How Reinhard Bonnke Changed the Face of Christianity in Africa

Bonnke always challenged his followers to take the mantle from him

German-born evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, who attracted massive crowds in Africa during decades of preaching, is being mourned by millions of Christians across the continent following his death aged 79. Kenyan writer Jesse Masai looks back at his influence.

With comparisons ranging from British “Prince of Preachers” Charles Spurgeon to American televangelist Billy Graham, Bonnke’s status as the father of modern-day crusade preaching and healing in Africa is not in dispute.

Across the continent, huge week-long church rallies are now commonplace, characterised by mass mobilisation, big tents, colourful podiums, sophisticated public address systems, local language translators and, in some instances, evangelists who mimic Bonnke’s oratory and stage antics, including how he firmly gripped microphones.

At the end of some of his sermons, he would ask who in the crowds was hearing God’s call to take the microphone from his hands.

His message of redemptive hope became important, particularly in African nations affected by drought, civil strife and other tragedies.

Some, like 83 year-old Kenyan pentecostal preacher Wilson Mamboleo – who helped organise Bonnke’s forays into East Africa – consider Africa’s best-known names on the African Christian scene such as Nigeria’s TB Joshua and Kenya’s Teresia Wairimu, a direct consequence of Bonnke’s early influence.

‘Seeing the dead rise’

Bonnke joined Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta during the dedication of Wairimu’s Faith Evangelistic Ministry Family Church in Nairobi, the country’s capital, in August 2016.

“His pioneering, militant approach of open-air crusades was informed by our context. Like the Biblical St Paul, he was aware that he was confronting strong evil forces,” says Mr Mamboleo.

His Christ For All Nations (CFAN) organisation, known for its work throughout Africa, claims Bonnke oversaw more than 79 million conversions to Christianity.

At huge rallies – including one in Nigeria’s main city, Lagos, in 2000 that was said to have drawn 1.6 million people – Bonnke claimed to heal people using the powers of God.

He also told followers he had witnessed people rising from the dead, although such “miracles” were dismissed by his critics.

Bonnke’s crusading approach at times also stirred controversy.

Stephen Mutua, who between 1986 and 2009 served as an international director under him, remembers riots in mainly Muslim Kano in northern Nigeria in 1990.

The Muslim population had been angered that Bonnke had secured permission to hold a crusade.

“In the ensuing chaos, I found myself in an armoured car for the first time in my life, before the Nigerian military airlifted us to Lagos,” Dr Mutua recalls.

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