Saturday, July 16, 2016 9:21 am
TheNEWS exclusive: Reinhard Bonnke, the preacher from Germany
Wherever he goes, a lot of aura goes with him. Whoever he holds his crusades and fire conferences, people literally flow in like rivers into the ocean. Reinhard Bonnke has become a factor in Christian or perhaps religious circles across the globe. When he visited Lagos in what tagged the “Great Millennium Crusade,” a sea of hands and heads waved in the sky with the gentleness of giant savannah grasses responding to the gentle push of the wind. As hand went from left to the right, a joyful noise from beneath. It was the roaring of millions of peoples. It went on for minutes on end. Never before in the history of the National Stadium had such chants of victory been heard in its vicinity. And an endless account of miracles followed- the lame walked, the blind see… that has been the landmark of the German evangelist to Africa – prosperity, signs and wonders.
Questions on miracles have dominated religious debates for ages. Virtually all scriptures, the Hindus Veda; The Christian Bibles and the Muslim Quran are replete with accounts of extraordinary performances. Indeed all belief sacred or profane come complete with incredible violations of the laws of nature. To make such breach believable, the name of the Almighty only need to be dropped. The religionists simply in the majority are avowed believers in the miraculous. They will offer their lives to defend that belief.
But doubting Thomases also exist. These tiny minority of skeptics have always challenged the believers to show the sense in their claims. Regrettably, religion, the world over, does not lay claim to sense of logic! One of the most cynical attackers of the concept of miracles ever produced by history is David Hume, 1711-1776.
Hume argued that miracles or prodigies are nothing more than the product of warped thinking and eloquence. To him, they should not be believed. In his elaborate work, Concerning Miracles, Hume argues that no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be a such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish. For good measure, he came down hard on what may be the most inconvenient miracles to the human sense. “When anyone tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life,” he writes “I immediately consider within myself , whether it be more problem that the person should either deceive or be deceived or that the facts which he relates, should really have happened. I weigh one miracle against the other; and according to superiority which I discovered, I pronounced my decision and always reject the greater miracle.”
The Humean test, skeptic insist must be applied to all claims of miracle. But, oh, how Hume must shift uncomfortably in the Sepulcher at the rivers of prodigies that go with Christian crusades today! The renown philosopher, however, left a vital question unanswered. What would his reaction be if he were to see the dead raised from the grave? Or better still would he remain an incurable pessimist if he were to be the object of miracle?
So much for philosophy and its unanswered questions! At least, one man, Daniel Okechukwu, would not be bogged down by its finesse. He is an example of a Lazarus rescued from the valley of the shadow of death. As the story goes, Okechukwu, a pastor, sustained serious injuries and became unconscious during an accident. He was rushed to a hospital in Owerri. On arrival, however, he was certified dead. Two other hospitals confirmed he was dead like a dodo. In fact, a mortician prepared the corpse for embalmment and a death certificate was issued. It was now the third day. Yet Okechukwu’s wife could not come to terms with the cold reality of the husband’s demise. On the third day, when rigour mortis had set in, the corpse, already in a coffin arrived the venue of a crusade by Bonnke in Onitsha. And there the miracle happened. It was a rare feat which Bonnke himself admitted. “I have not seen often the dead raised. What we saw with Daniel Okechukwu, I have never seen before myself with my own eyes. It’s an awesome miracle, it’s been in the whole world.”
Bonnke was not born an evangelist, let alone a miracle worker. His encounter with Jesus came at the tender age of nine after he had stolen some money from his mother. “She caught me red handed, but instead of punishing me because that was what I deserved, she put her hands around me and said ‘Reinhard you are on your way to hell because you are a thief.’ He narrated to TheNEWS with the tone of one conversant with the pulpit.
It is indeed a man of the pulpit, having worked as missionary in Lesotho and as an evangelist in various parts of the world for decades. Bonnke was born in Germany to a father that was both soldier and a pastor. He was born during the Second World War and spent his early childhood with his mother in a refugee camp in Denmark. On return to Germany at the end of the war, he heard God telling him, he would one day ‘preach the gospel in Africa.’ But his father had put his eyes on Bonnke’s elder brother as a successor. Anyway he later attended a Bible College in Wales where he first met an African. Now Africa is home and he has traversed all the nook and cranny of the continent preaching the Word and performing miracles. In this interview with TheNEWS, the German evangelist gives a blow by blow account of his life and the source of his power.
HOW I STARTED HEALING
Let us start with your background. You were growing up during World War 11. Narrate that childhood experience to us
I was born in 1940 in East Germany during World War II. That was when the war was going on. We had to flee and become refugees. We lost everything. We went with our mother, we were six children. I was child number five and just four years old when we ran for our lives. Somehow we crossed the Balfic Sea by boat just to escape the Russians – Soviet forces at that time. We landed in Denmark.
Actually, I was between my fourth and ninth year. All I knew was barbed wire in a refugee camp in a foreign land. So that explains why I have a very great compassion for displaced and poverty stricken people. I also remembered how we scratched for food just to survive. I had a very rough childhood.
We returned to Germany when I was nine and my father at that time was a Pastor. He has started a church in West Germany. So we were repatriated from Denmark after finding him through the Red Cross. That was how I grew up in Hamburg.
In other words, when you left Germany initially you didn’t go with your father?
My father was a soldier like everybody else during the war you know, they were drafted.
He was during that period a British prisoner of war (POW). He was prisoner of war for just nine months before he was released. Then he established a church as I have just mentioned earlier. That’s where I grew up.
You became born again at the age of nine. Is that true?
How was that experience?
Well, I tell you something Nigerians may not have heard. In the refugee camp, I never knew what money was because there was no money. We were just refugees. The Danish government gave us some food and we got some clothes and we lived four families in one room. It was a terrible thing. We were just surviving. When as a nine-year old boy, I got back to Germany, I discovered money, I realised that with money I could buy sweets. And I stole some coins from my mother’s purse. I went out and bought sweets. She caught me red handed but instead of punishing me, because that was what I deserved, she put her hands around me and said “Reinhard, you are on your way to hell, because you are a thief.”
That moment the Holy spirit touched my heart. I saw myself lost. And she said Jesus can save sinners and he cares for me. People think this cannot be real in a child’s heart and mind but that was the day of my new birth. And I never ever touched money again. It was absolutely fantastic but that was my conversation experience. I had made a petty theft; mother caught me and instead of punishing me she led me to Jesus Christ and I am eternally grateful.
We thought that since your father was a Pastor, you don’t need that born again experience. Or what do you think?
Oh! God has no grandchildren. So I cannot be saved because of my father. Everyone has got to get saved himself. And if my parents go to haven, I could still go to hell. It has nothing to do with even if my father was the Pope. Of course he (the Pope) doesn’t marry. I still would need to be saved.
And I was extremely focused. So, at age 22, I met my wife. She is the only woman I have ever kissed. That’s the truth.
That was a tender age to take such a conscious decision. Does it mean you never had childhood escapades – drinking, ladies etc?
Well, I got saved like I said earlier at nine. When I was 10, Jesus called me, I was in my father’s Church, a very small church because it was a small town just north of Hamburg. I don’t know how many people were there 20, 30 or 50. I think 50 was far too much. So let’s say 25. And there was somebody speaking. It was a guest speaker, not my dad. And I sat there as a 10-year old boy and suddenly the Holy Spirit spoke in my heart. I heard it as clear as a bell. And he said ‘Reinhard, one day, you will preach the gospel in Africa…”
I started to cry and I ran forward, hugged my dad. I said, “Papa, papa, papa, God had spoken to me.” Father said, “What did He say?” I said, He said that one day I would “preach the gospel in Africa.” And my father said to me, Reinhard, “your older brother is going to be my successor.” I thank God I never became his successor. Since then as I grew up to become a teenager of 14, 15,16, 17, 18, I always thought I cannot fool around with the girls like the other boys because I have to preach to those girls one day. And I was extremely focused. So, at age 22, I met my wife. She is the only woman I have ever kissed. That’s the truth.
How were you able to resist the temptations?
We are all tempted because temptation itself is not a sin only when we yield to it. I don’t want to put myself here as a great example but if you ask me so directly, this is my honest answer. It is the truth.
But I still was a sinner as you known and still need the salvation. So with God it is like that. You can have forgiveness for the biggest sin, as you need it for the smallest sin. So if you are a big or small sinner, to God it doesn’t actually matter. One thing matters, we all need the Savior, we all need forgiveness. If my little sins have not been forgiven, I would still go to hell. We all need Jesus-big or small sinner. We all need him.
Getting born again at that tender age must be a unique experience. What will you consider the most challenging moment of your life?
Well, I got to very difficult times you can imagine. I went to the Theological seminary in the United Kingdom when I was 19 years of age at last I was old enough. I was just dying for that day I wanted to get going on my way to Africa.
I never met at African until I was 19. That was in the United Kingdom. I was there with a youth group for a visit and in one of the churches, I saw an African. I ran to him. I said would you please allow me to take a photo with you? I still have that photo. Because I knew that God had asked me to preach the Gospel to Africa and I was so proud meeting an African for the first time, I was so blessed, I had a lot of trials after I was ordained as a minister of the gospel and I pioneered churches with great hardship, great financial hardship. My salary was a peanut. We just lived by faith and trusted in God. I knew I have a big heart for people who struggle-also for swho struggle. I got through it all and I can only say it is worth the while to keep trusting in God. I asked the Lord for silver and He gave me gold.
You had a specific call to preach the gospel to Africa. If you look back with your experience so far, do you now have an idea of why God asked you to come to Africa?
No, I think it is… I just view it as the great mercy of God. You know we were five boys I told you. I was not the best at school. My brothers were absolutely brilliant. So I always thought my brothers would qualify more for the service of God until I realised that mathematics does not save the world. You Jesus had to come and die and obedience to the Holy Spirit, yielding one’s life to God is what God is looking for. And then He gives us the Holy Spirit which is the equipment for this type of work. And I think it is the greatest honour in my life that He just chose me. God doest not give explanation to us on why He chooses the one and not the other. He has no need to explain to that. His choice is His choice. He says I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious to. That’s all I can say for myself.
Can you recall you experience in your first sermon. Did you have stage right?
Oh I nearly died (general laughter) you know my father was a Pastor and he never allowed me to preach. One day he said: ‘This Wednesday night you are going to preach’ oh I was worried. I thought that what if I finished with my sermon in five minutes? You know that was my big worry. And I said I’d preach from what’s on my heart. And I preached from Ezekiel – you know, the watchmen of the night. And I preached and preached and preached.
After an hour, everybody was weeping, I even wept myself. It was just the Holy Spirit moving and everybody was weeping. I preached on the watchmen of the night. I wanted to be a watchman on the wall of Zion; sound the alarm that Jesus is the salvation. And the whole church spoke with one voice. They said “Reinhard, God has truly called you. We are with you.” And while I was a student in Britain, they kept on sending me parcels from Germany with bread, liver sausage and all these goodies I couldn’t get in Britain, showing their love and how they were with me. It was wonderful.
There are different stages of Christian experience – conversion, sanctification and baptism of the Holy Ghost. Can you narrate the stages of this experience?
Well, you know each is based upon the other. Salvation is a gift. So, you don’t need to work for a gift. If you work for it, it won’t be a gift any more. It would be a salary. It is unmerited because it is a gift. It is given by grace. That is where I find salvation. Number two, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is also a gift. You don’t also work for it. Some people think that they have to go to work for the Holy Spirit as swell. It is given freely because God only gives it to whom He wishes. I can give gifts to a small child out of love.
Sanctification is another matter. It is the spiritual process in one’s life where I allow the word of God to wash my mind. The Bible speaks about the water of the Word. I read the Bible everyday not just because I wanted new sermons. I read it because I wanted to wash my mind and my heart of the dust particles that have gathered in the dirty world. When we read words of God it washes out all these things. So, salvation is a gift just as baptism of the Holy Spirit is a gift. Salvation is also a gift but when it comes to sanctification, I have to yield and submit to the Word of God. I have to say no when temptations come. It is all a matter of choice.
Can you tell us the difference between your crusades and fire conference?
Oh! Yes, there is a very big difference. Our gospel campaigns or Crusades as they are generally known are directed at those who don’t know Jesus Christ as their savior yet. We want them to come in and find salvation. Fire Conference are directed towards Christians – to shake them up, to prepare them to do the very work they were sent to do, to go out and seek and retrieve the lost. Not just to sit down and enjoy happy clapping Sunday morning services but become part of Christians. Jesus said you are my witnesses. We all have a part to play in witnessing to those who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Saviour for them to be Christians as well. So, the Crusades are directed at the non-believers or lukewarm Christians, backsliders whereas the Fire Conferences are directed towards Christians.
Narrate your experience in your first contact with Africa. Were you afraid because of the stories of blacks jumping like monkeys from trees that you might have heard about Africa or were you apprehensive when you wanted to come to Africa?
No. I looked forward to it like a boy looks forward to Christmas. I had eagerness and anticipation. I just took to Africa like a duck takes to the water.
We learn’t that your first contact was Lesotho. Is that true?
Yes, I came to Lesotho. You know in those days, Lesotho was surrounded by apartheid South Africa. So, I came to know the ugly face of apartheid. I thought it was a horrible thing. I was greatly offended when my African friends were badly treated when we had to eat somewhere when we travelled from there to South Africa. I truly saw the ugly face of apartheid. So, I am glad that it is over like a nightmare. And I have countless friends still in Lesotho. Many people I won for Jesus right there are bishops and pastors and evangelists – great men of God in their own rights. I still relate with them and some of them visit me in my home. It’s a very strong connection.
What do you do to your converts after each crusades? We believe that you turn them over to local churches with differences in their doctrines. Isn’t there a way you can guide them so that the converts are not misdirected through heresies?
Oh! That’s possible. Well, yes we do not want to link up with heretical churches. That I say with great emphasis. If the church does not believe in salvation, by the blood of Jesus Christ, I hope such a church does not co-operate and I dont want such a church to cooperate. We can pre-sort, we will pre-sort. And I think that if a church doesn’t believe in salvation, people can see it. People are not stupid, they easily know the differences and will go and find some other churches that corresponds with what they have seen and heard at the crusade. So that’s how it is. We do our utmost to safeguard young converts. We want them to come to vibrant churches where the Holy Spirit is really at home and where they are being fed and led in the path of righteousness. But there can be exceptions and there can be accidents that happen here and there. We cannot exclude it but we commit it to the grace, mercy and love of God.
Could you take us through the different stages of the growth of your church?
When I arrived Africa, I used to work for one denomination. Pentecostal Church as a missionary officer. Then the Lord spoke to me. When I was preaching for the denomination, I was condemned to only work for that denomination, as an evangelist. Even the pastor of my own church was slipping back. I am telling others I was not allowed to work for other churches they did not belong to our denomination. But they were far better switched on than we were. And one morning , I read in the Bible, 2nd Kings, about Elijah and a widow. How the widow and her two sons were to be sold into slavery. She cried for help. The prophet said to her, borrow vessels of your neighbor and she went around borrowing vessels. Then she took a little oil and she began to pour and fill the entire vessels. Then the Holy Spirit spoke to me. “I do not just have a burden for the empty vessels in your own church, I have burden for empty vessels in your church’s neighbours. ‘Speak to the other denominations’ He said. You need to go and borrow the empty vessels from all your neighbours, from all the churches so that they will be filled. Oh, I said Lord: those other churches will never lend their vessels to me. They will think I will steal them. The Lord said to me, ‘develop an atmosphere of trust and they will lend their empty vessels. And by a miracle through you I will fill them.’
You know, as God spoke I was not just standing up, I jumped. I was in the middle of a crusade. I jumped and I flew to my headquarters and just as the executives were sitting, I came in, I said I am asking for what you have never done to anybody, release me. I want to borrow vessels from all churches that are empty and I believe God will fill them. And they said we could see God’s hand with you we will release you. I was released and I never looked back. And since that day, we work with all churches that can agree with the gospel we preach to whom it is not too hot a potato as we say in Germany; to those who can stomach original fire gospel. They, I believe will come and they will benefit. Before the crusade is over, all the empty vessels will be filled.
And I stole some coins from my mother’s purse. I went out and bought sweets. She caught me red handed but instead of punishing me, because that was what I deserved, she put her hands around me and said “Reinhard, you are on your way to hell, because you are a thief.”
Can you recall how you felt the first day a miracle happened in your church?
That’s a long story, my goodness! How many hours have you got (general laughter)? I was not a bold man when it comes to miraculous, I knew Jesus heals the sick and my theology was all in place and when the sick came to me, I said that yes. I know that Jesus heals the sick but how can I know that He wants to heal the sick person right now? Because I had no answer to that, I backed off. That’s why my first church at Maseru was a miracle-free zone as some churches are, even today!
Then I heard of a great man in Zululand whom God used for signs and wonders – a real Zulu, Richard Ngidi. God bless that young man. He is already in Heaven. I owe much to him. I truly do. I invited him to come to my church and nobody had told him that my church was a miracle-free zone, so he moved in as if it was not. And I could see God’s power and action. I saw it there and I said I got to stop to question God. I got to take the word of God at face value and act on it.
And about a year later I heard of another man of God, Bosman who was also used by God to do signs and wonders. I invited him to come to my church and there it all happened. He said he would come for two services – one on Sunday and the other on Sunday. He came on Saturday. The place was parked with sick people. He preached ten minutes. Then he called me and said, ‘close the service.’ I said I could not close the service. You have promised to pray for the sick. He said ‘close the service.’ I said oh I close the service on condition that you promise to pray for the sick tomorrow. He said I will next day. I went to the hotel to pick him when I saw him standing with his safari suit. I say hey! But he said ‘I’m glad you came. I’m flying home. I said you couldn’t do that to me. I said I’ve advertised it. It’s impossible, it’s impossible.
He said to me, the Holy Spirit told me to go. I said nonsense. The Holy Spirit will never tell anybody to run away from a gospel meeting. I will never believe this. He said ‘I’m going anyway. And then I woke up and said, well if the Holy Spirit told you to go, bye-bye. I got to my car. That was desperation in my life I will never forget. Sitting behind that steering I cried out, to God there was something like a Holy Spirit wrath in my heart with that man. And I said Lord, I am not a big time evangelist. I’m just a missionary. But I am your son as well. Now I will go and I will preach and I will pray for the sick and you will do the miracle. Peace came into my heart.
I drove to the venue, packed like never before. And I stood up and said to the people ‘the big man has left but Jesus stays. I started to preach. I preached for about ten minutes when suddenly the power of God descended. My interpreter collapsed, cried like a little boy. I mean, not just sobbing, he cried like a little baby. My interpreter had become my interrupter, so I had to pause and suddenly, I heard the Holy Spirit in my heart and he said, ‘my word in your mouth is just as powerful as my word in my mouth.’ At first, it sounded to me like heresy. The Lord repeated it. ‘My word in your mouth is just as powerful as my word in my mouth’ And I knew that the power is in word of God. My interpreter had recovered and I continued to preach. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit spoke to me. He said, to me, pray now for the totally blind. And I had never done that before. And the devil whispered in my ears ‘what if nothing happens? I said devil if that didn’t happen that is the point.
The point now is that I obey the Holy Spirit. I said to the people, how many totally blind people are here? Four stood up. I had the boldness of a lion all of a sudden and I said to them you are going to see me stand on the platform in two minutes’ time. And then I shouted ‘In the name of Jesus, blind eyes open.’ I had not finished crying when I heard a scream from the congregation, ‘I can see’ and another one ‘ I can see’ and another one ‘I can see’ And on and on. Oh! That day I learnt that the Holy Spirit is a healing spirit because blind eyes opened, cripples were healed and power of God filled the people with crying: they were laughing, they were falling to the ground and there was pandemonium. It was a holy chaos. It was absolutely fantastic.
And when that meeting was over, I remembered I began to remember that so-called great man of God. And I felt I needed to repent. I prayed and I said Holy Spirit, I need to repent because now I do believe that you sent the man away because today you have launched my own church. And since then I have continued to see the miraculous power of God in my own life. This is also available to whoever is called and baptized by the Holy Spirit and to act upon the word of God. It is not anybody’s special privilege. It is given to us all.
How did you feel the first day a dead man was raised through you and how many so far?
I have seen, by way of certificate let me say, by way of certificate, whereas a baby had died in her mother’s womb. The doctor said tomorrow, they have to remove the dead baby from the womb. The lady had the admission to the hospital and I prayed and suddenly she started to scream and came forward. She was there with an enormous womb running forward, crying, holding her womb and crying, my baby, my baby and my baby. I said what’s wrong with your baby? When she was on the platform, then she said this is my admission to the hospital tomorrow morning for the baby to be removed. She said ‘when you called out in the name of Jesus, my baby leapt in my womb’ and the Holy Spirit spoke to me and I said, ‘ lady, you better rush home. Your baby will be born tonight.’ And God is my witness and my brothers are my witnesses too. When she walked from the platform, the first step on her way down and there the labour pain started.
She gave birth to a beautiful, bouncing baby boy. And that night when I drove home, in my car I preached to myself, I said Bonnke, today you’ve learnt a new lesson. Jesus can raise a dead from the tomb. So praise God.
I have not seen often the dead raised. What we saw with Daniel Elechukwu of Onitsha, I had never seen before myself, with my own eyes. That was the first time coming out the coffin after three days in the mortuary. ‘Rigours mortis’ set in. He was like a piece of iron. He will be with us at Ogbomosho to tell his own story. It is an awesome miracle. It’s been in the whole world. It’s been in the television around the world and everywhere in Europe, people talk about it. There was an investigative television team from South Africa, I was told they pulled up the entire secular world to expose all as an expected cookery. They have been there. So they said. That they followed up this so-called miracle. They found that it is factual but they said it’s left for you ladies and gentlemen if you want to believe.
I read it because I wanted to wash my mind and my heart of the dust particles that have gathered in the dirty world. When we read words of God it washes out all these things. So, salvation is a gift just as baptism of the Holy Spirit is a gift. Salvation is also a gift but when it comes to sanctification, I have to yield and submit to the Word of God. I have to say no when temptations come. It is all a matter of choice.
But you know facts are stubborn. They just won’t go away because some people wish them to go away. If people say it’s not true, at the end of the day, Daniel Elechukwu is still alive. There are still thousands of witnesses, there still the doctor who issued the death certificate, there is till the mortician who embalmed him and who as a result of that miracle, his family got saved and they are wonderful Christians today. It’s a fact. So, we can only say all things are possible with God. I believe we are going to see greater miracles.
How are you handling logistics so that the disaster that occurred in your last outing here will not repeat itself in this Ogbomoso.
Oh! Yes this is very important. I mean here is Rev. John Daku. He is the key man in the crusade and I don’t want anybody to get hurt. We are looking for open fields. You know, we buy up the harvests of the farmers. We don’t want to be closed in anymore by any wall because the more wall you have, the more accident can happen, so if we have an open field, we buy up the farmers’ harvest and they will give us their fields, we reap the eternal fruits and when the crusade is over they can plant again. So, they have the benefit of a double income. We just have an open field where nobody can get hurt. For me to know that anyone is hurt is as result of the crusade will be unbearable.
When are you going back to the North for a crusade? We learn that some people wanted to assassinate you in your last crusade. Is it really true?
No. I can’t be everywhere. The unfortunate happening in Kano, I came into crossfire of religious, ethnic crisis. With hindsight. I think it is safe to say this because such conflicts were there before and have been there since. So, this was one of them and I came into crossfire of such conflict, hundreds of people died, we escaped by the breath of the air and were saved. I will not go back to Kano because I don’t want to provoke anything. I am one of God’s servants among millions, if I can’t go, He will send others. There are a million places where I can go and the rest I leave to God. And I pray the Lord may continue to bless this great nation.
This interview conducted at the Sheraton Hotels and Towers, was published in TheNEWS hard copy of 18 November 2002. The interview team comprised ADEMOLA ADEGBAMIGBE, Editor, RICHARD ELESHO and ERNEST OMOARELOJIE,