. Our thoughts and prayers are with Reinhard’s wife Anni and the entire family.”

Nigeria was the scene of some of Bonnke’s largest rallies. Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim, described Bonnke’s death as a “great loss to Nigeria, Africa and the entire world.”

Terry Prider, pastor of Victorious Church in Renmark, South Australia, experienced Bonnke’s African ministry first hand.

He wrote this reflection for Eternity:

As I sat at my desk as a restless theology student in mid 2007, I was aware that I was definitely not the best student of theology. I had always been a practical, hands-on type of person and the thought of a further two years study weighed heavily upon my shoulders.

In previous weeks I had casually commented to a close confidant they I’d be better to go and do some kind of practical traineeship with someone like Reinhard Bonnke.

The heaviness of study, however, proved no match for the desire of practical, hands-on ministry nor the passion to see lives changed.

Taking a chance, I cold-called Reinhard’s ministry office here in Australia where I was promptly invited to chat about what was on my heart with CFAN’s directors Steve and Michelle Asmar.

As I shared what was on my heart, Steve said something along the lines of ‘well, there’s a crusade in a few weeks time, do you want to go?’ (I am one of hundreds of young Australians who have had this experience). Of course, I said ‘YES!’

Over five nights, the crowds got bigger and bigger with more than 500,000 in attendance on the final night.

Fast forward to November 2007 and I arrive into Lagos, Nigeria, meeting Reinhard for the first time at our accommodation. My first impressions were three-fold: This was the most gentle man I had ever met, more in love with Jesus than anyone I had ever met – and more passionate about souls than anyone I had ever met!

The next morning we left Lagos for Agbor, the site of this particular crusade.

I remember seeing bodies of decapitated people on the sides of the road (I was told by the driver it was due to witchcraft), and literally tens of thousands of people lining the streets to welcome Reinhard and the team to the city.

On the first night of the crusade, there was an estimated 125,000 people in attendance. When the invitation was given for people to accept Christ it seemed like every hand was raised. Then the sick were prayed for. The most astounding miracles took place. Cripples walked, blind eyes were opened and the deaf heard. Looking out over the crowd there were several coffins being passed forward to the front of the platform. The lids were opened and we were requested to pray for the dead.

If I was asked what Reinhard’s impact … was on my life, I would say he was the man who ‘lit my candle’

None were raised in that meeting but there are many testimonies of those that were. Over five nights, the crowds got bigger and bigger with more than 500,000 in attendance on the final night. After the event was concluded, more than 800,000 individual decision cards were filled in and followed up by local pastors.

I recall the most amazing testimony from the event. A woman came and testified with others. She was pregnant but the baby in her womb was dead. She had been to the doctors who were going to operate and remove the baby in coming days. Her testimony was that every time the name of Jesus was declared in the meeting, she felt the baby kick. As I understand it, she went on to deliver a healthy baby.

There were other impacting things from that week. Seeing hundreds of thousands of people standing in the rain, in mud up to their ankles, many so poor they had no shoe,s just to hear a message of hope – the gospel of Jesus Christ – forever changed my thoughts on the importance and the power of the message.

To quote Reinhard, it truly is the “matchless message!”

If I was asked what Reinhard’s impact, at least my time with him, was on my life, I would say he was the man who ‘lit my candle’.

I would be bold enough to say there are tens of thousands of other young Pentecostals across Australia who’s candles (ministries) were also lit by Reinhard’s life.

Vale Reinhard Bonnke – well done good and faithful servant.

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