6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. — Colossians 2:6-7
On Saturday, December 7, 2019, legendary global blockbuster evangelist Reinhard Bonnke peacefully passed away; he was 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, and including Malawi. He was 70 years old and oversaw the conversion to Christianity of seven million people. 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 was sentiments held following riots in Nigeria, where youth burned churches and Christians were attacked. Many blamed Bonnke for the attacks, citing Bonnke’s 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 seven (7) million converts, I strongly disagree with either viewpoint. On his first crusade to Malawi, I recall Bonnke telling the maximum capacity gathering that stretched from the back of the High Court 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 managed to create 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 can pick up a story for my features pages. Here are my seven take ways 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 Center;
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 the chicken grains and taught the 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 belongs.
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;
5. Up to this time, I was a Muslim (two years), having married my Chancellor College beau. I recall as an undergrad at Chancellor College my friends Jane, Helen, and I had attended various Christian outreaches and become born again, again and again, and again; the 1986 born again commitment has stuck;
6. It has not been a smooth journey, a bed of roses, all sunny days. There has been all manner of trials, putting my faith to the fiery test:
a. All of my three sons faced numerous ailments and accidents: one had shingles (he’s healed and has healthy children); another had malaria and became blind for three months (sight was restored); and another was pushed by a cousin, he fell three feet head first onto cement concrete (he is well). I was in an accident and headed for a tree (it miraculously moved).
b. While it was being said that due to my change of religion, these calamities were coming to me and my family, it is prayer and unmovable faith in Jesus that continues to guard and protect me and all that concerns me; and
7. Evangelist Bonnke laid a powerful faith-packed dynamite-infused with the love of Jesus in me and countless Malawians, and Africans. The Bonnke crusades in Africa birthed the rise of Pentecostal and charismatic churches on the continent.
May his soul rest in God’s eternal loving peace.