His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ — Matthew 25:21
On Saturday, December 7 2019, legendary global evangelist Reinhard Bonnke peacefully passed away, surrounded by his family.
His passing marks the end of a vastly fruitful 60-year journey of evangelical work through large crusades, mostly in Africa, including Malawi.
He was 79 years old and oversaw the conversion to Christianity of millions of people worldwide. I was one of them. He is definitely getting his red-carpet welcome and the long-awaited “well done, good and faithful servant”.
There are some people that have argued that Bonnke was not such a great church leader. Such sentiments were held following riots in Nigeria where youths burnt churches and Christians were attacked.
Many blamed Bonnke for the attacks, citing his anti-Muslim comments. In Malawi, during his 1986 crusade, former editor-in-chief Vic Gardner inferred that Bonnke was part of the manipulating Westerner that were skinning poor Africans of their hard-earned money.
As one of the converts, I strongly disagree with either viewpoint. On his first crusade to Malawi, I recall Bonnke telling the maximum capacity gathering that stretched from behind the High Court in Blantyre up to the French Cultural Centre of his recurring dream featuring a picture of the map of Africa being spread with red.
He said he heard the voice of God crying “Africa Shall Be Saved”. This led to his adopting large-scale evangelism as opposed to the traditional small-scale missionary outreaches.
This was in June-July 1986, the evangelist brought to the country large trucks, marked “Christ For All Nations” (abbreviated CfaN). Bonnke partnered with local Christian churches and created a vibe that drew the curious, interested and those desirous of cures for their ailments.
As a features editor at The Daily Times, I recall sending my two colleagues Robert Chilenga and Ralph Banda to attend the meetings for an article on the social and religious pages. After two visits and “Janet you should go and hear this guy preach and the women, they know the Bible. Janet please, go to the crusade!”
While I was happy to hear the positive report about women knowing the Bible, I did not get an article from Rob and Ralph, so I decided to go myself. Thus, on one cold July evening, I asked my husband for keys to the car so I could pick up a story for my features pages.
Here are my seven takeways from the encounter I had at the Reinhard Bonnke Crusade, 1986.
1. I sat at the outer edges of the crusade crowd, almost at the French Cultural Centre;
2. I vividly recall two points about the evangelist’s message as follows:
(a). When he goes on evangelism drives, he likes to go to the bars, not the churches. This is because it is in the bars where prospective converts are in plenty of supply;
(b). He asked the gathering if we are chickens or eagles. He gave the differing characteristics of the two: the chicken (pecks at grain, eats worms, and does not fly); the eagle flies high in the sky, has 20/20 vision and can look at a school of fish miles in the sky and determine which fish it will catch—and catches it, it does not eat worms.
(c). One day a naughty farmer stole an eagle’s egg and had its chicken sit on it along with its chicken eggs. When the eagle was born, the mother hen fed it grains and taught it to peck the ground for worms. This lasted until the eagle saw her baby eagle pecking on the ground. She flew down, scooped her eaglet up to where it belonged.
(d). This is how we are: we are children of the King of the universe.
3. At the time of altar call, I was at the foot of the stage and into the arms of Barbara Tippett (Malawi’s first female pastor whom I had featured on Meet Prominent Women column). We hugged and cried for a long time;
4. I gave my life to Jesus and was born again. I joined Blantyre Christian Centre, currently known as Word Alive Ministries International;
May his soul rest in eternal peace.