I took a keen interest in the life of the famous evangelist Reinhard Bonnke after he passed away on 7th December 2019. I heard many great testimonies of the fiery evangelist by many people in my Christian circles and I was curious to know the man more. I searched him up and found that he had written a detailed autobiography. This book, LIVING A LIFE OF FIRE, has been a gem to my faith, and one that I would add to the ranks of The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. I consider this autobiography a modern classic.
Bonnke begins by narrating how the Gospel came to his family through a miracle. His grandfather, August Bonnke, had a rare nerve disease that kept him in constant pain. The doctors couldn’t find a cure for August. He was left to live the rest of his life in pain. One day, an American evangelist by the name of Louis Kraph got lost in that part of Germany and ended up in August’s town. He saw the entry into the town as serendipity and decided to do some work for the Gospel. He asked if there were any sick people. He was immediately led to August Bonnke, who was the sickest man in the town. Kraph prayed for August and the latter was healed immediately. This shook the town. August and his wife got born again. They raised their children in the LORD, and one of their sons, Herman Bonnke, became a preacher and a World War 2 veteran. Herman begat Reinhard Bonnke.
Bonnke received Christ while still a boy. His mother led him to Christ. He was Baptised in the Spirit at the age of 11. God showed him a vision of Johannesburg, South Africa and called him to minister as a missionary. He was passionate to serve the LORD but his parents often disapproved. His father, Herman, often asserted that it was his eldest son and not Reinhard, who would take over the work of the ministry in their family. But Reinhard never forgot the vision. He remained true to it. He was further encouraged when an elderly lady in his home church narrated to the congregation of a vision the LORD had show pen to her in the middle of the service. The vision was of many Africans surrounding a little German boy with a basket of bread. The elderly woman pointed to Reinhard in the service and asserted, “This is that boy!”
The Holy Spirit also spurred Bonnke in his faith and vision towards full-time ministry. One evening in a prayer service where he accompanied his father, Bonnke received the impression of the Holy Spirit to lay hands on a certain woman. He obeyed. The woman sprung from her seat and cried out. Herman was certain that his son had done something mischievous. But the lady intervened and said that as soon as the child touched her, she felt her illness leave. The woman was cured instantly. Reinhard did not know that this was a preamble to his spiritual gift of healing. He hardly knew that thousands of people from all over the world would soon benefit from a gift that was deposited in him.
Reinhard attended seminary in the UK. He did his internship in Germany. He met his wife, Annie and they got married. He pastored a church for about two years in Germany until the time came when the missions board finally sent him to Africa. He was excited to go to a foreign land and meet new people and share the message of the cross. He was, however, surprised when he arrived in South Africa and denied to preach to any black people. He met the ugly system of apartheid. He was attached to a whites-only church for his missionary assignment. He refused to preach in that church and he got into trouble with the white settlers. Strike one. He insisted on preaching to black people and was given a meagre crowd of five Zulus. He was disappointed but preached anyway. In his preaching, he called the Zulus coheirs of the Kingdom of God and equal human beings in the eyes of God. He also claimed that God’s love for them was so great that He shed blood unto death on their behalf through the person of Christ. Bonnke was summoned by the white settlers in the region and reprimanded for alluding that black people were equal to white people. Strike two. Later, Bonnke and his wife, Annie, were expectant. Annie bore their first child, Kai-Uve, and they hired a black live-in nanny. Bonnke got into trouble with the apartheid Government. They sent a white Government inspector to his house. She questioned him immediately.
“Is it true that you have a black woman living with you?”
“It is true,” Bonnke replied in his German accent.
“It is true that she eats the same food as your family and uses the same cutlery?”
“Yes…it is true. What’s the problem?”
“The problem, Mr Bonnke,” she replied, “is that you are breaking the rules of the land that demand separation of blacks and whites.”
Bonnke did not wait to answer to the charges. He soon quit his mission work in Johannesburg and started his own mission organization, Christ For All Nations (CFAN), whose primary target was the indigenous African. He accepted an assignment to minister in Lesotho, a territory of South Africa that was neglected by South African evangelists because of its harsh living conditions. It was here that CFAN grew its wings. God’s promises to Bonnke would soon be realized in ways greater than he could imagine. He became very sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit and began to see signs and wonders follow the preaching of the Gospel. He was as surprised as the people who were healed. Soon, people began calling him a signs and wonders preacher. He refused it. He insisted on being called a Gospel preacher. He asserted that the core message of Christ was the salvation of souls and not the healing of physical diseases. In one newsletter interview he said, “Since disease is not the biggest human problem, healing is not the biggest blessing. But since sin is the biggest human problem, salvation is the biggest blessing.” Despite this, the miraculous healings continued even more in his crusades. Bonnke was keen to keep verifiable records of hospital and media reports to authenticate the healings. Even up to today, the records of people alive and dead are available for thorough investigations to authenticate the miracles. This increase in miracles and testimonies resulted in thousands flocking to his CFAN meetings.
Bonnke became a household name in Africa as he travelled with his evangelistic team. God kept expanding his outreach and he soon found himself in favour with several heads of states in Africa. He also found himself addressing crowds in the hundreds of thousands. Bonnke got special invitations by presidents of Africa to minister in their lands without his insistence or planning. Malawi was one country that had banned Bonnke from visiting. However one day, they suddenly lifted the restrictions and invited him to hold a crusade there.
“Why did you allow me to come, all over sudden?” Bonnke curiously asked the Malawi Minister for Transport, who met him upon arrival.
“We heard of the Fire Conference that you held in Harare. We received such surprising reports that black evangelists and their white counterparts were given the same treatment. There were no special hotel rooms for white people. There were no special sitting positions for white people. There were no special services for white people. Your staff at CFAN treated everyone equally and without discrimination. This made us know that Bonnke is a friend of Malawi and not an enemy.”
Reinhard Bonnke is an entertaining storyteller. That fact keeps you glued to the book and makes it hard to put down. He narrates the challenges he faced as CFAN grew. Some include the sudden death of his staff members in a car accident, a certain time when 14 people were trampled to death in one of his crusades, bribery and corruption from African Governments, bad media PR in an instance or two, the difficulty of running the logistics of huge crusades, lucrative financial offers from people whom the LORD had denied to partner with him, excessive financial blessings that he had no idea what to do with, radical Islamic terrorism in Nigeria and Sudan, personal threats to his life by Osama Bin Laden, imprisonment in a foreign land, gatecrashing by the LGBTQ community while ministering in Germany, betrayal by close friends in ministry, opposition from other Christian denominations that felt threatened by CFAN and many more. One particularly troubling situation caught my attention. Once, after visiting the former Nigerian Muslim President Abubakar, he was given a gift of 100,000 USD in cash in his hotel room. He wanted to look for a local bank to send the money to CFAN. The president’s courier insisted that the money wasn’t for the CFAN ministry; it was a personal gift to Bonnke- for his personal use. Bonnke could not accept the money. He decided to give it all to CFAN to fund future ministry campaigns. But no bank in Nigeria could wire the money to their Germany account. Bonnke was stranded and did not know how he would get past customs in the airport with such a huge amount of cash. He called one of his staff members, gave him the cash and told him that this was his problem now. The staff member managed to get the cash past customs and banked it in the CFAN account as soon as he landed in Germany.
The book is very huge with many interesting stories and many faith jostling narrations. I like it because the core character of the work is clearly seen to be Jesus. Bonnke absolutely refuses to take any glory for himself. It is also clear that he is committed to the authentic message of the Gospel and its simplicity. I also like that he highlights how the preaching of the Gospel brought social transformation. One country invited him again after they drew an empirical connection to his huge crusades and their citizens commencing to pay their taxes. The Gospel was bringing change. Some heads of states invited him to bring reconciliation to ethnic and religious divisions. The miracles of blind people seeing, deaf people hearing and sick people healed united several Africans.
One noteworthy transformation story that Reinhard tells is that of a man from Arusha, Tanzania who gave his life to Christ after one of his fiery crusades. The man confessed to Evangelist Bonnke after the service that he had committed a haunting transgression before receiving Christ. He had stolen one of his neighbour’s cows and he wanted to return it by means of making restitution for his sins. There was only one problem; in the time the stolen cow stayed in his shed, his bull had mounted her. The stolen cow had since given birth to a healthy calf.
“I shall definitely return the stolen cow,” confessed the new convert, “But shall I return the calf as well?”
Bonnke confessed to finding the matter very funny. He, however, did not doubt what ought to be done.
“You shall have no portion in the stolen cow. You shall return both mother and calf.”
And so Bonnke accompanied the repentant thief to the neighbour from who he had disadvantaged. The neighbour was so moved by the brokenness and repentance of the new convert. He refused to press charges with the police and proceeded to reward the repentant sinner with the calf.
“Take it. It is yours.”
I took particular interest in the ministry of CFAN in my country, Kenya, and realised that there is a rich spiritual heritage many Kenyans have because of Reinhard Bonnke. Powerful ministers like Teresia Wairimu have their heritage from Bonnke. His entire life was spent travelling and preaching with his wife and ministry. It doesn’t, therefore, come as a surprise that Reinhard died in 2019 just before the Corona Virus pandemic. His travelling would be stifled by COVID-19. It seems God called him at just the right time. Evangelist Daniel Kolenda took over as the head of CFAN and is donning the mantle quite faithfully. LIVING A LIFE OF FIRE challenges you to respond to the Great Commission and fulfil your part. Reinhard did his part; it is time to do yours.