Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 3 August 2017
For more sermons and other writings, please check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org
From Zero to All Saved
Jesus loved illustrating his teaching points with parables, and here is one for us this morning:
Matthew 13:31-32: He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
What is the meaning of this parable? The core comparison is between the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God) and a mustard seed. Both are first incredibly small – the mustard seed being the smallest seed – but then end up being incredibly large – the mustard seed ending up to be the largest of garden plants (a tree even).
What is Jesus trying to say and do you think that we need to hear him this morning? Do we need encouragement? Do you ever feel that as a Christian you are a member of a small dwindling minority and everything of God – his kingdom on earth where he is supposed to rule and reign in the hearts of people and through them overcome darkness – seems to be inundated and overwhelmed? The Bible can talk about times when “the enemy comes in like a flood” (Isaiah 59:19). The promise then is that “the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19). But in Australia we know about floods and – at first sight (at least) – they do seem unstoppable, especially when your size is not bigger than a mustard seed.
According to the latest census figures, 30% of our citizens – almost a third of all Australians – say that when asked about their religion, they have none. And this figure is on the rise while the most common age of a Christian in (let’s say) the Anglican Church is 69 (and this is probably the same in some other mainline churches) which is not exactly a hopeful figure for the future of the Christian faith – the kingdom of heaven – in Australia (see Religion Is Still Binding the Nation’s Families in The Australian, July 1, 2017, www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/census-2016-have-faith-religion-is-still-binding-the-nations-families-together/news-story/b5bdbb51ef20fcd06853ce422be2d096).
Australian Bureau of Statistics, www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/2071.0main+features302016: In the 1911 Census of Population and Housing, 96% of Australians reported Christianity as their religion… Compared with the 2011 Census, the proportion of the population with a Christian affiliation decreased from 61% to 52% in 2016. Conversely, the proportion of the population with a religion other than Christianity increased from 7.2% in 2011 to 8.2% in 2016. The proportion reporting to have no religion also increased from 22% in 2011 to 30% in 2016 (over an additional 2 million persons).
What a steep decline from 96% of the population in 1911 to 52% in 2016. And what a rapid increase of the Nones from 22% in 2011 to 30% in 2016 – more than 2 million additional persons in only five years.
And as Christians we are feeling how the tide of popular opinion in our nation is turning against the Christian faith and the kingdom of God. Jesus preached the reign of God but in Australia fewer people want to give Jesus a hearing and there seems to be an unstoppable falling away from the will of God.
I don’t want to labour the point, but consider what happened only this month. The Qld Department of Education – the government – tried to curb Christian sharing about Jesus at our state schools.
Rebecca Urban: Don’t Mention Jesus, in The Australian, August 11, 2017, www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/christmas-card-ok-but-dont-mention-jesus/news-story/35f8e45df75017403b15cd39f961efe6: Released yesterday, the Department of Education and Training’s revised reviews of several religious instruction providers warns that religious instructors should not direct students to recruit other students to religious instruction classes.
“Children come from diverse backgrounds and it is important that RI instructors encourage respectful relationships,” the reviews say. “However, examples were found of students being encouraged to recruit others.
“RI instructors should be reminded in the notes that students should not be encouraged to recruit other students at the school.”
While the backdown on “evangelising” — described in the reviews as acts such as sharing Christmas cards that referred to Jesus’s birth, creating Christmas tree decorations to give away or making beaded bracelets to give to friends “as a way of sharing the good news about Jesus” — has been welcomed, Education Minister Kate Jones has been asked to further clarify what is meant by “recruiting” in the new advice.
For now, there can still be no “recruiting” to attend Religious Instruction classes but apparently children can still share Christmas cards that mention Jesus. This whole episode adds to the growing feeling that we are on the back foot and the pressure of taking Jesus out of public life will continue.
Right now, we have the same-sex marriage debate and the upcoming plebiscite (the vote on this issue by the Australian public). How are we Christians doing in this debate? Here are three brief video clips. The first clip features Lyle Shelton who has grown up in Toowoomba and is now heading the Australian Christian Lobby. The second clip features Margaret Court, tennis champion and pastor, and the last clip gives some figures on same-sex marriage legislation across the Western world.
Show video montage
The three clips highlight some key points in the debate such as the focus of marriage on children. Marriage is more than just celebrating the love of two people. It is the foundation for family life and where would the children for same-sex marriage come from? Would we want to deny children their biological mother or father? And is it really the same to be raised by two men or two women rather than having a Mum and a Dad? At the very least, this would be an enormous social experiment.
Margaret Court suggested that a thought can change a life. What we think as a child and how we are trained to think, has consequences for adult behaviour. Margaret Court quoted some research that indicated that not all homosexual orientation is there from birth. Some behaviour, and she quoted a high figure, is learned. I am no expert but I do know that for all of us what triggers desire in men or women is culturally conditioned. For instance, in the West men are a little fixated on the curves of women, while in other cultures it may be the neckline or strong legs and hips or the skin tone. This is culturally conditioned and we also know that sexual desire can be manipulated and become dark. (For instance, men and women that consume pornography find that they can even slip into perversion because lust knows no bounds. It needs no triggers and exictements and the sexual appetites adapt and change.)
If same-sex marriage becomes law, then it can be equally promoted and put in front of children as an equally desirable marriage option. As a father, I would not want that for my children – I would not want them to go this direction (especially if they were not born that way). I would always want to encourage my children to fall in love with a member of the opposite sex because “being intimate with one another” works so much better between a man and a woman than between two men or two women.
These are arguments that are based on general considerations – biology and creation and the general welfare of children. All Australians can share these reflections. Margaret Court was beautiful in upholding the Bible, the first two chapters of the Bible, and the marriage covenant before God. However, a Bible quote holds no sway over non-Christians. They don’t recognize the Bible as an inspired book from God.
Yet, what disturbed me, and we can see it often on TV, was how the TV presenters treated Margaret Court – an older woman, a tennis champion of our nation, and respected leader of a church community. They ridiculed her and let the studio audience laugh at her more than once. (The female presenter cut her short with: Yep, yep, yep.) It seems to be acceptable behaviour that a person’s religious view, especially when they are Christians, must not be taken seriously. Paul Murray, the presenter from Sky News, told Lyle Shelton that he was one of the few people in the media that would be intensely respectful to him as the leader of the Australian Christian Lobby. He lamented the demonization of the no-case.
Paul Murray also affirmed that there is a genuine threat to religious freedom, because once same-sex marriage is law Christians will find it hard to live out different values, even in Christian schools, hospitals and churches. Bill Shorten, the leader of the opposition, critized the first television ad promoting a no vote in the gay marriage postal survey for being “offensive and hurtful”. Mr Shorten has said the ad is “offensive and hurtful to LGBTI Australians and their families”. He said: “This is not freedom of speech. This is freedom to hurt.”
And according to Australian anti-discrimination laws, you cannot “offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule” another person. If Bill Shorten is right, you can be charged before the court of law. But is the ad offensive in suggesting that when the same-sex marriage passes, your child – without the parent’s consent – may be asked in primary school to role play being in a same-sex relationship. Is this not true and are you not allowed to hold to different values?
http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/relationships/marriage/anti-same-sex-marriage-campaign-airs-school-told-my-son-he-could-wear-a-dress/news-story/535dcae290582136cb2445f3869ff820: Cella White, the first Australian woman who appears in the advertisement, tells viewers that her son’s school told him “he could wear a dress next year if he felt like it”. A second woman then stares down the barrel of the camera and claims that “when same-sex marriage passes as law overseas this type of program become (sic) widespread and compulsory”.
The comments are followed by a black screen with text: “In countries with gay marriage, parents have lost their rights to choose”, it reads.
A third woman expresses concern that “kids in Year 7 are being asked to role play being (in) a same-sex relationship”.
The advertisement ends with the caption: “We have a choice. You can say no.”
The Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 prohibits "any conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person" on the basis of attributes including race, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity and disability.
The last clip shows how same-sex marriages have been adopted in one Western country after another in the last seventeen years: United Kingdom, United States of America, Taiwan, New Zealand, Germany, Brazil, and so on. The tide seems to go against Christian values in country after country that used to have strong Christian foundations.
However, we are in church this morning and worship Jesus who is alive and not worried.
Ephesians 1:22-23: And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
And this morning, he has this parable for us:
Matthew 13:31-32: He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
The kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God) is like a mustard seed. Both are first incredibly small – the mustard seed being the smallest seed – but then end up being incredibly large – the mustard seed ending up to be the largest of garden plants (a tree even).
We can be encouraged. Anti-Christian sentiment may come in like a flood but the smallest beginnings will end up becoming fruitful and grow into a big tree. When we are feeling despondent, we may not be easily convinced by this kind of teaching. Therefore, Jesus immediately added a second parable that made the same point:
Matthew 13:33: He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
As yeast – even a little bit of yeast – is irresistible and works itself through the entire dough of flour, so is the kingdom of God. It cannot be stopped. We need to hear this. Frequently, the Bible uses the image of yeast to describe sin and how sin works itself through a community.
Matthew 16:6-12: “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” … be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
1 Corinthians 5:4-8: So, when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man overto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
Galatians 5:7-9: You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”
But the kingdom of God more than matches sin in its power to grow and expand into any community of people. It may be the smallest of seeds – we may have the smallest of beginnings – but Jesus’ reign is unstoppable. His love will always find a way.
Do we have some illustrations of these parables in church history? Where was the Christian witness incredibly small and then exploded into something really big? Over the years and even this year, I already shared a few such stories:
Originally, Pastor David Yonggi Cho (formerly known as Paul Yonggi Cho) – a poor pastor in the slums – had been nurturing the dream of building the largest church in Korea. Then, in 1961, he acted on this dream and began reaching out to new people. However, God did more than granting his wish. He made him the Senior Pastor of the largest church in the world. [John Allen, The Global War on Christians (New York: Image 2013), 68: “The largest single Christian congregation anywhere in the world is thought to be the Yoido Full Gospel Church….” The Economist, November 1, 2007 adds: “Yoido Full Gospel Church…boasts 830,000 members, a number it says is rising by 3,000 a month.”] In the heart of Seoul, the Yoido Full Gospel Church sits directly across from Korea's National Assembly.
A newspaper correspondent, Lucky Severson, observed [in 2012] that sixty years ago there were about 50,000 Christians in South Korea. Today it is more than 10 million [In 1900, only 1% of the country’s population was Christian, but in 1962 there were 5% and today about 30% of all South Koreans identify themselves as Christians], and almost one-in-ten were baptized in the Yoido Full Gospel Church where Pastor Cho, the founding pastor, served as the chairman of the board until 2011 [75 years of age then] (http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_national/475903.html).
From David Garrison: Church Planting Movement, Midlothian: WIGTake Resources 2004, p88-91: The Maasai of East Africa are legendary for their courage and independence. They have resisted Western-style development and Western notions of modernization.
Scattered across the savannas of Kenya and Tanzania, the Maasai have long guarded Africa’s interior from Arab slave traders and colonizers. The Maasai live in small clan units in homes constructed of mud and cow dung with thatched roofs. At first glance, their poverty is disturbing, but then you see that it is only a poverty of Western goods and services. Maasai men and women take great pride in their personal appearance and ancient customs. Their ornate necklaces, carefully braided hair, and sinewy muscles reveal an inner wealth that many Westerners have lost.
Missionaries have attempted to evangelize the Maasai over the past century. While some have met with scattered successes, the converts have generally been ostracized and driven out of their homes or have withdrawn themselves from the center of Maasai life and culture.
In the late 1980s, three missionary families gathered a few Maasai believers and began to develop a plan to reach all of the Maasai people. Following Jesus’ pattern in Luke 10, they commissioned about 70 trained lay Maasai evangelists to go out two by two across the Maasai Plains. For training support, five Baptist missionary families moved into the Maasai Plains and related to the Maasai evangelists as they itinerated across the region.
Today, up to 15 percent of the 600,000 Maasai in Kenya will tell you they are followers of Jesus Christ. The majority of these can be traced back to those original Maasai lay evangelists.
To understand this unseen Church Planting Movement, requires a different set of eyes. For several years a photograph has hung on the wall of the waiting lounge near my office. It is a picture of an acacia tree set on a dry plain somewhere in Africa. You know that it’s Africa because of the 30-40 dark figures gathered under its shade leaning against their spears. Only after visiting the Maasai Plains and seeing actual Maasai churches, did I realize that the photo outside my office was a Maasai church.
The worship style of the Maasai is a far cry from the Western forms that marked the colonial era of missions. Most Maasai churches gather under acacia trees, the traditional meeting places for Maasai councils. The Maasai will gather regularly for worship at the same tree again and again. Occasionally someone will pull a cluster of thorn bushes around to form a wall, a protection from wind, dust, and varmints.
The heart of Maasai worship is found in their songs and prayers. The Maasai have an oral culture and have benefited from the telling of Bible stories in their native tongue. Not satisfied to hear the stories told, the Maasai often convert these great teaching stories into their native songs, and sing them with great enthusiasm.
In the cool dusk of the African savannah land, one can hear a seven-man Maasai chorus performing song after song adapted from Bible stories they have learned. Their Maasai rhythms are hypnotic as they accompany themselves with the throaty grunts, thumping on chests and thighs with spears tapping on the floor. Their faces flash vivid expressions as they act out the Bible stories with hand motions and choreographed steps.
It is difficult to know how many Maasai churches or believers there truly are. How do you count each “Acacia Tree Church?” Or why would you want to? The movement continues to spread in areas where Western missionaries have difficulty following. Maasai from Kenya share their faith with the 600,000 Maasai living in Tanzania who are also proving to be very responsive. Over the past year, Maasai evangelists have also begun learning the language of their neighboring tribe, the Samburu people, with a vision of taking the gospel to them.
From David Garrison: Church Planting Movement, Midlothian: WIGTake Resources 2004, p144-152: Some years ago, a Baptist missionary working in Spain made an intriguing comment. “In Spain,” he said, “we can’t call ourselves evangelicals, or people will assume that we are Gypsies.”
Imagine a people group so colored by the gospel that their very name has become synonymous with evangelical. Investigating the Gypsy evangelicals I was amazed to see how closely they matched the patterns of Church Planting Movements that have emerged all over the world.
Due to their marginalized status in European society, it’s not always easy to find published reports in English of what God is doing among the Gypsies of Europe. Occasionally, however, the magnitude of the Gypsy movement catches the eye of the secular media. In a 1983 article in the New York Times, John Damton described a movement of up to a quarter million strong, with a core of 60,000 who have been baptized…
Another British journalist, Justin Webster, traced the movement back to Spain where the Spanish Association of Gypsy Presence claimed about 30 percent of Gypsies in Spain were associated with the movement… At their annual assembly on a deserted NATO airbase in Chambley, France between 25,000 and 30,000 Gypsy Christians gathered in August 2000…
In 1989, Stephanie Crider, a graduate student at Stamford University and daughter of Baptist missionaries to Spain, wrote her senior honors thesis on “The Evangelical Movement among Spanish Gypsies.” Fluent in Spanish, Crider had known many Gypsies personally and worshiped with them in her father’s church in Grenada, Spain. In her thesis, Crider translated many of the sources that reveal the story of the Gypsy Church Planting Movement.
Crider writes, The Gypsy revival can be dated back to 1950, in Normandy, France, in the little town of Liseuz. One day, in the market, a Gypsy lady named Duvil-Reinhart, was given a tract by a Christian from an Assembly of God church. She put it in her purse and forgot about it till several months later, when one of her sons became deathly ill.
She then remembered the tract and the Christian who told her about healing miracles. Madame Duvil went to the Assembly of God Church and asked the pastor to pray for her son, because he was going to die. He went with her to the hospital and laid hands on the young man, who was completely healed. This miracle caused the whole family to surrender to Christ. They shared their conversion experience with the rest of their extended family members, and the great continuing revival that is still going on today, began here.
Le Cossec (the Assembly of God pastor who had prayed for Madame Duvil’s son) picks up the story in his own words, “One day a family of Gypsies came to my church. They were searching. I invited them to a prayer meeting and they came. They received the Holy Spirit. The next Sunday I baptized 30 in the sea. The next year, 3,000.”
Crider continues, The first conversions were among the Manouche tribe. The first Spanish or Gitano Gypsies were converted in 1960 while they were working in Bordeaux, France. In 1962 the movement spread to the Rom tribe that is widespread in Italy. In 1965, seven of the Spanish Gypsy converts returned as missionaries to Spain. The Gypsies always witnessed first to their families because of the great importance they give to family life.
Crider writes, “The gospel spread among the Gypsies with great rapidity. By 1958, there were three thousand baptized and by 1964, there were ten thousand.”
By 1979, there were about 30-40,000 members with 150,000 attending worship groups. That same year, France counted 19,000 Gypsy believers and 230 pastors, and Spain had roughly 10,000 members with 400 pastors…
All sources confirm the role of Clement Le Cossec, the French Assemblies pastor. In 1983, Le Cossec estimated that 50,000 of the 100-150,000 Gypsies in France belonged to this movement. That same year, 12-15,000 Gypsy believers under the leadership of Le Cossec met for an international convention in southern France. Among the various Gypsy tribes were the Manouche of France and Germany, the Rom of Italy, the Gitano of Spain, and the Yediche of Germany. By the late 1980s, Rev. Le Cossec calculated that 250,000 had been drawn to the movement and that 60,000 had taken baptism.
The first seven Gypsy missionaries who went to Spain in 1965 were later revered as the apostles to the Spanish Gypsies. They spread out across the country and endured great hardships in order to plant the church among their people. Persecution was nothing new for Gypsies, but for the new evangelical Gypsies, the persecution came from within the Gypsy population itself.
Opponents of the movement mocked the converts with the name “Alleluias,” a reference to their frequent use of the term in worship and in everyday conversation. Gypsy lay-preachers were ridiculed and called “priests.” Though intended as insults, these titles were appropriate designations for a people who are “a fragrance of praise to God” and “a nation of priests.”
Signs and wonders accompanied the spread of the faith. Transformed lives including physical healing were commonplace among Gypsy believers. Gypsy Christians also brought with them the Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues and receiving prophetic messages from God. Crider noted, “A Gypsy service is about 90% praise. It includes a lot of music interspersed with prayer. The music in the church has been adapted to their own Gypsy music. Usually accompanied by the guitar and clapping, the choruses have a distinct ‘flamenco’ sound to them.”
Gypsies in Spain are famous for their flamenco dancing… As for the role of the Bible in Gypsy worship, Crider reported that “biblical messages are interspersed amongst the praises, but these are usually short and simple because of the fact that many of the people in the congregation, sometimes even the speaker, cannot read. Therefore, the messages must be something easy to understand and assimilate. Parables are favorite forms used to teach God’s word.”
Prayer was at the heart of the movement. In addition to prayers for healing and prayers for prophecy, believers often conduct all night prayer vigils on the weekend. Prayer was also the core of leadership training. Gypsy pastors described their preparation for the ministry as “coming from the mount,” a reference perhaps to Moses who went to the mountain top where he talked with God.
Churches meet wherever they can, often beginning in homes before moving to rented facilities when they outgrow the house size. In addition to meetings in homes and random facilities, Gypsy churches “often move their place of worship.” There are several reasons for this mobility, not all of them tied to the Gypsies’ nomadic lifestyle. Renting facilities allowed them to grow without concern for limitations of building size, and to vacate a neighborhood when neighbors complained of their loud singing and shouts of praise.
A few of the Gypsy pastors of large congregations received a salary from their flock, but most of the Gypsy preachers were bivocational. They continued to work their secular jobs often in common Gypsy trades such as market sales or construction work. The reason for this, according to an article in The Ecumenical Review was “mainly because of financial reasons; it is simply necessary to make ends meet, and to support a family.”
The Review went on to point out an interesting by-product of the bivocational pastorate that “the congregations devote their offerings to have conventions and to do missionary work, rather than to maintain a paid pastorate.”
Crider identified a major reason for the growth in the Gypsy church being the emphasis on forming preachers. She writes, “Because many of the preachers were and still are illiterate, the Gypsy pastors do not receive the traditional training expected by other evangelical denominations. They are primarily lay preachers… There is no seminary. They train each other.”
The training followed a pattern of mentorship. Those who wanted to enter the ministry presented themselves to the pastor who met with them two or three days a week. Once the pastor was satisfied that they were ready, he began giving them opportunities to lead music and preach in his church. After proving themselves to be faithful in their leadership for two years, the ministry candidates were presented to the national convention as new preachers or pastors.
Why did this movement happen among Gypsies as opposed to some other people group in Europe? Gypsies have a long history of persecution in almost every country of Europe. Their status on the edge of respectable society may be one of the contributing factors to their openness to an evangelical faith.
In contrast with the more “respectable” sectors of European society, Gypsies were less conformed to the clergy-guided patterns of conventional European Christianity. Gypsy evangelicals allowed much greater congregational participation in worship. Spontaneous words of inspiration from lay members of the church were taken seriously. Though the Gypsies did meet in rented or modestly constructed church buildings, they were equally comfortable taking their faith on the road in caravans of vans and motor homes.
In the 1980s, many missionaries serving in Spain were still pastoring churches themselves rather than working with and through local Spanish pastors. These missionaries were also focused on Spaniards in general rather than identifying individual people groups such as the Gypsies…
In 1727, close to three hundred people sought refuge on the estates of Count Zinzendorf in Herrnhut, Germany. They were persecuted Protestants – some were disciples of Casper Schwenkfeld; some were vague evangelicals from Swabia; some were Lutheran pietists from near at hand; and a good number were Moravians – and due to their diverse backgrounds, they soon began persecuting each other, and even their protector. One ringleader described the Lutheran pastor of the neighbouring village as the “False Prophet” and Zinzendorf as “The Beast”.
However, God granted repentance, with much prayer and brokenness, and finally Jesus poured out his Spirit at Holy Communion, with the result that the community began a twenty-four-hour prayer watch which was to last for more than one hundred years. In only twenty-five years, they sent more than one hundred missionaries into all the world – Greenland, North America, Lapland, South America, Jamaica, West Indies, and other countries.
In 1906, a core group of fifteen African Americans (including five children), with a few others, were meeting in a private home (in Los Angeles). They gathered for one purpose. They fasted and prayed, believing God to baptize them with the Holy Spirit whom they expected to come with the evidence of speaking in tongues. Finally, the Holy Spirit did come upon them. The first person fell to the floor under the power of the Holy Spirit and he began to speak in tongues. That same night, more people received the gift and, within three short years, as these few people shared what happened to them and prayed for others, people all over the world spoke in tongues and today about 600 million Pentecostal and charismatic Christians trace their roots to this move of God – called the Azusa Street revival (named after the location of their meeting place). Once the breakthrough came, it spread like wildfire (but not in mass meetings).
The leader of the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1908) was William Seymour – a one-eyed black pastor, with little education, the son of former slaves. Not a single one of his sermons (complete copy) survived. In worship services, he spent much of his time sticking his head into an empty milk crate, waiting on God in prayer. The core group carrying this revival never numbered more than 50-200 people and their worship building was a sub-standard former stable – with sawdust on the floor and plenty of flies – in the vicinity of a tombstone shop, stables and lumber yard – measuring only 18.2 x 12 metres (218.4 square metres). Seven days a week, there were three meetings scheduled but they ran into one another so that the church was open all day and long into the night. There were no instruments of music, no choir, no collections, no advertisements and no backing from a network or denomination. Black and white worshipped together and it could become noisy.
The growth of the kingdom of God in China also reminds us of the parable which points to the mustard seed. It may seem impossible but God makes everything serve the growth of his kingdom.
Paul Hattaway, Back to Jerusalem (Carlisle: Piquant, 2003), 14–17. | One of the missionaries who had been expelled from China in the early 1950s was David Adeney of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (formerly called the China Inland Mission). He later wrote:
When all missionaries left China, the West was sometimes guilty of unbelieving pessimism. Seeing a weak and divided church, we felt we had failed. We knew many dedicated men and women and outstanding spiritual leaders. But could they, a tiny minority, stand against the mighty tide of a triumphant Communist ideology that proclaimed the “kingdom of man” – with no place for a crucified Saviour? With no news of those we loved, our prayers became general and sporadic; most of us failed to enter into a continuous preserving prayer of faith. Now, as we hear of faithful witness in the midst of trial and great poverty, we feel rebuked for our lethargy, easy-going ways, affluence and lack of concern for the poor.
The brutal persecution resulted in the church being stripped of all the external things associated with Christianity. Church buildings were confiscated and either demolished or used as warehouses, gymnasiums or storage facilities. Bibles and hymn books were burned, while almost the entire church leadership was removed. Unable to continue as they were used to, many Chinese Christians fell away. Some denied Christ and betrayed fellow believers. Those who decided to remain true to Jesus Christ found all of their religious props removed, leaving only one foundation that could not be moved – the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
Years later, China watchers were able to see how God had been in complete control of events in China throughout the years of silence. What most people believed to be a tragic defeat of the church turned out to be nothing less than a tremendous victory. It was presumed that the devil was destroying the church, when what was really happening was that God was pruning it so that it could produce more fruit. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:1–2).
Indeed, Chinese believers today joyfully explain that the Communist authorities, despite their efforts to demolish Christianity, actually paved the way for the rapid spread of the gospel. Before 1949 there was very little infrastructure in China, and linguistic, cultural and geographic barriers greatly hindered the advance of the gospel. The Communists changed all this. Here are just some of the ways the policies of the government prepared the ground for the revival of Christianity:
• Much of China’s idolatry was removed during the Cultural Revolution. Thousands of temples and idols were smashed, creating a spiritual void in the hearts of hundreds of millions of people.
• The government’s attempts to remove God and deny the existence of the supernatural resulted in mass conversions to Christ when people personally experienced the reality of God and miracles.
• Train lines, roads and airports were constructed, enabling evangelists to easily travel to areas that were formerly inaccessible.
• Mandarin was adopted as the official language of China and is now used in all education and media. Formerly there were thousands of dialects that made communication of the gospel problematic.
• Large-scale literacy projects were undertaken, resulting in multitudes of people being able to read God’s word for the first time.
• Control of the media resulted in a hunger and respect for the printed word. Christian organizations have taken advantage of this, printing tens of millions of Bibles and Christian books, while radio ministries were quick to broadcast the gospel by short-wave radio into China. Millions of Christians in China trace their salvation to radio ministry.
• During the excesses of the Cultural Revolution people were forced to denounce their wrongdoings and reform their lives. The “culture of confession” this created makes it much easier for people to repent and confess their sins to God when they hear the gospel.
It’s little wonder that Christians in China today have a very deep realization of the sovereignty of God and his absolute control over human affairs! Despite living in the midst of a system dedicated to destroying them, Christians have learned to have no fear – not because they enjoy persecution and torture, but because they have met God and have been deeply transformed. They have experienced God’s deep intimate love and come to personally know the truth of promises such as this one:
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29)
Estimates of the total number of Christians in China today vary, but I believe a figure of between 80 million and 100 million Protestants to be realistic, in addition to at least 12 million Catholic believers meeting in both registered churches and illegal house church gatherings. Although these numbers still represent only a small minority of the 1,300 million souls inhabiting China today, the growth of the church is spectacular and unparalleled in Christian history when it is considered that there were only about 700,000 Protestants and three to four million Catholics in China at the time the Communists took power in 1949.
Surely the authorities in China have long been confused and amazed at how the church continues to grow and flourish despite their most brutal attempts to crush, seduce and deceive believers. In their spiritual blindness they can’t see they are fighting against a power far greater than their own, the power of Almighty God.
There is no shortage of such stories and this morning I want to tell you one more. This is the story of Reinhard Bonnke, a German who became a missionary in Africa. You may know some aspects of his story, but here is a more complete picture. God can do anything and the kingdom of God does grow from the smallest of beginnings to the largest of manifestations of his glory.
Reinhard Bonnke, Living a Life of Fire (Orlando: E-R Productions LLC, 2009). | It was early spring in 1922, and the grip of a long winter was not ready to release the East Prussian landscape. A fine new Mercedes touring car eased along a carriage track through the forest. Its engine puttered like the cadence of a military drummer. Mud splattered its silver-white finish as it passed beneath the trees.
The car entered a large clearing. Across a field of deeply furrowed earth a farmer turned to stare. He leaned on his hoe beneath a cap of thick natural wool, his collar turned against the wind. The expression on his face was grim and hostile.
In this German enclave on the Baltic Sea an automobile was a rare sight after World War I. Russian armies had destroyed roads, factories, and cities before being driven back by the Prussian Army. The Great War and its subsequent inflation had depleted not only the bank accounts of the German people; it had gutted their very souls. More than 3,000,000 of Germany’s best had perished in four years of fighting. The wounds of war were fresh and bleeding.
The Mercedes driver beneath his jaunty aviator’s cap and goggles knew this full well. He was a German-born American recently returned to his homeland after the Great War. He understood that this poor farmer had nothing in common with someone who could afford to ride the countryside in a fancy touring car.
Still, the driver’s heart remained tender toward the German people as he drove from one end of this war-torn land to the other. He gave a friendly wave to this farmer, hoping to at least spread some goodwill. Sadly, the man turned back to his hoeing as if he’d received an insult.
The driver turned his attention back to the road. It disappeared over a ridge ahead of him at the far end of the clearing. At that vanishing point, he saw great arms of sailcloth turning against the horizon. As his car topped the ridge, he could see that the flailing arms belonged to a large windmill working to extract power from the sky. At the base of the windmill sat a flour mill. Beside the flour mill, a large stucco bakery with white smoke rising from brick oven stacks.
The driver salivated. He had a kilometer to cover yet, but he could already taste the tortes, strudels, and hausbrot taken warm from the ovens. He might even stop to stock up on salted pretzels for the road. These, he recalled from childhood, were always folded carefully in a triad representing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. He chuckled to himself. I’m not in America anymore. I’m in the land where religion has twisted Scripture into a pretzel.
As he came closer he could see a small village of a dozen or so houses. They lined both sides of the road on the far side of the bakery where the forest bordered the clearing. He figured this small village would provide a welcome stop for a cold traveler who had lost his way. He imagined a warm fire. Perhaps he would pay for a bed for the night. The day was far spent.
He slowed the car and stopped near the bakery door, pulling the hand brake and cutting the engine. Immediately the aroma of fresh bread blessed his senses. He removed his driving gloves and opened the car door. Stepping out, he pulled off his goggles and leather cap. He stood for a while brushing flecks of mud from his cheeks and chin.
Globs of mire fell to the ground from the car’s wooden spokes and pneumatic rubber tires. The stylized elegance of the Mercedes’ fenders swept away from the main body of the vehicle like the wings of a swan in flight. But this swan had been grounded by the primitive roads of East Prussia.
A number of villagers stepped curiously from their houses to peek at the new arrival and his fancy automobile. The driver wore a fleece-lined leather coat with leather pants and boots. He was cleanly shaven, a distinguished-looking gentleman with wispy gray hair containing stubborn streaks of brown. A man perhaps in his fifties or sixties.
Meanwhile, a perfectly bald man with a full handlebar mustache emerged from the bakery wiping his hands on his apron. He watched the driver, who had now removed his neck scarf and was using it to wipe mud from the door panel. As he worked at it, a hand-painted sign on the metal surface could be seen emerging from beneath the mess. It read: Jesus is coming soon. Are you ready? The driver turned, noticing the baker for the first time.
“A good day to you, sir,” he said, extending his hand with an energetic smile. “I am Luis Graf, a servant of God.”
The baker slowly wiped his hands on his apron before taking Luis’ hand. He spoke in a cautious tone.
“I am Gerhard, and we are all Lutherans here.”
“Lutherans will do. Lutherans need Jesus. I was baptized Lutheran myself, but I have since met the Lord and received the second Pentecost. Have you received the second Pentecost?”
The man shook his head. He had no reason to know of such a thing.
“Well, I must tell you about that, because there is nothing more important to the times in which we live, my friend. But first … I was on my way to Königsberg, and it appears I have lost my way. Can you tell me what village I have found?”
“This is Trunz.”
“Trunz. I’m not sure I’ve heard of it.” He chuckled good-naturedly. “I’m more lost than I knew. But that’s not a problem. I am sure the Lord has led me here to preach the gospel. Hallelujah!”
“I told you we are Lutherans,” the man replied coldly.
In the meantime, a young man on a bicycle had ridden up and was now inspecting the Mercedes with awe and curiosity. Luis felt a trembling excitement in his chest. He often felt this vibration when the Holy Spirit spoke to his heart. A still small voice told him that bondages would soon be broken in this place. He nodded to the baker.
“I can see that my preaching here will have to wait until you have been made ready to hear it. These are the last days, Gerhard. Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Tell me, is anyone sick in this village?”
“Sick? Are you a doctor, too?”
“No, I am a preacher. But I represent the Great Physician. Let me ask you something, Gerhard. If I pray for someone who is sick and you see them healed, will you believe that I have been sent here to preach the gospel? Will you listen to me?”
Slowly, the baker began to smile and nod.
“Yes. Yes, I would listen.” The baker knew something that Luis could not have known. Everyone in Trunz knew there was someone horribly sick there. And Gerhard was smiling because this naïve American was about to leave the village in utter defeat. He would never have to endure listening to his gospel sermon. “In fact there is someone sick here,” he said. “Someone very sick. Listen.” He pointed toward the village and then cupped his hands behind his ears.
Luis did the same. At first he could hear nothing but the sighing of the wind driving the arms of the windmill above him. Then, after a few moments he heard it.
He felt the hair rise at the back of his neck. The sound came from the far end of the village. It was something he might have imagined on a moonless night in the darkest wood. Perhaps a sound of demonic origin.
His first instinct was to leap into his car and accelerate toward another village. But he held his ground, rebuking the impulse of spiritual cowardice. The cry could be nothing if not the voice of a man. A sick man. Suffering as a man would suffer on a torturer’s bench.
“Who is that?”
“His name is August Bonnke,” Gerhard replied quietly. “He is the Müllermeister here. He owns this mill and bakery and is the leading man in Trunz. A great man who has been struck down by a terrible disease. Gout or rheumatism or some such thing. No one knows what it truly is. He has suffered for years, and the doctors can do nothing. He cries out in pain night and day.”
The terrible cry sounded again, but this time Luis heard it through ears of compassion. The elements of pain, desperation, and rage coming from the man in the house at the far end of the village were sounds translated in his heart by the Holy Spirit. Here was a soul trapped by Satan. A soul Christ had died to set free. Here was a desperate cry to God for deliverance. The kind of cry that would not be held back by pride or stoicism or German will power. This was the kind of cry God never refused. Luis immediately understood that God had arranged for him to become lost on his way to Königsberg for this divine appointment in Trunz.
“I would like very much to pray for Herr Bonnke,” Luis said. “Do you think he would allow me to pray for him?”
The baker shrugged. He turned and called to the young man who was still enthralled with the automobile. “Hermann, come here.”
The young man picked up his bicycle and walked
it to where both men stood. “Yes, Gerhard.”
“Hermann, tell your father that a preacher is here to pray for him.”
Hermann looked in puzzlement from one man to the other, obviously surprised, not understanding what was going on. The baker turned again to Luis. “What kind of preacher should we say that you are, Reverend Graf? A Lutheran? A Catholic? Evangelical?”
Luis thought for a moment. “Have you heard of Azusa Street? The revival in America? In Los Angeles?”
Gerhard and the young man shook their heads. They had never heard of it.
“It does not matter. Tell Herr Bonnke that I am a man filled with the Holy Ghost. When I pray for him it will not be like when a priest prays for him. I will pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and his body will be healed. Tell him that.”
The baker turned to young Hermann and nodded that he should go and tell his father these things. The young man jumped on his bicycle and began to ride quickly toward the house at the far end of the village.
That young man on the bicycle was Hermann Bonnke, my father, just 17 years of age at the time. The sick man, August Bonnke, was my grandfather.
The Bonnke clan lived in an isolated area of Germany called Ostpreussen, or East Prussia. Our enclave had been created by international treaty at the end of World War I. It had been artificially cut off from the rest of Germany, and it faced the Baltic States and the Russian Empire to the east. Along our western border something called a “Polish Corridor” extended from modern Poland to the port city of Danzig on the Baltic Sea. Today, Ostpreussen no longer exists. Following World War II, all Germans were ethnically cleansed from this region.
In this isolated, cold, damp, and forested land in the spring of 1922, however, the flaming torch of the Holy Spirit would soon be passed. Luis Graf carried that fire, the fire of Pentecost that would eventually consume my life. (Chapter: Chapter 3).
In 1922, Luis Graf did not see the great harvest he had hoped to see after the dramatic healing of August Bonnke. Spiritually, Germany was hard and bitter soil. Just two accepted Christ as Savior that day; August and his grateful wife, Marie. Luis led them in the sinner’s prayer. Then he laid his hands on them, and they received the gift of the Holy Ghost with speaking in tongues. The torch of Pentecost had been passed. (Chapter: Chapter 4).
My boys will soon be old enough to become soldiers. Boys naturally dream of glory like I did. They need to know the truth. When the Soviets overran Trunz they were filled with vengeance. Everyone ran in panic. Your Grandfather August was too old to keep up, and the soldiers kicked him and hit him again and again as he tried to take your grandmother to a train station. Grandmother Marie was beside herself. She could not make them stop. They did it just for sport, for vengeance. Still, Grandpa made it with her onto the train where there was hardly room to stand.
As the train pulled from the station and reached full speed, he died from his injuries and fell to the floor. The passengers had no tolerance for a dead person on that train. Even our own Prussian people had become animals in the aftermath of the war. Some of them held Mother back as the others threw his body from the window of the train. This is how my dear father ended his days on earth. And now you can see what I mean when I tell you, war is hell. (Chapter: Chapter 9).
Not feeling well, my father Hermann Bonnke lay in his prison bunk staring at the wooden slats of the bed a few inches above his nose. He had been excused from work detail, which allowed him to spend some precious time alone in the British prison barracks. He thought of how many millions of prisoners had lain awake in claustrophobic quarters like this throughout the hellish war years. Victims of the Nazi regime. How many of them – millions of them – had died in horrible ways he wished he could erase from his mind.
He had only recently learned of Hitler’s Final Solution. He was still in shock over it. The extermination of Jews appalled him beyond words. As a Pentecostal believer, he had regarded the Jews as the chosen people through whom God had revealed the Messiah, the Savior of all mankind. Knowing that he had served a government that had planned to exterminate all of them left him permanently shaken. It haunted his thoughts and even his dreams at night.
He wondered how the Stablack prisoners of war were faring. Those his men had guarded at the prison camp in East Prussia. They had been mostly Belgian and French soldiers. Some had returned to Europe with stories of even worse confinement after being liberated by the Russians.
How were his fellow German soldiers faring? How many had survived the final onslaught? He thought especially of those who had stayed behind in Königsberg so he could escape by sea. He recalled how they had sacrificed themselves.
“You are a father of six children,” the officer in charge had said. “You must return to build a new Germany with them.”
had been given passage on the last mine sweeper to leave the harbor at
Königsberg before the end. His fellow soldiers had held back the Soviets until
his ship had made it safely into the open waters of the Baltic Sea. Rumors now
had come that the men who had stayed behind had been marched away on the point
of bayonets into the vast Siberian Gulag in Russia. They would never be seen
He raised his right hand and turned it over and over before his face. In the depths of his heart he wished he had never been the young boy who had raised a wooden sword in the village of Trunz, dreaming of glory in battle. Little had he known that the Prussian Cross he had so longed to wear would be hijacked from its godly heritage and twisted into Hitler’s swastika. How the descendants of the Holy Roman Empire could be transformed into the Nazi regime, he still could not fathom. But he had seen it happen with his own eyes, day after day, with a helpless feeling in the pit of his stomach. It had taken only ten years for Hitler to seize absolute power over his beloved homeland. He would never live another day without regretting being German.
Hermann had been in this prison camp for 279 days and nights. Every minute of every day he felt the pang of longing for his wife, Meta, and his children. He saw each of their faces in his memory now, as he had seen them last in Stablack. He prayed for them by name, asking that they be preserved alive and well, and that they be reunited by God’s grace in due time. He had inquired again and again through the Red Cross of their safety and whereabouts but had learned nothing. With each passing day the gnawing ache in his stomach grew stronger, whispering that they had not survived.
Still, in his confinement, he did not feel persecuted. It seemed small payment for the mega death and suffering dealt by the German army over the last few years. The trials for Nazi war crimes were even now beginning in the city of Nuremberg. He would not have to stand trial because as an officer in the Reichswehr, he had never joined the Nazi Party. But he had served their cause in a terrible killing machine. He thought that if he were given the death penalty as a prisoner of war now, it would not be too severe. But alas, it could not atone for so many sins. The war’s sweep was too massive and its evils too many for any court to ever set right.
But there was One who kept perfect count. Not even a sparrow fell without His knowledge. The hairs of the heads of every war victim, not to mention of every perpetrator, had been perfectly numbered and recorded in His divine Book. One day the Book would be opened, and everyone would stand before the Great White Throne to give account for his deeds. God alone could balance the scales of justice.
He had done so. In heaven there was a second Book. The Book of Life. The
members of the human race would finally not stand or fall based upon their deeds
– good or evil. They would be saved if their names had been written in the Book
of Life. To accept Jesus as Savior placed their names in this Book. This was
Hermann’s hope and the hope of every Christian believer on both sides of the
As he lay there, in his imagination, he saw a pair of scales weighed down to the floor with an impossible debt. A tank, a bomber, a field helmet, a bayonet, an Iron Cross adorned with swastikas. Then, placed on the opposite side of the scale, the old rugged cross. Under the weight of that cross the scales were balanced. This alone was the equation of divine justice. God placed on Him the iniquity of us all.
Tears ebbed from his eyes as his heart reached out to this infinite God in prayer. My heavenly Father, I am Yours for the remaining years of my life. No more military service for me. It is my heart’s desire to preach Your gospel and to serve You alone, until the day I see You face to face.
the empty barracks he heard a door quietly open and close. Someone began walking
softly across the floor. The flooring softwoods creaked beneath every step.
Hermann thought perhaps it was a British guard coming to check on him. Or a
doctor coming to see why he had reported feeling sick.
He rolled from the bunk and stood up to face him, and to his utter shock it was a man in white, wearing a seamless robe and Middle Eastern sandals. He was smiling as He moved toward him, hands extended as if to embrace him. His hair was long and His beard full, and when Hermann reached out to take His hand he saw that it was torn completely through from the force of a Roman nail.
“Hermann, I am so glad you are coming,” the Master said, then vanished into thin air.
Hermann fell to his knees. He could do nothing but weep for the rest of the day and night. How could the Savior be made glad by one so guilty? Returning to his bunk, he lay down, his soul overflowing with the peace of God that passes understanding. Until this moment it had seemed inconceivable that an imprisoned soldier of the Third Reich could receive the smile of the Lamb of God, and that the Savior would express God’s pleasure at his desire to serve Him as a minister of the gospel. The treasure of this encounter burned like a warming fire in his heart until the day he died.
What a day for us when the Red Cross delivered that wonderful letter! The first of many. Our father had found us at last! Mother’s tears fell freely as she read his words again and again, stroking his handwriting with her fingers, knowing that her beloved Hermann had miraculously escaped the war’s end. I jumped with joy as she gave us the news that he was alive in a British prisoner-of-war camp near Kiel, Germany. Kiel, she explained, was not far from Denmark, just across the narrow straights of the Baltic.
It would be years until we saw him, but just knowing he was alive and that he was that close to us in miles, was enough for now. Our entire family had been spared by the hand of God from the terrible end of the war. I watched the joy on Mother’s face and I reflected her happiness. I spent my time in the refugee camp with a new measure of purpose thereafter. (Chapter: Chapter 6).
Mother wrote a letter, reminding Hermann of a pledge he had made to her father Ernst. In order to marry Meta, he had promised that he would never become a preacher of the gospel. It had been Ernst’s one condition. What was to be done with that promise? Could it be simply discarded?
My father’s reply was basically, yes, it could be discarded. He would approach Ernst to learn if he was still holding him to the promise. Surely he was not. But if so, he would have to inform him that he answered to a higher authority. Hermann remembered how he had signed away his life to the German Reichswehr while still a young man in his teens. Years later, after coming to the Lord, and coming of age, he had changed his mind. He wanted to leave the military and enter the full time ministry. But the government would not allow it. Bondage to a youthful vow had led him to serve the most horrific regime in history. Lesson learned. He would not be held to Ernst Scheffler’s demand if it violated the call of the Man with the nail-scarred hands.
The question came back to the one between my father and mother. Would she support him if he followed this call? Once again she had to go to her knees in the prison camp, seeking assurance that God would supply for the family if Hermann made this change. At length, she received peace in her heart. She wrote Hermann back telling him that she would support him fully if he felt Krempe was the door God had opened for ministry. The promise he had made to her father could not compare to the visitation he had received from the Lord, confirming his calling. Besides, her mother, Minna, was a woman of biblical spirituality. She would help with any objections from Ernst.
Subsequently, our father was provided a bicycle by the pastor of the church in Glückstadt. He used it to ride the full five miles to and from church in Krempe each Sunday. Every letter from him from this time on was filled with stories of ministry. We learned of the extreme poverty among the refugees and how the town of Krempe had generously provided a hall for his meetings free of charge. Each letter contained information that made us feel a part of what he was doing.
Over time, Father’s congregation grew to include 100 refugees. This growth forced them out of the free hall into a youth hostel that could accommodate the entire group. He told us of children in Krempe who would someday want to meet us when we came to join him in Glückstadt.
I tried to imagine what Glückstadt and Krempe looked like and what the other children in my father’s church were like. All of the difficulty in the refugee camp seemed more endurable now that we had such a future before us.
Most of all I remember imagining my father in the pulpit. I was very proud to think that he was no longer a soldier but a preacher of the gospel.
Mother found ways to be a blessing in spite of the challenges of camp life. She managed to get access to a sewing machine and kept us well outfitted for the Danish climate. She organized a camp choir, copying sheet music by hand. When someone had a birthday in the camp she saw to it that they were properly celebrated in song. When anyone died she would conduct the choir as the chaplain said prayers and read Scripture. At Christmas our entire family celebrated with a concert of carols and strolling minstrels.
As I grew older in the camp I continued to earn her anger and harsh discipline. Often my misbehavior would reduce her to outbursts even as she was engaged in leading the choir or sewing clothes. No one in those days thought anything wrong with a parent acting in this way. It was assumed that parents were responsible for the actions of their children. Under this kind of thinking, I was bringing shame to her. (Chapter: Chapter 7).
As time wore on I began to feel that she was right; I was an especially naughty boy. No matter how often I was corrected it seemed I never learned my lesson. I wore my mother out. Often, she would say, “I so wanted a little girl when you were born, but you were my fifth boy. Dear, Lord!” It began to dawn on me that I was a heavy burden to her, but I couldn’t seem to rise above it.
Finally, it didn’t seem to matter. Even when I managed to do everything right I still sensed an attitude of exasperation coming from her every time I was in the room. It was more than misbehavior that irritated her. I felt that it was me. (Chapter: Chapter 6).
Our new life in Glückstadt held disappointments for me. First among them was my performance in school. As the Bonnke children entered the regular German school system, we discovered just how far behind we had fallen in the Denmark camps. Much of the energy I would rather have invested in playing childhood games now had to be focused on extra hours of study to make up for lost time.
Even so, I did not seem to overcome this
setback as quickly and successfully as my older brothers did. They were
energetic students. At the homework table, they wrangled about the nuances of
algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. They debated history and social sciences,
biology and physics. And their improving grades reflected their efforts. Soon
they won high praises from Mother and Father.
It was all endlessly Greek to me. My brothers seemed to soar academically while I plodded like an earthbound farmer sowing academic seeds that would not bear fruit for many seasons to come. Every class was hard work for me, but there was one class I detested above all others – English.
“Mother, Father, why should I have to learn English? I am German.”
They tried to tell me that it wasn’t for me to question why. It was a required course in all of Germany now. I had to do it, and I would be held accountable to do it well, like my older brothers. (Chapter: Chapter 9)
Adding to the load, I soon discovered the intense scorn that Lutheran school children had for Pentecostal children. On a typical Sunday, our father would be gone before sunup on his bicycle, traveling to minister in Krempe. We could not afford another bicycle, so none of us went with him. We attended the local Pentecostal congregation.
The Pentecostal believers in Glückstadt met in a small school room behind the Lutheran church. When we were seen leaving our humble meetings in the shadow of the great Lutheran steeple, the news quickly spread that the Bonnkes were tongues talkers. The teasing began. And it was more than teasing. Pentecostals were seen as primitive people, religious Neanderthals, a knuckle-dragging sect that only existed because of its ignorance. This gave the Lutheran children license to call us every name in the book.
As a boy, I had no real argument to make in our favor. In fact, our faith did not spring from a seminary textbook, a baptism, a catechism, or a confirmation ceremony. Rather, both salvation and the baptism of the Holy Spirit came from a direct and powerful encounter with God. By that experience the Word of God became alive for us, and we were guided to the truth of Scripture through our spiritual relationship, rather than by the study of theology, or church history, or religious traditions.
Our kind of religion bypassed all that the Lutherans seemed to hold dear, and we were punished for it. We were considered unworthy of social standing. I remember how all of our women wore plain clothes and no jewelry and they never cut their hair, wearing it in an unstylish bun at the back of their heads. This was done as part of the holiness heritage that had been the cradle of Pentecostals worldwide. Holiness standards demanded that believers look and talk and act differently from the rest of the world as a testimony to the true nature of their faith. So, in the little town with an inferiority complex, we Pentecostals were below the bottom feeders. We were quite visible and gave the local residents something to look down upon. (Chapter: Chapter 9).
On a day I shall never forget, the postman arrived with exceedingly good news. He handed her a government envelope containing the first pension check for 799 deutschmarks. She ripped it open, shouting praises to God. She danced around the room and insisted on giving the postman two deutschmarks as a tip. I had never seen such a display of generosity in my life.
Almost immediately, she sat down and wrote a postcard addressed to her parents, Ernst and Minna, now living in Neu-Ulm. She was very eager to announce the good news. Tensions between the Bonnkes and the Schefflers over Father’s choice to enter the full-time ministry had grown in recent months. Objections centered on the lack of a reliable income to support a family with six children. Now, that objection was gone. We would be able to move from the one room that we shared.
Mother reassured her parents that regardless of the amount of salary the little church in Krempe could pay their pastor; Hermann would be supported for the rest of his life because of his long-standing service in the Reichswehr. Something that had been a heavy burden for him had been transformed into a blessing. Mother gave all the glory for this benefit to God (Chapter: Chapter 9).
When we are born again it is like this. Our names are written in heaven, and our eternal destiny is sealed there. But we can also receive an earthly destiny from our heavenly Father. That is what I received as a mere boy at ten years of age.
I have often wondered if the country of Africa had been suggested to my mind by those missionaries who spoke that morning. Germany had a historic presence in Africa during the colonial era. I had certainly heard of it, but nothing had been made personal to me concerning the Dark Continent. Perhaps this couple had been working in Africa and had shown pictures. I frankly do not remember. And little does it matter. What matters is that I heard God speak in my heart so clearly.
This was something I simply had to share with Father. I could hardly wait until he pedaled in from Krempe that day. I waited for him on the street. As I sat there, I knew he would understand the voice of God I had heard inside. He also had heard from God. I recalled that Jesus had even visited him while in the prison camp when he had decided to become a minister. Surely my father would become as excited as I was over my call to Africa, and he would confirm this great day in my life. When I saw him I raced to meet him.
“Father, Father, God spoke to me in church today and said I must preach the gospel in Africa!” I must have appeared to him like a bouncing puppy yapping out my excitement.
He did not seem to understand. He dismounted from his bicycle and asked me to repeat it. Then he looked at me with a puzzled and somber expression. “Your brother Martin will be my heir, Reinhard. He will be the preacher of the gospel in this family.”
like a shower of cold water. “But Father, God has called me to preach in
He scowled. “How do you know that God has called you?”
Disappointment darkened my heart. His tone of voice spoke louder than his words. It told me he was in deep doubt about my claim. I thought he would understand how important it was that I had heard directly from God.
My mind searched for a way to explain to him the reality of it. What evidence did I have? Jesus had not visited me personally. Nor had I selected a scripture from a box of promises like Mother when she received a word from God about our crossing from Danzig to Copenhagen. Nor did I hear an audible voice. All I had was the evidence of my heart, and I was not eloquent enough to put it into words to please him.
On this day I began to understand that I had
two fathers. An earthly father and a heavenly Father. Until that moment, I had
assumed they spoke with one voice. After
all, my father was a man of God. A minister of the gospel. Jesus had appeared
to him in person. It was nearly crushing for me to realize that God might speak
to me and my earthly father would not know it. But it happened that way.
In the months that followed I brought it up again and again. Each time, my father responded in the same way. He doubted me. He quizzed me about how I could know the voice of God. Each time I had to deal with my deep disappointment, and a gulf began to grow between us.
Though today I understand his caution, back then it was as if my father and I knew a different God. In reality we each had a relationship with the same God. A relationship that was as unique as our individual fingerprints. This is, of course, how God delights to relate to each of us. The very hairs of our head are numbered. He reads the thoughts and intentions of our hearts perfectly and designs our paths accordingly. Jesus pointed this out to Peter, who had asked, “What about John?” Jesus replied, … what is that to thee? Follow thou me. The steps my father took in his journey with the Savior would not be my steps. God does not make spiritual clones; He raises up sons and daughters.
Looking back, I now see what an important lesson this was for me. Above all, we are called to hear and obey the still small voice of our heavenly Father communicated to our hearts by the Holy Ghost. But if other voices are placed above that voice we may come to doubt the very voice of God Himself, even after we have heard Him clearly. (Chapter: Chapter 9).
Next to last. That was my place in the Bonnke lineup. Not last, which would have brought some measure of distinction, but next to last. I must have been easily overlooked in that dynamic mix of children.
Martin led the way – so talented, sensitive, bright, and the designated heir to The Preaching Elder. Gerhard followed close behind, adding his athletic prowess to the picture. Jürgen and Peter were highly remarkable because they were a set of twins. I was followed by Felicitas, the only daughter in the Bonnke family and the apple of her daddy’s eye. Except for my reputation for getting into trouble, I think I must have fallen through the cracks.
“Oh yes, where is Reinhard? We also have a son named Reinhard. Is he here somewhere? Reinhard? Where are you?”
I would be presented to family guests as an afterthought.
As guests often do, they would ask, “Well, Reinhard, you seem like a fine young boy. What are you going to be when you grow up?”
“I’m going to be a missionary to Africa,” I said without hesitation. In this, I distinguished myself. No other Bonnke child claimed to be called to Africa.
Father would hear this and chuckle, winking at his guests. “Children go through stages you know. They usually grow out of it.”
This hurt me. I wanted my calling to be taken seriously. I took it very seriously. It was the only thing that gave purpose to my rather unremarkable life. Why would my father not help me move in that direction?
My older brothers took this signal from Father as permission to pile on with their own endless ridicule. They would snicker behind their hands and shake their heads at me as if I was an alien. Reinhard the missionary.
This was a difficult period for me. In German there is a word for how I felt: null. It is defined by the synonyms zero, naught, nil. In many ways, I felt I was a zero, nonexistent, like I didn’t really matter. Adding evidence to that feeling was that I was from a poor family, a social outcast, struggling in school, and the least child of the Bonnke clan. In the mirror of my own mind, Reinhard was not just a dull boy, he was null. Sometimes my own reflection simply disappeared.
I began to mention to my father how I needed the baptism of the Holy Spirit in order to have the power to preach the gospel in Africa. He did not deny that the Spirit baptism with speaking in tongues was for everyone. But he did not lead me to the experience. He considered me too young and immature. “Just because you are a boy with a mind of his own does not mean that you are ready to receive the Spirit baptism.”
“Father,” I asked one day, “since you do not believe that I have a real call from God, how do you know when you have a real one? How does it feel?”
I think he was surprised by my question. He thought for a while then he said, “Son, when you have a real call from God then you will know it. You will know it deep in your heart. You will know, and it cannot be shaken.”
Every word that he said rang true in my heart, confirming my call from God. To me it did not seem to be just another example of having a mind of my own. “Father, I know that I know that I have a real call from God,” I said.
on his face told me he was not comfortable to hear such confidence coming from
the mouth of a child. Perhaps this was true because of his childhood. He had
longed for military glory, and he deeply regretted the decision it had led him
to make as a 17-year-old. In my case, however, the Spirit of God was leading me
in the direction of divine service. My father had not known such a thing as a
I am happy to add that many years later when he visited me in Africa, this conversation between us about my calling became one of his favorite stories to tell from the pulpit. His eyes would shine with tears as he confessed with great pride how wrong he had been in his judgment of me as a ten-year-old boy. (Chapter: Chapter 10).
In late 1950 and early 1951, I recall how Mother and Father shared stories of the weekly Pentecostal prayer meetings in Glückstadt. It seems the little group of believers were having visions, prophecies, words of knowledge, and other gifts of the Spirit manifested as they waited before the Lord. My heart thrilled as I overheard these stories, and I wanted to be among the people of God at every opportunity. But prayer meetings were considered inappropriate for children. (Chapter: Chapter 10).
During my eleventh year, I began to ask Mother if I could go to the Friday night prayer meeting with her. Again and again, she denied my request.
In my heart I was sure I was being denied because I was unworthy. All the years of misbehavior and self-will had disqualified me to be in the presence of God’s people. To make up for it I would do my chores all week and even do extra chores on Friday, trying to make her change her mind. Still she said no. Week after week it went on like this. I grew more disappointed, blaming myself for all of it. Finally, one day she said no, and I could not hide my pain. Tears spilled from my eyes.
Mother was taken aback. She sat down, astonished. She gazed at me as if she had not seen me before.
“What is this I am seeing?” she asked. “A boy of eleven who wants to attend prayer meetings so badly that he sheds tears? Your heart must be ready to be part of these things. I sense the Lord telling me I must change my answer to yes.”
I leapt up and hugged her. “Thank you, Mother. I do want to go more than anything.”
From that day, I began to attend every church service. Not just on Sunday but every service during the week. If the church was in session, I was there. In each service where there was singing, Mother saw to it that I had my guitar and could lend my voice to the songs of praise to God.
One weekday evening at the end of the prayer meeting, I was standing beside Mother and Father ready to be dismissed. The pastor made an announcement that Grandma Bauszuss, an elderly lady in the congregation, had experienced a vision. On his invitation, she stood and related her vision to the members of our little group.
“I saw a crowd of black people,” she said. “A very large crowd. They were gathered in a semicircle around a little boy with a big loaf of bread. He was breaking the bread and giving it to the people, and as he did, the loaf of bread continued to increase.” Then she turned to me and pointed. “The little boy that I saw was this one.”
I cannot adequately tell you what happens inside a boy when something like this occurs. It was like pouring hot oil over my head, anointing me to see the vision from God confirmed and fulfilled in my life. Yet in that hour, neither I, nor Father nor Mother, could even faintly imagine just how powerfully this vision would eventually play out. We could only be thrilled with anticipation and wonder at this unexpected manifestation of a spiritual gift.
My father looked at me incredulously. I think for the first time he began to get a glimmer that perhaps I had actually heard from God. But I could tell that he still doubted. And as time went by it became quite clear that his hopes were still pinned on Martin to be the gospel preacher in our family. I’m sure that my continuing misbehavior helped move his thoughts in that direction. (Chapter: Chapter 10).
At the age of eleven, the Spirit baptism began to lead me on an adventure of faith that has not ended. I literally took off like a rocket ship, and no one could stop me. I continue to be empowered by it to this very day.
When father and I arrived home after the meeting with Reverend Kukula, Mother was sitting in her big rocking chair knitting a woolen shawl. Dad announced that the Lord had filled me with His Spirit, and I had spoken in tongues.
Mother froze in mid-stitch. The chair stopped rocking.
“No!” she said in disbelief, a stunned look on her face. It was plain to see that in her mind, I was hardly a candidate for such a gift from God.
Her response did not offend me. I was still aglow with the experience, overflowing with love just like she had been the day after receiving her baptism. In my heart I had begun to understand that the baptism was a free gift, not a salary earned, or a reward for diligence and good behavior. If we could make ourselves worthy to receive the Holy Spirit, then we would no longer need the Holy Spirit.
The first step toward being filled was to be empty of self. I had walked in that farmhouse door a zero, feeling totally unworthy, with absolutely no confidence in my own righteousness. That turned out to be the perfect attitude in which to receive. I wanted to shout praises to God who loved me so much. To think that He would fill me with His Spirit, simply by my asking. I ran to my mother and hugged her. (Chapter: Chapter 10).
Soon after, I became a nuisance to my young friends at church. “We must preach the gospel,” I urged them. “Let’s go preach. We must preach to the lost.”
They did not quite share my level of enthusiasm. They still saw me as the boy who had barely outlived his dismal attempt to preach to trees.
One day I took my guitar and headed to a street corner in downtown Glückstadt. I had quite a nice singing voice as a boy, thanks to the training from Mother. I began to sing until a small crowd gathered. Then I put down my guitar, reached for my Bible, and preached the simple invitation to receive Jesus. To my amazement one man knelt and prayed the sinner’s prayer with me right there on the street!
I raced home as fast as my legs would carry me, bursting into the living room completely out of breath. Mother and Father must have thought that the city was burning down.
“Father, Father!” I cried. “It works! It works! A man came to hear me preach today, and he accepted Jesus! The Holy Spirit really gives us the power to preach!”
The look on their faces was something that I began to see quite often. It was a look as if they were wondering if they had been given the wrong baby at the hospital.
I know many people – yes, even Pentecostal believers – who have encountered the power of the Holy Spirit, yet have returned to lead lives of quiet desperation. Reinhard Bonnke is not one of them. My life is filled with challenges, yet it is also full of passion, meaning, joy, enthusiasm, peace, and blessing. I did not produce these wonderful things. These are fruits that flow from an intimate relationship with my heavenly Father. They can be yours as easily as they are mine. You do not have to become worthy. If you are spiritually lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, it is not a curse but an opportunity. According to Scripture He stands at the door of your heart, knocking. (Chapter: Chapter 10).
…few days later, my brother Peter came home from the university. He was determined to become a medical doctor. By this time all of my older brothers had graduated from high school and were pursuing higher education. Martin had his sights set a doctorate in the natural sciences. Gerhard was a mathematics whiz and was following that path toward an accounting degree. Jürgen had entered the military.
Peter and I took a walk through Glückstadt together, visiting old haunts.
“I hear that you are going to be a preacher.”
“Yes, God has called me to full-time service.”
“None of us – Martin, Gerhard, Jürgen, me – none of us understand you, Reinhard. Why would you choose something like our father has chosen? What future is there in it? Look at his church. It is the smallest in all of Germany. And the Pentecostals are embarrassing. Why would you choose to follow Dad in this profession?”
“It is not a profession. It is a calling. The greatest thing in the world is to serve God.”
He snorted in derision. “Reinhard, where is God? Do you see Him anywhere? Look around you. Did He build these buildings? Did He invent the railroad? Did He win the war? Look at the world; it is changing. Exciting things are happening in science and education, and you could make yourself a part of it. Be a doctor, a lawyer, a musician, a politician, a professor. Be something that counts. Anything but a preacher. You’ve got to learn that God has no real leverage in this world, little brother. Don’t you see that?”
I became angry. “God has more than leverage. He is the very lever itself. Nothing that exists in this world exists without Him. You do not take one breath without His permission. I am choosing to serve the very highest calling.”
“I breathe my own air. God gets nothing done. Why doesn’t God stop the bad things, if He is so powerful? He has no leverage. Look at Mom and Dad. Without Dad’s pension from the government his ministry would fall apart. Do you think for one moment he could have given us a roof over our heads with what he gets from Krempe? Hah! What a joke. Show me God’s leverage. Where is it. (Chapter: Chapter 12).
Later, when I was alone with my brother Gerhard, he told me that the brothers had taken an informal vote. They had evaluated the lives of all the Bonnke offspring based on their impact on the world and they had agreed that Reinhard was the best horse in the family stable. What a generous thing for Gerhard to share this story with me.
I had not been prepared for such warmth and acceptance coming from my brothers. It meant so much to me. I had grown to expect that in their eyes I was still the null boy, the zero, the troublemaker – a usurper of sorts. For as long as I could remember, Martin, Gerhard, Jürgen, and Peter had ridiculed the things that now made me, in their own words, “the best horse in the family stable.” I thanked Gerhard for sharing this information with me, and I must confess I had to wipe some moisture from my eyes. By this gesture I could see that the animosity between us had been replaced by real affection, even though we did not share the same living faith. (Chapter: Chapter 27).
Father’s congregation in Krempe began to grow, but they were still a group of poor refugee families who could leave little in an offering plate. (Chapter: Chapter 9).
My father’s pension allowed us to abandon his bicycle and ride by train together to and from Krempe. I delighted in this opportunity to be with him for his Sunday assignment. His church had shrunk in attendance as refugee families became settled elsewhere in Germany. By now it had become possibly the smallest congregation in all of Germany with perhaps 25 in attendance. (Chapter: Chapter 11).
During these growing up years I had a vision of Africa. It happened during another of those prayer meetings; I don’t remember if in Krempe or Glückstadt. It bore a peculiar mark of authenticity to prove it was not from my own imagination.
In the vision I saw a map. I recognized it as the continent of Africa. In the vision the name of the city of Johannesburg was illuminated as if God was indicating that my assignment to Africa would be there. Perhaps this was where I would break the bread of life and see it multiply, as seen in the vision by Grandma Bauszuss. In my mind this map vision of Johannesburg puzzled me because earlier I had seen an actual map of Africa and from memory had placed Johannesburg at another location. I kept the vision to myself and puzzled over it as I went home that night.
The next day in school I went to the library and looked up the Atlas of the World. Finding South Africa, I located the city of Johannesburg. It was not where my memory had recalled it. In fact, it was where the vision had shown it to me. God’s Spirit is more than accurate. His directions come from the very mind of omniscience, and I should not be surprised to learn that God knows His geography better than I. After all, He was the One who spoke and divided the continents from the seas. So, my heart became set not only on Africa, but specifically on Johannesburg, South Africa. (Chapter: Chapter 11).
What were the odds that this had happened to me? Even more, what did it mean that it had happened to me? It seemed like a dream. I had to convince myself, again and again, that it had actually happened. Why would God grant me this unexpected and unplanned meeting as a 21-year-old Bible college graduate in London on his way home to serve a practicum at the smallest church in all of Germany?
I did not know. I kept it to myself.
I arrived at home and began the process of serving with my father in Krempe. I had been home for just a few months when one day Father said to me, “Son, did you hear the sad news?”
“No, what news?”
“George Jeffreys died in London.”
“George Jeffreys! That’s impossible, Father. I just saw him. I met him.” And then I told him the story of my meeting with him in London. (Chapter: Chapter 13).
Without hesitation, I called Pastor Wegner. “The Lord has spoken to me,” I said. “I will come and preach in your tent meetings.”
I began to prepare in prayer and Bible study. I reviewed the dozen sermon outlines I had made in Bible school. That’s when I noticed that I did not have a dozen sermons. I really had just one. One sermon presented in a dozen disguises. Seeing this for the first time made me feel even more inadequate.
But today, I understand it. I still have only one sermon. I am an evangelist. I preach the simple ABCs of the gospel. When I preach I am not trying to sound like a professor, or a Bible scholar, or a homiletics expert. I am helping people who are outside of the kingdom of God enter it by the blood of the Lamb. So I repeat the ABCs over and over again, each in perhaps a new disguise, or with a new illustration, or applied to a new culture or occasion, but always the same good news of God’s invitation to join His family.
I was soon to be 22 years old… (Chapter: Chapter 14).
After much hard labor in Maseru I saw that if I didn’t change my ways I would never reach the far-flung villages of Lesotho. I had started a Bible school in my church to provide training for Dolphin, Michael, and three other young converts. Five students in all were taking so much of my time and energy that there was little left over for expansion. Then it came to me that I could design a Bible correspondence course that would go far beyond me. It could be distributed to the many literate Basuto tribesmen by regular mail. Using the pattern of teaching I had used with my five students in the Bible school, I wrote a course of five basic lessons in following Christ. I was able to raise enough money to buy a small offset-press and learn to print myself. This developed into huge dimensions. At that very time, a missionary from the Velberter Mission, Bernd Wenzel, felt called of the Lord to join our team. He was a professional printer from Germany.
Soon hundreds and then thousands were enrolled. With the increasing printing press costs, I suddenly realized that I should take the speaking invitations that were coming to me from white South African churches. I would go to them and challenge them to support these efforts. (Chapter: Chapter 18).
I had a dream that changed everything. I saw a map of Africa. Not South Africa, not Lesotho, not Johannesburg, but the entire continent. In my dream the map began to be splashed and covered with blood. I became alarmed. I thought surely this meant some kind of apocalyptic violence was coming – perhaps a bloody Communist revolution. But the Spirit whispered to me that this was the blood of Jesus that I saw. The terrible violence that spilled His blood happened 2,000 years ago on a cross. Then I heard the words, Africa shall be saved.
When I woke up I had a problem. My mind filled with new thoughts that made me uncomfortable. Before going to sleep I had been happy to see 50,000 people enrolled in our correspondence course in Lesotho and further afield. After this dream I could not be happy with that number. I am a German who had struggled with math as a boy. But even I could do these calculations. I had learned that the continent was home to 478,000,000 souls. If it had taken me five years to reach 50 people in Maseru, plus another 50,000 beyond the walls of my church through correspondence, that pace would average 10,010 souls per year. There is nothing wrong with that number but I would have to live to be at least 47,752 years old to see a blood-washed Africa! I thought I had done well. In light of this dream I could see that I was far behind God’s agenda.
In my mind, I began to discount the dream. Perhaps I had simply eaten bad bananas. The next night the same dream returned. And the next night. And the next. There were not that many bad bananas in all of Maseru. After this fourth night, I said to my wife: “Anni, I think that God is trying to tell me something”. He now had my full attention. Would I take seriously what He was saying to me? Or would I deny Him? Would I choose to believe God’s math? Or would I believe my own?
God had brought me to another crossroad that would define the future. Never mind that I could not compute it. Never mind that my progress so far was a mere drop in the ocean. God had said, Africa shall be saved. Would I repeat His words? Would I begin to speak in faith what I had seen in my dream? Or would I retreat into silence like another corpse in the missionary bone yard?
I knew one thing that would keep me silent. It
was the fear of what others would say or think. I could hear my critics: “Who
are you to say, Africa shall be saved?” they would say. This is the cutting
question Satan throws at God’s servants in order to silence them – “Who do you
think you are?”
I wondered, will some people say again that I am ego-driven if I speak this dream? Yes, they will. Will my words make some people uncomfortable? Absolutely. I sensed that these words would mark me as surely as Joseph’s coat of many colors marked him in the eyes of his jealous brothers. It would be like painting a target on my chest. But then I asked myself, is that a reason to be quiet when God has spoken? No. A thousand times no.
It was not about me. It was about God and His call. Since I was a boy I had obeyed His voice. I was one of His sheep. The Bible tells us that all of His sheep know His voice. But some teach themselves to ignore it. He calls, and they conclude it is bad bananas. This we must not do.
Whenever God spoke to me, even as a child, I made my mind fit His words, not the other way around. God had given me the dream of the blood-washed Africa. Then I would begin to speak it because of who God is, not because of who I am. All that I am, I am by the grace of God. So, I have nothing to lose by obeying Him. Rather, I have everything to gain.
I decided that I would begin to say, Africa shall be saved, at every opportunity. More than anything else to date, these words began to separate me from my fellow missionaries. Going back to that small tool shed in the garden at the Bible school in Wales, when I had failed at homiletics, it was then I had received from the Lord the calling of an evangelist. Perhaps being directed by the dictates of a missionary board had clouded the full scope of my calling for the past five years. I was not a missionary in the way they had conceived it. As I began to speak His vision everywhere – “Africa shall be saved” – my role was redefined, both in my own eyes and in the eyes of my colleagues. I was no longer a missionary but a missionary-evangelist.
I believe so strongly that God is the worker of miracles for his people. I believe the signs that followed Jesus as He walked the earth could – and should – be true in our lives today. Jesus said to His disciples, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. But I was not seeing miracles in Maseru and it distressed me. In fact, I often confessed to Anni in those days, “My church is a miracle-free zone. What is wrong?”
No matter what I tried, or how I prayed and fasted, the situation did not improve. As time went by, in my heart, I began to blame the people for their lack of faith. If only they had faith, I thought, they would experience wonderful miracles like those seen in the Book of Acts. God had some work to do in my heart. First, He used Richard Ngidi to open my eyes.
Richard was a Zulu evangelist well known in AFM churches throughout South Africa. After preaching he would minister to the people in individual prayer and the miraculous power of God would always manifest. The lame walked, the blind saw, cancers disappeared. If you longed to see the miraculous power of God on display – or so the prevailing wisdom went – book meetings with Richard Ngidi. And so, I did. I had come to know him from attending AFM conferences in South Africa. One day I invited him to minister at my church in Maseru. He accepted and I secretly felt sorry for him. I imagined that the faithless people of my “miracle-free” congregation would ruin his reputation.
In fact, the opposite was true. When he ministered in Maseru I saw the power of God as never before. The blind saw, the lame walked, and diseases disappeared. Richard Ngidi trusted the Lord no matter what he faced. He was bold in the face of great problems and he had what I called a reckless faith.
In his very loud, deep voice and confident manner he commanded disease and sickness to go from God’s people. It was as if blindfolds dropped from my eyes watching him. I was almost in a state of shock.
I said to Anni, “When God speaks it is not for us to ask questions but to obey the prompting of His voice. His word is above all else. I can see it now! I can see it now! Anni, God’s word is not a question mark, it is an exclamation point! I have been too timid.”
My eyes were now open but the truth did not fully possess my heart. After seeing a breakthrough in Maseru with Richard Ngidi I was still timid. Perhaps, I thought, I did not have a gift of faith, or a gift of the working of miracles as described in the writings of the Apostle Paul. I decided to invite another notable evangelist who had that reputation. I invited a man named John Bosman to come. He was a remarkable Dutch Reformed minister from Pretoria and he was seeing miracles everywhere he preached. Perhaps having another exposure to the miraculous power of God would push me into the place of believing. I ordered our team to begin advertising.
Meanwhile, our printing press in Maseru had become quite busy. Sponsors had stepped forward and helped us build the structure that housed it. In effect, we had our own little publishing company. After getting into trouble for naming it the AFM Press, I asked God what He would have me call it. He dropped the name into my heart that would define the rest of my ministry: Christ for all Nations. Our printing press became CfaN Press. Bernd Wenzel, our professional printer who had joined us earlier, cranked up the CfaN Press to fill all of Maseru with the announcement of John Bosman’s meeting at our church. We were able to coordinate local radio promotion for the meeting as well. We announced to the people that they should come expecting to see the miraculous power of God to heal the sick. Excitement was building.
When the weekend finally arrived our church building was packed out. People were crowded around the outside of the building. Many sick, lame, and blind had been brought because of John’s reputation for healing miracles. We had never seen this level of excitement for the work of the Lord in Maseru. I sensed that it would be the start of something big. A breakthrough. Bosman’s ministry would burst the bonds of religious stagnation and satanic power that seemed to grip the region.
With great pride and pleasure, I introduced John to the crowd. He came to the pulpit and preached. I was not especially impressed with his preaching. Like most of the people there I had come expecting to see him demonstrate his gift of healing. But then something happened that shook me to my toes. After preaching only a modest sermon he turned to me and said, “Close the service.”
I gasped. “But not now. All these people have come expecting you to pray for the sick. I cannot possibly close the service.”
I was absolutely flattened. “John, how can we do this? I will dismiss the people, but you must promise to return tomorrow and pray for them. Will you let me make that promise?”
“Tell them the sick will be prayed for tomorrow.”
With a great deal of confusion, I did as he asked me to do. I closed the service, announcing that John would return in the morning to pray for the sick. When I turned, he had already gone to his hotel room.
I slept hardly a wink that night, praying and seeking God in confusion about what John had done. The next morning, I got up early and went to pick him up for the meeting. Passing by the church I could not believe my eyes. The house was packed to capacity. Even more people were lined up outside, hoping to get in. The word had gone out that John would pray for the sick. Many more sick had been brought to the meeting site.
I went to the hotel. When I arrived, John was loading his suitcases into a waiting car.
“What is going on?” I asked in total confusion. “Where are you going?”
“Home,” he said.
He could not have done more damage if he had taken a baseball bat and swung it to my midsection. I could hardly breathe. “What do you mean you are going home? I just went by the church. It is already packed with people who have come. You promised to pray for the sick. That is why they have come.”
“I promised that the sick would be prayed for. You promised that I would do the praying.”
“Stay, John. I’ll do the preaching. That’s what I do best. You pray for the sick. That is what you do best. We’ll do this together.”
“Reinhard, the Holy Spirit told me I must go.”
With that he got into the car. The driver put it in motion and drove away down the street and then out of my sight. I stood there hoping that this was some kind of joke. I felt like my best friend had just deserted me. I had so looked forward to sharing ministry with him. But when he said the Holy Spirit had told him to go, I had no comeback. That was the entire point of everything. We were to do what the Holy Spirit commanded no matter how it went against our natural senses. I got into my car and drove toward that packed out church of people who had come expecting miracles.
Suddenly faith rose up inside of me, along with what I would call a “holy wrath.” Behind that steering wheel I cried out to the God, “Lord, I am not a big-time evangelist, but I am Your servant also. Now I will go and do the preaching and praying for the sick and You will do the miracles.”
Peace filled my heart immediately. It is the peace that only comes through our relationship with God when we abandon the world of the ordinary and enter His realm of the impossible. Hallelujah! As I drove on, I remembered the time when I was only ten years old and I had laid my hands on the woman in Father’s church in Krempe. In very dramatic fashion she had been healed. How I prayed that something similar would happen to me now.
I walked into the church and told all my pastors that John had gone home. The Holy Spirit had ordered him to leave. I could tell by the way the light went out of their faces that they did not see me in the same category as the great South African evangelist. To them, even though I had led them to the knowledge of the Savior, I had become the prophet without honor in his own country.
Without tolerating another doubt, I began to take charge of that meeting with my words. “I will preach,” I said to my men, “and God will do miracles today.”
With that, I went to the pulpit. “The evangelist John Bosman has gone home,” I announced. “But I have great news for you today. Jesus showed up. I will preach, and I will pray for everyone who has come for healing, and we will see miracles.”
As soon as I said it a man and woman seated on the front row got up shaking their heads and headed for the exit. This was disheartening, but no sooner had they done it than two other people from outside the building rushed in to fill their seats. I wasn’t sure these new additions had heard my announcement so I took small comfort. My only hope was in the power of God showing up.
I stood to preach. I saw the shape of the gospel. It was different this Sunday morning. I had never sensed the message quite like this. When I opened my mouth, all timidity was gone. I spoke with an authority I had never known before. Suddenly, the room became charged. The Holy Spirit was confirming the word in the minds and hearts of the people. About midway through my sermon, Dolphin Monese, who was interpreting for me was overcome by the power of the Spirit and fell to the floor.
Everything stopped, except the listening crowd. They waited breathlessly for the next word. I waited for Dolphin to recover. As I waited I was taken away from that place in my mind. It was as if all sounds and sights became muted, and I heard words of the kind that I could never conceive – My word in your mouth is as powerful as My word in My mouth.
I could only take it in by the Spirit. My senses would not go there. There was no question that I was now entering new territory in my relationship with God. This thought would never have occurred to me. It came on the heels of watching Dolphin crumple to the floor as he tried to repeat the words that had just come from my mouth. Something was happening here that only the Spirit could give sense to. My authority in Him was far greater than I had ever imagined. As long as I was in harmony with God’s will, I was to speak things as God spoke them, and to expect to see God’s own results.
Call those who are totally blind, and speak
the word of authority, the Spirit said to me. This rang a bell of memory in my
heart. Luis Graf had treated the healing of the sick and the saving of souls as
two sides of the same calling when he came to the Bonnke household with the
flame of the Spirit in 1922.
“There are blind people here this morning,” I said. “I ask all of you who are totally blind to stand to your feet. Stand at once. I will pray for you.” Around the room several people rose. They stood swaying slightly, straining their other four senses to compensate for their loss of sight.
“I am going to speak in the authority God has given me, and when I do, you blind will see a white man standing before you. Do you hear me? Your eyes will be opened!” With that I took a deep breath and shouted. “In the name of Jesus, blind eyes open!”
A woman began screaming. She rushed from the back of the crowd grabbing people as she went, looking at them, crying, “I see! I see! I see!”
The room broke into pandemonium. Shouts of praise to God filled the morning, and no one was left seated. They were leaping and praising God. The entire room and many outside crowded in so that no one could even pass between the bodies crushed against the platform.
When the woman reached the front, I invited her up on the platform. I asked her what had happened. She said that she had been blind for four years. Now she could see. I took my Bible and placed it before her. I asked her to read. She read, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind.
It was all she could read before recognizing that Jesus had healed her. She was leaping and crying and praising God all over the platform area. The people were with her, filling that room with a surge of praise that threatened to raise the building off its foundation.
I looked across the raised hands and the sea of heads before me and saw a sight the likes of which I have never seen again. A young child was being passed forward from the back of the room, from hand to hand. At last the child arrived at the front and was deposited in my arms. I looked down at a boy of perhaps three or four; his twisted little limbs were not what they should be. As I just looked at that boy, seeing his twisted legs – I forgot to pray! Suddenly his little body began to vibrate in my arms. He slipped out of my arms and landed on his feet – running around.
That day I learned that the Holy Spirit is a Healing Spirit. When He moves, people don’t just speak in new tongues but all things are possible. In the heart of the missionary bone yard a dead church had become alive and overflowing with the power and love of God. The meeting did not stop all day long, until out of exhaustion I had prayed for all of the sick. We had seen many more healings and miracles, and everyone knew that a new day had dawned in Lesotho. As the people left, I watched them and tears were running down my face. I began to pray, Precious Holy Spirit, I want to apologize. I now believe you send John Bosman away because today you launched my ship!
As I finally made my way home in the waning afternoon, I saw the pattern for the future. This is how all Africa shall be saved, I thought. Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the lord of hosts. It was not a natural calling. It was not a natural enabling. It was supernatural.
Nothing was the same in the days ahead. It was as if I was catapulted from one level to another. From one place to another. We acquired a secondhand tent and began to set it up at various locations and hold meetings. Soon a storm ripped the tent to shreds. Its rotten canvas was no match for the winds. We began to seek another.
Some of the new expenses had depleted our cash
on hand. Rent was due, and I didn’t have it. I had walked to the office, which
was not far from our home. While walking back home I began to talk to my
Heavenly Father. “Lord, we need 30 rand today, where will I find it to pay rent
Suddenly the voice of the Lord spoke in my heart. You’ve asked for 30 rand. Why don’t you ask Me for a million?
I felt a chill run down my spine. Once again, God was challenging my small thinking. What if He gave me a million? What would I do with it? I began to calculate the improvements I could make. The fine tent I would purchase. The trucks and vehicles I would buy to carry all of our literature and people to the next campaign.
Suddenly all the fantasies stopped and I became choked with tears. I realized that once again I was thinking too small. With people passing me as they walked along the road I stopped and cried out from the very depths of my soul, “No, Lord! I am not asking for one million rand. I am asking for a million souls! One million souls less in hell and more in heaven, that shall be the purpose of my life and ministry.”
The Holy Spirit replied, “You will plunder hell and populate heaven for Calvary’s sake.” It became the motto of my life.
I felt my Father’s full pleasure. I had no doubt that it would take far more than a million dollars to see a million souls saved. But I knew that I valued the souls above money. It was now God’s challenge to supply the money necessary to reach a million souls. It was simply my challenge to obey His voice, day by day. To me it seemed that I had crossed a threshold in my relationship with Him, and I was very happy. But several years later I realized that even in this answer, I had been thinking way too small. It is good that God takes us forward one step at a time.
… As I pondered the future, I remembered my boyhood vision from the Lord. The city of Johannesburg glowed like a beacon on the spiritual map. It was calling me now. I saw that I must go there, and I founded my own ministry organization to accommodate the vision for a blood-washed Africa. I called it Christ for all Nations, or CfaN, using the name we had given the little printing press in Maseru. (Chapter: Chapter 19).
But I experienced what might be called a depression. I felt totally exhausted and drained and just sat around. This was not like me. I could not get up and get going. I felt like an uprooted plant. I had not found new soil yet. What made it worse is that it seemed God had stopped talking to me. For four weeks, I continued in this condition.
Finally, Anni made an appointment for me with a doctor we had met through the AFM. He saw me and diagnosed me with ulcers. This was apparently from the stress of making the break with the Velberter Mission and Lesotho at the same time.
When people decide not to take risks, this is why. They fear they might suffer unexpected consequences. And, as my ulcers and depression proved, the risk is real. But is that reason to hang onto the past? To cling to mediocrity? No. Doing that is the first step along the path of seeing a living faith become a dead one. The old place, the old building, the old method, the old success, is comforting. The new step is frightening. We must place our trust completely in God to move beyond these comfort zones in life.
That night as I lay sleepless in bed, the voice of the Lord spoke to me: Go to the city of Gaborone in Botswana. This word came out of the blue. But rather than lay in my depression until I died of bleeding ulcers, the next morning I telephoned a pastor I knew in that city, Pastor Scheffers. I told him I wanted to come see him today. He agreed. Then I asked Anni to take me to the airport. I purchased a ticket on the next flight to Gaborone. Obeying God’s voice was life itself to me.
When I got off the plane I realized that I had not even prepared for the trip. I had not brought enough money for food or taxi fare. No problem. God had called me here. This was an adventure of faith. So I walked into the city.
Sometimes an anonymous walk through an unknown land will quiet the mind and instill the heart of the Lord in a man. I walked like Jonah through Nineveh and opened my senses to the city God had called me to. I encountered the sights and sounds of the children playing, chickens seeking insects on a swept dirt floor, laundry being beaten against a rock, tripe stew boiling on a bed of charcoal, a mother steadying a jerry can of water on the head of her barefoot daughter. It was a place of desperate poverty and need. Like Lesotho, I thought only someone called by God should venture here in Gaborone. I walked through the markets and neighborhoods sensing the presence and compassion of the Lord reaching out to this community.
Turn right, God said. I turned right, and there before me was the Botswana National Sports Stadium. You will preach My name there.
My entire being broke into a full smile. The transition was complete. I was hearing my Father’s voice again. And my ulcers were gone. (Chapter: Chapter 19).
Later that morning I arrived at Pastor Scheffers’ home in Gaborone. I told him that I wanted to meet the city officials and book the National Sports Stadium for a meeting in four weeks time. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind.
“I am a pastor who has 40 people in church on a good Sunday. How do you expect to fill a stadium that holds 10,000?”
“I don’t know about your 40 people. But I know that I just heard the voice of the Holy Spirit, and I want to obey Him.”
“But 10,000 seats to fill, Reinhard. You have to build up to that.”
“Alright, we’ll build up to it. What is the largest hall in town? I want to book it. I will start there and then end up in the stadium.”
Bless him. He was humble enough to drive me to the authorities. I created a contract between Gaborone and CfaN, hiring a hall seating 800 for the first week, then the stadium for the final nights of the campaign. However, as I put my signature on the line I began to perspire. Somehow, I already saw that vast stadium with only 40 people inside. I had to find a way to fill it.
As soon as I had finished I called Anni and told her I was extending my stay in Gaborone. I would take some time to organize the local churches. I got a list of all the local pastors, and one by one I visited them all.
“Hello, I’m Reinhard Bonnke. In four weeks time I will have a gospel campaign in your city. I have hired the National Stadium, but we will start off with the smaller sports hall. Please, let’s all work together.”
In sub-Saharan Africa, we have a very large vulture-like bird called the Marabou Stork. It is a scavenger that waits for animals to die in order to eat them. That’s why it is called the “undertaker bird.” These Gaborone pastors looked at me like a Marabou Stork contemplating road kill.
“That all sounds very good,” they said, “but who are you?”
I said, “I am a nobody, but God has spoken to me, and I believe it’s going to happen as He said.”
They said, “Anyone can say that.”
I said, “But He really has spoken to me.”
“Sorry, but we’ve got something else on our calendar for those dates.”
Indeed, I felt like road kill. I was tempted to berate myself for poor planning. What an amateur mistake to plan a campaign before securing the cooperation of the local churches. One after another the pastors turned me down until all of them had said no.
It was then that I woke up, spiritually speaking. “Lord, You spoke to me and told me that I would preach Your name in that stadium. This is Your campaign. I will do the preaching, but You must fill the stadium.”
Peace came into my heart, and I took the next plane back to Johannesburg. Anni and I prayed and fasted and cranked up the printing press. We had one thing going for us; Pastor Scheffers had promised that his congregation would support the meetings and would plaster campaign posters all over Gaborone.
In the meantime, I attended an AFM conference that had long been scheduled in KwaThema near Johannesburg. I wanted two things. First, I wanted to maintain my good relationship with Dr. Möller and our many supporters in that denomination. Second, I desperately wanted to ask the great Zulu evangelist, Richard Ngidi to come join me in the CfaN organization. He was a man who was known for the many healing miracles that accompanied his ministry. I would preach; he would pray for the sick. We would be like salt and pepper, white and black together on the platform. This would be a testimony against apartheid. But I promised myself that I would not ask him to join CfaN. I would not want to seem to be stealing a prize minister from the AFM fold.
When I arrived for the conference Richard saw me and came running up to me. “Pastor Bonnke!” he shouted. “I hear you are starting your own evangelistic organization. You must let me help you. We must minister together.”
All the people in the lobby of that convention hall heard him say this. Well, the Lord had solved my problem. I was being pursued by Richard. I was not stealing talent from the AFM. As we spoke further, Richard said that he felt he would serve with me for two years, and then he would return to his regular schedule with the AFM. I was happy. Two years seemed like a long time at the moment, and the Gaborone meeting was sitting on my shoulder like a hungry Marabou Stork. I quickly added Richard Ngidi’s name to my publicity material.
We began to explore the area of Johannesburg where we lived. One day as I drove past a large abandoned farmhouse, I heard the Spirit say, That is your new headquarters building. It had been overgrown with grass, and its hedges were untrimmed. I went to the owners and made an offer even though I had no money to back it up at the time. Soon I had received enough money to follow through with the contract, and this became the new CfaN headquarters.
As this was happening I felt another urge to travel south of Johannesburg and take a good look at the black township of Soweto…
At this stage, the Gaborone meetings were scheduled to begin, and I flew with Richard to Botswana. I had decided to conduct the campaign according to the words of Jesus recorded in His Great Commission: Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
In my mind, I saw myself preaching the gospel sermons and Richard Ngidi conducting the healing ministry. Again, I thought we would be like ebony and ivory. Our presence together would send a message to the entire region that we were brothers in Christ, of equal value before God, and together, we would cover at least two points in Christ’s Great Commission – salvation and the signs that follow, specifically healing.
As we entered the meeting hall I could feel the emptiness; I could hear it, I could smell it. I looked about and immediately realized all of our advance publicity had failed. When I counted heads, there were exactly 100 present, myself included. The room was designed for 800. I counted from right to left and left to right. Recounting did not make it better. 100 is 100 from every angle. I was quite disappointed.
I sensed that Richard was also uncomfortable. Not even his name had helped build the crowd in Gaborone. Perhaps that was because he was a Zulu, and we were now in the land of the Bushmen of the Kalahari. Pastor Scheffers then leaned over to me and told me proudly that all 40 members of his flock were in attendance. That deflated me even more. It meant that we had drawn no more than 60 souls beyond the members of his congregation. Pastor Scheffers had every right to say, “I told you so.” I remembered the day a few weeks ago when I had arrived at his house with the wild idea of filling the National Sports Stadium. Now, this!
After preliminaries, I stood and opened my Bible to preach the ABCs of the gospel. I had preached perhaps 10 to 20 minutes when a woman on the left side of the group of 100 stood up and shouted, “I’ve just been healed.”
I stopped speaking to hear her. Soon another and another stood and did the same. Four or five people in all stood and made this claim of being spontaneously healed. I thought, This is strange, I am preaching the gospel of salvation, yet people are being healed. We have not even laid hands on them according to Scripture.
At the conclusion of my sermon I called for anyone else who was sick to come forward. I told them that I would lay hands on them and pray. Something very strange began to happen. Each person I laid my hands on collapsed to the floor, and there they lay, row after row of unconscious people. I looked at Richard since I was not familiar with this manifestation.
A man came running from the back of the room to me. “I demand an explanation!” he said. “What have you done to make these people faint and fall to the floor?” “I can’t explain it. I need an explanation myself. Are you a doctor? Do you know what has happened to them?”
“No, I don’t know.”
“All I can tell you is I didn’t ask these people to do this. What I have done is to lay hands on them according to the words of Jesus in Mark 16:18. So I suppose what has happened to them, Jesus is responsible for.”
At that moment one woman got up from the floor. “I can see! I can see! I can see!” She had fallen down blind, but she got up seeing. This woman was well known to all the people. Another prostrate man who I had prayed for went down with a pair of crutches. He got up walking and running without any need for them.
Immediately, the man who had been demanding an explanation no longer seemed angry. He was amazed and began to praise God. All 100 people began shouting and dancing and screaming. They filled that nearly empty hall with a tremendous volume of sound that was heard in the surrounding neighborhoods. Some people came running to see what had happened. It was a repeat of the service in Maseru.
Within two nights that hall was packed to capacity. God performed His own publicity. People sat on other people’s laps. Others sat in windowsills. There were 2,000 people crowding outside, wanting to get in. We placed a loudspeaker outside for them. For the first time in my life I saw crowds of people running to the front to receive Jesus at my invitation. They were crying tears of repentance as they came. I thought heaven had come down to earth. “Africa shall be saved,” I repeated under my breath again and again.
Each night I asked Richard to pray for the sick after I had given the invitation for salvation. His great healing gift was evident, as well as his deep compassion for those he ministered to. Many other healings manifested as “signs following” the believing of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Finally, we moved into the great stadium, normally filled for national soccer matches. By the second night we had filled it to capacity for the hearing of the gospel. I will never forget seeing in the crowd the faces of many of those pastors who had denied cooperation with these meetings. How things had changed. The Marabou Stork look was gone. And I had never felt less like road kill.
One night near the end of the campaign, nearly half of the population of Gaborone had packed into the stadium. The entire soccer field, as well as the stands were both filled. The Lord spoke to me, I want you to pray for the people to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
This startled me. I had never heard of such a thing. This was a stadium meeting. Back home in Germany we had not sought for the baptism in our regular meetings where unbelievers might be present. We did it in private meetings restricted to believers only. I said, Lord this is a stadium. Many people looking on might be confused by this display. They will misunderstand. Still, I felt the urging of the Lord to do this thing.
I recalled how my mother had prayed and tarried for so many years for the experience. My own experience had been spontaneous, but it had nothing to do with a group experience. How was it that God would fill an entire group at once in a public meeting? But on the Day of Pentecost it had happened to the 120 assembled in the upper room. Those outside the meeting hall certainly heard them speaking in tongues. Many had mocked and misunderstood but that had not mattered. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Peter preached a sermon he had not prepared for, and 3000 souls were added to the Jerusalem church. Maybe now I would see something similar. I invited those who wanted to receive the baptism to come forward. Nearly 1,000 gathered at the front.
Since he had a better grip of the language, I asked Richard Ngidi to explain how to receive the gift. As he explained it, he left out a fundamental part – speaking in tongues. I stood to correct him, but the Holy Spirit checked me. I felt that I should say nothing. So, with no further explanation, I told the people that in response to God’s voice, I would now pray for them to receive God’s gift.
As I finished the prayer I instructed them to lift their hands to heaven and close their eyes. I did not close my eyes. I wanted to see what God would do. When they lifted their hands I saw a transparent wave coming from the right to the left, sweeping over that stadium. As it hit those people it was as if a mighty rushing wind blew them to the ground en masse. All of them were speaking in tongues and prophesying as the Spirit gave utterance. I had not said one word about speaking in tongues. This confirmed to me that I had indeed heard the voice of the Spirit in my heart. I had heard Him true. It also demonstrated the reality of speaking in tongues without any hint of suggestion or manipulation.
I am not a weepy man, but tears began to flow down my face. I was greatly moved and changed inside to witness this divine moment. The scripture came to mind, And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh. I became convinced that the vision of a blood-washed Africa will only be realized by a mighty outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit. A deluge that will sweep great throngs of people into His kingdom, leaving hell empty and heaven full.
As the meetings closed we held a public baptismal service. 500 converts followed the Lord in water baptism that day. This was the end of the first CfaN campaign.
I called my co-workers together back in Johannesburg. What we have seen is God’s pattern to fulfill His vision for a blood-washed Africa. We will take this gospel from Cape Town to Cairo.
Cape Town to Cairo became our motto. (Chapter: Chapter 20).
Jesus would make Reinhard Bonnke the greatest mass evangelist the world had seen up to this time. I finish his story by showing you a brief video clip of some of his crusades.
Show video clip.
Ibid., 541–44. | …For our return to Nigeria, we decided to hold a crusade in Benin City. It had been scheduled for October, my first Nigerian event in nearly a decade ... The police asked what size crowd we expected. We estimated 500,000. They laughed at the number ...
I couldn’t believe my eyes as I gazed out over a crowd of 400,000 on the first night. The salvation response was immense. I estimated one in four hands was raised to receive Jesus. What an incredible start. Then miracles of healing began to occur. This was the familiar pattern. I knew that the word would spread like wildfire, ...
But perhaps the most horrible assault of Satan in the history of our work occurred after that first night’s meeting. At the intersection where Winfried had predicted problems, 14 people were trampled to death as they attempted to make their way home ...
In spite of the tragedy, the next night our crowd grew to 500,000 ...
Our Port Harcourt meetings were held in December of that year, just two months later. We saw even larger crowds. However, some of our sound equipment failed to reach a significant portion of the field on the first night because of a sudden change in wind direction and our inability to overcome it ... Still, in Port Harcourt, we saw something completely unprecedented. Over one million people registered decisions to accept Jesus as Saviour in six days – 1,110,267 to be exact. That meant that more than half of the crowd of 2,100,000 attending those meetings became new converts.
Never had it become clearer to me that what Satan had intended for evil, God was turning for an even greater good. The disaster at Kano, which had expelled us from Nigeria for nine years, had also made us a legend in this land. The name Bonnke had become a whispered household word ... We scheduled four more crusades in Nigeria for the coming year of 2000 ...
Ibid., 567–68. | We began to feel the weight of the coming crusade in Lagos, Nigeria, long before it arrived. In a city with a population of 7,500,000 and another 10,000,000 living within a 20-mile radius, our scouts and teams sent reports of crowds beyond any we had ever seen ... We were scheduled to six-nights of meetings. The opening crowd exceeded all that we had previously seen. It was well in excess of 750,000. The power of God manifested in many miracles, and I knew what this would mean ... On the final night, the sea of faces stretched beyond the limits of my vision. A crowd of 1,600,000 had gathered; almost triple the size of any we had seen so far. At the invitation 1,093,000 responded and registered decisions for Christ. When they repeated the sinner’s prayer after me, their voices sounded like the thunder of Victoria Falls ... A million responded to one invitation...
Reinhard Bonnke had felt like a zero – small and insignificant like a mustard seed. His parents did not believe in him. His brothers outperformed him. And his father had the “smallest church” in Germany. There was not much to commend Reinhard but Jesus had called him and the kingdom of God is full of his power to grow and become big, and big it became. All Africa shall be saved.
This morning, we may also feel like zeros – small and laughed at like Margaret Court on television – on the back foot in public life – but we don’t look at the newspapers and current affairs. We listen to Jesus who promised us: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed… Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants…”
Dream 16 Aug 2010 (7 years ago)
I dreamt that Reinhard Bonnke gave us his biggest tent and then David and I did tent evangelism in the north of Australia (Darwin, Cairns, Townsville). I saw the location in my dream. It looked like the location of Milne Bay in relation to Queens’ Park but there was a higher ridge.
There was an elephant and enthusiastic volunteers that loved doing the work. Dave was at first reluctant and sceptical about the tent but this was the way to bring in the harvest.
All Australia shall be saved. The kingdom of God is unstoppable and will be growing even in this nation. Australia shall be saved. This is what we believe, and this is what we say. Amen.