By Gbenga Osinaike
Not many church leaders in Nigeria and indeed in Africa can claim ignorance of Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. His passion, his zeal, his commitment to evangelism and his love for Africa are infectious.
You may take everything from Bonnke, but you can’t take away his passion for souls and his commitment to the Africa continent. He breathes evangelism and does not consider any amount too much to spend, even if it is to win just a soul. It is instructive that since he started coming to Nigeria to preach the gospel in 1985, he comes with his resources and resources from his partners and does not task anybody in Nigeria. One can however not rule out the fact that he has partners in Nigeria who are also committed to the vision. For Bonnke, it’s get the souls saved, think not about the amount of money spent. In an age where some church leaders are looking at financial returns of a programme, Bonnke is thinking about the souls returned.
It was with this passion that he traversed the length and breadth of Nigeria even at the risk of his life. He had preached in the northern parts of the country in the heat of religious crisis. His messages had stirred riots at some points and the kingdom of hell had always been threatened each time he holds crusades.
Since 1985 when he held his first major crusade till about 8 years ago, the Christ for All Nations (CFAN) had recorded about 52 million documented converts in the whole of Africa with the bulk coming from Nigeria. Many ministers of the gospel have been impacted while many ministries have experienced tremendous growth as a result of his outreaches. There is perhaps no major town in Nigeria that has not experienced Reinhard Bonnke’s crusade.
Over the years he has distributed over 185 million copies of CFaN follow-up literature which has been published in 103 languages and printed in 55 countries. Many of his books are given out free across the world. He is also recognised for hosting fire conferences where he infuses in pastors and church leaders the passion for evangelism.
But Bonnke did not start that away. He got to know the Lord at the tender age of 9 and was miraculously birthed with the vision for lost souls in Africa. He was said to have been seen distributing bread in a vision and the bread kept increasing. That was a pointer that God was going to use him greatly. He was eventually called to do missions in Africa. But he did not venture into missions without first being trained at a Bible College in Wales. He was ordained in Germany.
But it was in the small country of Lesotho that God placed in him the burden for the continent of Africa. He saw the continent washed in the precious blood of Jesus. It was that vision that set him on fire and led him to lay his life on the altar of evangelism. He was quite ambitious at the beginning. In those early days rather than hold open air crusades he built a tent that could take 800 and takes this tent to wherever he held crusades.
In a 12-minute video clip where he shared his story, Bonnke recounted that the tent could no longer take people because of the increase in attendance. He then built a tent that could take 45000 people. But the unexpected happen. The tent was struck by a strange wind and it tore into shreds. A despondent Bonnke went to the Lord and there the Lord told him ‘My glory shall henceforth be your canopy’. The tragedy became a triumph. He abandoned the idea of using tent.
Subsequently attendance at his crusades soared. He had recorded close to two million in attendance at many of his crusades using towering sound systems that can be heard from miles.
Now, Bonnke who held his first ever evangelical crusade in 1975 in Bostwana is set to hand over the burning torch. Though he has officially handed over the running of the ministry to a younger fellow, named Daniel Kolenda, He will officially sign off from holding crusades in the month of November. But that will not come until after he has held a farewell crusade.
From November 8- 12 opposite OPIC estate along Lagos Ibadan express road, Nigeria will witness the last signature of Bonnke’s crusade on the soil of Africa. He is coming with all the passion and the zeal of over 45 years running crusades across Africa. He is coming with his heart.
The Director of Crusade in Africa of the Christ for All Nations Ministry, which Bonnke set up about 35 years ago, Rev. John Darku described this last visit as perhaps his very last. ‘He may never see Africa again. With this final crusade, he will be passing the torch to a coming generation.’ He said at the Sheraton Hotel Lagos on Monday October 16 while addressing journalists.
The chairman of the planning committee for the crusade, Apostle Alexander Bamgbola who is also the chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria for Lagos State, said at the press conference that the crusade will be a turning point for Nigeria. He said God will use it to wash the pollution that has bedevilled Nigeria over the years; that has not allowed Nigeria to make progress. He stressed that cleansing is a continuous exercise adding that the churches in Nigeria have always been in the business of ensuring Nigeria is rid of spiritual filth.
As it is, the stage is set. The ground for the crusades is being prepared. Logistics are being put in place. Hundreds of evangelists from across the world are expected to attend this crusade which promises to be earth shaking. When the organisers were asked how much is being budgeted for the humungous event, the response was that it will be difficult to put a cost to what is being spent for now. Rev. Darku explained that it will be difficult to put a cost to what is being spent adding that such figure will be known at the end of the programme.
The question that may arise from Bonnke’s last outing in Nigeria and indeed in Africa is: What is the future of crusades in Nigeria? Is the tradition of crusades not waning with the new age? Who are the evangelists, where are the evangelists with passion and zeal? Is the church in Nigeria ready to back up a local evangelist the way it rallies round Bonnke whenever he comes to hold crusades?
Why are some church leaders so concerned about financial returns for any programme they hold? Who are the people who have the kind of Bonnke’s zeal? We are told that he does not collect money during his crusades? Can that tradition be instilled in our leaders? Do we have churches that are committed to soul winning even when their finances are being drained? These are the questions that must be answered if the burning torch is going to be well received.