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." Vreeke was barred entrance to Nigeria in 1992 as part of a missionary crackdown by the government after Bonnke's 1991 crusade.
Bonnke bills his crusades—usually held in large and already heavily churched urban centers—as revivals rather than evangelistic rallies. They frequently draw crowds of more than a half-million people to a single meeting.
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. He affirms aic's experiences and practices, and he is a gateway to wider public acceptance of these largely charismatic groups. But members of mainline churches also flock to Bonnke's crusades.
A vision for African missions haunted Bonnke from an early age. "Night after night I saw the entire African continent, washed in the blood of Jesus, country after country," says Bonnke, son of a German Pentecostal preacher.
But when he arrived in Lesotho 32 years ago, Bonnke 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. They expect—even demand—miracles, and they insist that evangelism is the only acceptable task of the church. Some of Bonnke's followers also demand evidence in fellow Christians of his list of spiritual gifts, including "excitement in the Spirit," speaking in tongues, being slain in the Spirit and collapsing in a heap, laughing uncontrollably, and dancing in the Spirit.
Bonnke's web site, Christ for all Nations, has crusade reports, but not yet one for the Nigeria crusade.
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