He was a German-born evangelist whose open-air Christian revivals drew millions of followers, many of them hoping to be healed of their afflictions.
- By Melissa Eddy
The Rev. Reinhard Bonnke, a German-born Pentecostal faith-healer whose open-air revivals in Africa attracted so many followers that in one case people were trampled to death hoping to be cured of their afflictions, died at his home in Florida on Dec. 7. He was 79.
The evangelical organization that he founded in 1974, Christ for All Nations, confirmed the death but did not give a cause of death or specify where in Florida he lived.
In a petition for prayers posted on his personal Facebook page last month, Mr. Bonnke (pronounced BON-key) said he had undergone “a right femur bone surgery” and was “learning to walk again.” Followers from Nigeria to India responded with 41,000 prayers.
“Heavenly Father, remember this man, a great general of the faith,” wrote one follower, Nugari Mugi-Irenge, from Kikuyu, Kenya.
From the time he left his home in Hamburg for the kingdom of Lesotho in 1967, by his account, Mr. Bonnke felt called to bring the word of God to the people of Africa. Often called the “Billy Graham of Africa,” he asserted that he had inherited the mantel of a healing evangelist from the British preacher George Jeffries (1889-1962), whom he had encountered in London.
“From Cape to Cairo for Jesus” was a rallying cry on which Mr. Bonnke founded Christ for All Nations, which grew to become a multimillion-dollar operation that claims to have brought more than 79 million people to follow Christ, first in Africa and later in Asia, Europe and North America. It also claims to have brought a dead man back to life.
“I am interested in bringing Africa to the foot of the Cross,” Mr. Bonnke said in an interview with The New York Times in 1984. “I believe that the preaching of the living word of God is something that Africa hungers for.”
President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria said in a statement posted on Twitter that Mr. Bonnke’s death was a loss “to Nigeria, Africa & entire world.”
Reinhard Bonnke was born on April 19, 1940, in the historically Prussian city of Königsberg. (Today it is known as Kaliningrad, Russia.) His father left the military for the ministry after World War II, and the family settled in northern Germany. Mesmerized by tales of 19th-century missionaries like David Livingstone, Mr. Bonnke studied at The Bible College of Wales.
From the earliest days, technology was part of his preaching. His sermons, held in the 1980s in a giant tent that seated 35,000 and stood seven stories high, incorporated flashing lights and videos shot by camera teams that would accompany his journeys throughout Africa.
The videos were sold to followers eager to take the message home with them. The advent of the internet allowed him to increase his outreach through daily messages posted on social media, and a 10-part film series recounted his journey of faith.
But his refusal to take a political stance against repressive African leaders earned him criticism as well as praise. While living in and maintaining his ministry’s headquarters in an all-white area of Johannesburg in the 1970s and ’80s, he refused to join South African church leaders in speaking out against the country’s apartheid regime, insisting that politics and faith did not mix.
As many as 1.7 million Africans at a time would flock to one of his revivals, requiring them to be held in open-air locations. Many of those attending were ailing with AIDS, cancer and other maladies, drawn by promises of being healed.
In 1991, at least eight people died in violence that broke out in the northern Nigerian city of Kano after thousands of Muslims took to the streets to protest a decision by the police to grant Mr. Bonnke permission to hold a revival meeting. In 1999, also in Nigeria, at least 14 people were trampled to death trying to reach the stage to receive Mr. Bonnke’s professed healing powers.
Two years later, a Nigerian minister, the Rev. Daniel Ekechukwu, was pronounced dead after the car he was driving smashed into a stone pillar. His wife, saying she had had a vision, took her husband’s body in its coffin to the basement of a church where Mr. Bonnke was preaching. During his sermon, the man’s wife said, her husband sat up in his coffin and spoke.
“The raising of Daniel from the dead is a story that will offend some people,” Mr. Bonnke wrote in his book “Raised From the Dead” (2014). “I can guarantee it.”
He added: “I tell of the miracle now because it towers over my life and ministry like the steeple of a great cathedral. It points to the heavens, and to the God I serve.”
In 2013, at the age of 73, he took his ministry to the United States, which for decades was the source of most of his organization’s funding. Although he never attracted a following in America as large as he had in Africa, he made regular appearances on Christian television and spoke to conferences. The Associated Press reported in 2014 that he lived in a roomy $3 million Ritz-Carlton condo near West Palm Beach with prime ocean views.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Ann (Sülzle) Bonnke; their three children, Kai-Uwe, Gabriele, and Susanne; and eight grandchildren.
Mr. Bonnke’s organization is now led by Daniel Kolenda, an American living in Florida whom Mr. Bonnke designated as his successor in 2001.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.
Melissa Eddy is a correspondent based in Berlin who covers German politics, social issues and culture. She came to Germany as a Fulbright scholar in 1996, and previously worked for The Associated Press in Frankfurt, Vienna and the Balkans. @meddynyt • Facebook