Reinhard Bonnke, preacher who drew millions, dies at 79

National/World
Reinhard Bonnke

FILE – In this July 17, 2014, file photo, German-born minister Reinhard Bonnke speaks during an interview in Miami. Bonnke, a Pentecostal preacher whose crusades across Africa drew millions with the promise of faith healings, died Dec. 7, 2019, the ministry he founded announced. He was 79. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — The Rev. Reinhard Bonnke, a Pentecostal preacher whose crusades across Africa drew millions with the promise of faith healings and the minister’s own story of a resurrection, has died, the ministry he founded announced. He was 79.

Bonnke died Dec. 7, his organization, Christ for All Nations, in Orlando, Florida, said. It did not elaborate on the cause of death or where it occurred. Bonnke owned homes in Riviera Beach and Boynton Beach, Florida, property records show.

Though Bonnke presided over mass revivals around the globe, it was in Africa where his rallies were so ubiquitous and his magnetism so great that he became a household name in many corners of the continent. His goal, he said was to bring everyone to Christ.

“He has a claim on all people. He doesn’t speak in percentages,” Bonnke said in a 2014 interview with The Associated Press. “I will aim at the moon to reach the highest bounty.”

Bonnke’s single largest gathering, in Lagos, Nigeria, drew a staggering 1.6 million people, by his ministry’s estimate. Some challenged his crowd counts, but the throngs were so indisputably huge on two occasions in the 1990s that Nigerian crowds clamoring to see him resulted in stampedes that killed at least 17 people. Bonnke said his message had a special allure to Africans.

His most widely-told story was of a modern-day Lazarus named Daniel Ekechukwu. After a car crash, the Nigerian man’s wife brought his body to a church where Bonnke was appearing. During the service, Bonnke said he witnessed Ekechukwu come back to life. Bonnke said matter-of-factly it wasn’t the only time he’d seen such a thing: “We had other cases where people were raised from the dead.”

“It is watertight. It could not be denied. And yet people still — some people — still doubt it,” Bonnke said. “Well, may God forgive them.”

The minister himself claimed he didn’t fully understand the dead coming back to life, or the thousands of other healings he said cured people of everything from AIDS to cancer to paralysis during his revivals. He said there was no special power in his hands or his prayer, but the potential of miracles remained a main driver of his crowds.

Bonnke was born April 19, 1940, in Konigsberg East Prussia, in what is now Kaliningrad, Russia. He was the second-youngest of six children who were shepherded by their mother to safety in Denmark as World War II raged. His father served in the German army before becoming a pastor, though he dismissed his young son’s ambitions of following him into ministry.

Bonnke said he was 10 when he heard God’s calling to preach in Africa and still a boy when he first spoke in tongues, first preached on a street corner and first won a convert.

He began working as a missionary in Lesotho in 1967 and founded Christ for All Nations seven years later.

As the decades wore on and the crowds grew, Bonnke became a prolific fundraiser, bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into his ministry and staging masterfully sleek multi-day gatherings.

He outlined no transgressions for which sinners must repent, delivered no soaring evangelism nor lessons in morality. Instead, in dramatic bellows and near whispers, he returned again and again to the same simple theme, ordering followers to turn from Satan to God.

At the climax of his revivals, he invited those ready to make a spiritual commitment to step forward, resulting in a mass of people who trembled, cried, jumped, danced and shouted over the gravity of their decision.

All told, Bonnke’s ministry says 79 million people made that move during his years at the helm.

Bonnke was associated with the so-called prosperity gospel, which stresses God will reward the faithful with health and wealth, and was linked with two preachers who embodied that philosophy, Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland. All three also led ministries that made them rich, though Bonnke rejected questions about his lifestyle.

In addition to a $3 million Ritz-Carlton condo, Bonnke and his wife, Anni, bought another $1.45 million, 5,900-square-foot estate earlier this year, according to filings with the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser. The pastor said he had learned not to feel guilty for the comforts he enjoyed.

“A blessing is a blessing is a blessing,” he said. “I had to learn my lessons through the years and I thank God for his provisions.”

Though Bonnke remained active in Christ for All Nations, the Rev. Daniel Kolenda became president in 2010 and took over the bulk of overseas crusades.

Aside from his wife, Bonnke is survived by three adult children, Kai-Uwe, Gabriele and Susanne, and eight grandchildren.

A memorial is scheduled for January 4 in Orlando.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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