Violence Mars Bonnke's Revival

Sixteen Nigerians died and hundreds were injured during an opening rally for a five-day revival organized in October by Reinhard Bonnke.

Bonnke is head of the Germany-based Christ for All Nations ministry and one of Africa's most active evangelists.

The deaths occurred in Benin City in southeast Nigeria when a surge in the crowd of 550,000 turned into a stampede. Despite the tragedy, crowds grew even larger in subsequent rallies.

In 1991, Bonnke's mission to Kano in northern Nigeria sparked battles between Christians and Muslims, resulting in an undisclosed number of deaths.

"You have to be extremely careful when you do evangelism so you don't offend the Muslim populations," says Abe Vreeke, director of Christian Reformed World Missions in Nigeria, who adds that Bonnke's open-air crusades in Nigeria were "probably more negative than positive."

Despite the controversy surrounding his crusades, Bonnke is perhaps the only Western evangelist to work effectively with the African Independent Churches (AIC), which account for more than one-third of active church members in Africa.

When Bonnke arrived in Lesotho 32 years ago, he found himself preaching to five people Sunday after Sunday. In the depths of despair, Bonnke decided to rent the national stadium and stage his first mass campaign.

Ten thousand people turned up and for the first time, Bonnke saw hundreds of people running forward, responding to the call for salvation. "I wept like a boy and vowed to the Lord that in obedience I would move across the whole of Africa to bring the vision to pass."

Generally, Bonnke's crusades result in greatly energized churches. But a few of his more ardent followers have become a problem for local churches, demanding evidence in fellow Christians ...

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