“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith…” (2 Timothy 4:7)
When on December 7, 2019, news broke that Reinhard Bonnke, the German-born, world renowned evangelist, whose gospel crusades in many African cities drew multitudes and led many people to make definite decisions to give their lives to Jesus Christ, had died in Florida, the world saw another example of what could rightly be described, by Biblical standards, as a successful ministry. He was 79.
The most important item in Bonnke’s life’s history (despite his great and marvelous achievements in the Lord’s Vineyard as a soul-winner) is that, although, he was the son of a gospel minister, he had a definite testimony of conversion or regeneration, that is, being born again – something every genuine child of God should and must have, but which, sadly, many church people do not have today, including even several preachers!
Indeed, no matter what anyone contributes to advance God’s work in this world, at the end of the day, the only thing that will guarantee the person’s entry into God’s kingdom is his possession of a genuine experience of salvation (which God who sees everyone’s heart can attest to), which the person had taken care to preserve till the end. Any professing Christian that has the salvation experience has got the best thing; but he that does not have it has nothing, no matter what else he claims to have.
Bonnke’s mother had preached to him when he was nine and he had repented of his sins and given his life to Jesus Christ after which he committed himself to serve God and become a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. From then, his interest in preaching the Word of God was born and grew. One day, he took a guitar and went into a street in Glückstadt and began to sing. Soon, a small crowd gathered and he brought out his Bible and preached to them. Bonnke was so excited when one man who was convicted by “his preaching knelt down, confessed his sins and gave his life to Christ.”
Filled with happiness, he rushed home excitedly and exclaimed as he reported what happened to his father: “Father, it works! A man came to hear me preach and accepted Jesus. The Holy Spirit really gives us the power to preach!” He could not contain his joy.
From a very early age, Bonnke began to tell everyone around him of his clear persuasion that he had a very definite calling from God to preach the gospel in Africa. He attended a Bible College in Wales and when he returned to Germany after his education, he met his wife, Anni, and they were married in 1964.
In 1967, at the age of 27, Bonnke left his home in Hamburg to Africa and settled in Lesotho as a missionary. It was not an easy work for him but his conviction, focus and diligence helped him to toil on and persevere. Sometimes he would travel long distances to hold meetings only for just a few people to gather to hear him. But he was not discouraged. He continued to toil in the land until his audiences began to grow.
It is important to note that although there were spectacular testimonies of healings and deliverances in Bonnke’s meetings across the world, his main focus was always the salvation of souls. At each of his gospel crusades, he would present the message of salvation in a very simple and interesting way, after which he would invite people wishing to give their lives to Christ to come out and do so. That was his main target – winning souls for Christ.
In 1974, Evangelist Bonnke founded Christ for All Nations (CFAN), the platform under which his gospel crusades were launched out for several decades. He held meetings across Africa, drawing thousands of people, with many of them repenting of and forsaking their sins and making decisions to follow Christ.
In an interview with New York Times in 1984, Bonnke said: “I am interested in bringing Africa to the foot of the Cross. I believe that the preaching of the living Word of God is something that Africa hungers for.”
Driven by a heart burning with compassion for souls, Bonnke’s yearly schedule of crusades in Africa, and later, Asia and other parts of the world was overwhelming. But he carried on with such exceptional zeal, passion, energy, dedication and focus. When he appeared on CBN’s 700 Club on December 9, 1986, he told the programme host, Rev Pat Robertson, “Jesus did not call us to deliver sermons, he called us to deliver people and I believe this is what happens in our crusades. I am not decorating prisons cells; I’m setting the captives free.”
In the over four decades that Bonnke traversed Africa with the gospel, and later Asia, Europe and North America, the Christ for All Nations has a record of over 79 million people who had responded to the altar calls he made at his various meetings, gave their lives to Christ and equally signed the New Converts Decision Papers.
It is possible that not all these people retained their convictions as genuine believers in Christ Jesus afterwards, but there is no doubt that a substantial number of them still have intact the testimony of their personal encounter with Christ which led to their salvation. And this they can still testify occurred at either one of Bonnke’s meetings across the world or after reading the diverse pieces of literature, millions of which his organisation had printed in several languages and mass-distributed to countless people.
Also, many Christian workers and church ministers and leaders would forever remain grateful to the invaluable enrichment they received from his “Fire Conferences” which he organised to disciple people for Christ for the work of soul-winning anywhere he held a crusade. His rallying cry was always: “From Cape to Cairo for Jesus!” He was widely described by the media as “the Billy Graham of Africa.”
Another significant point in Bonnke’s history was that throughout his life as a Christian and preacher, and despite his fame and massive influence, he was not associated with any scandal. He lived the life of a morally sound Christian and devoted family man who despite his wide travels and encounters with all manner of men and women, remained like an open book for the world to scrutinise, but was never linked to any form of scandal. He lived a Christian life that was exemplary and edifying.
About a decade ago, Bonnke recognized the need to commence the process of grooming a successor. Soon he made the strategic announcement: “The Lord specifically told me that He has appointed and anointed Daniel Kolenda as my successor.”
A brief descriptive note on Kolenda’s personal website introduces him as a “a modern missionary evangelist who has led more than 21 million people to Christ face-to face through massive open-air evangelistic campaigns in some of the most dangerous, difficult and remote locations on earth. As the successor to world renowned Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, Daniel is the president and CEO of Christ for All Nations, a ministry which has conducted some of the largest evangelistic events in history, has published over 190 million books in 104 languages and has offices in 12 nations around the world. He also hosts an internationally syndicated television program.”
According to the website, although Kolenda “is a graduate of Southeastern University on Lakeland, Florida and the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry in Pensacola, Florida…his greatest education has come from the years of ministry side-by-side with his mentor and spiritual father Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke. Together they have circled the globe preaching the Gospel and [continued] to do so as a single-minded team with great effectiveness.”
From November 8 to 12, 2017, Bonnke held what he called his “Farewell Crusade” in Africa. It took place at the Sparklight Estate, Opposite OPIC, in Lagos, and was tagged, “Passing The Burning Torch.” The programme was attended by a very large crowd, including several African church leaders and gospel ministers.
Now, by effectively doing the work God had committed to his hands with all his heart and might, successfully mentoring and handing over to a “Joshua” and ensuring a smooth take-over by his successor to continue the work after he had gone, Evangelist Bonnke executed what could be regarded by Biblical standards as a “successful ministry.”
He not only handed over to Daniel Kolenda, he worked with him for over ten years during which Mr. Kolenda was assessed and accepted by members of his organisation, the CFAN, and the people across the world. Thus, Bonnke could go home to his Maker and Master in peace, feeling fulfilled because his labour in the world here will certainly not be wasted but will be continued and even expanded. That is the meaning of a successfully executed ministry.
The earliest example in the Bible I can cite now of such successful ministries was that of Moses. He had undertaken the great God-ordained mission of bringing Israel out of their bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land. As they advanced in the famous Exodus, he began to groom Joshua as his successor. During those years, Joshua understudied him and gained acceptability before the people, and so, when it was time to hand over to Joshua, it went smoothly.
But when you look at the case of Joshua who did not groom any successor, you can now understand the reason behind the unspeakable spiritual and moral bankruptcy that afflicted Israel after Joshua. That vacuum he left created such a stunning depreciation in the lives of the Israelites that in the Book of Judges 21: 25, it was reported that “in those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”
Another ready example is Prophet Elijah who passed a “double portion” of anointing to his servant, Elisha. But sadly, instead of following his master’s example to also pass the mantle over to another person he had groomed, Elisha rather cursed his servant, Gehazi, with leprosy. He handed over to no one (despite receiving a double portion of his own master’s anointing) and so, that great ministry and anointing was buried with him.
Jesus was the perfect example. Instead of handing over to one person, He raised twelve successors who carried on with the work after His ascension into heaven. And His apostles followed His example and raised many successors here and there and the work spread and prospered. We saw people like Timothy, Titus and others raised by Paul. I read the very moving account of a preacher, leader and martyr called Polycarp who was delivered to the lions which tore him to pieces in Rome because of his refusal to renounce Christ. He claimed that he was a direct convert of Apostle John. He carried on with the mantle he had received from John until he was martyred.
This has been the Biblical standard which some modern church leaders have been very reluctant to adopt. The result has been that for many of them, their labours in ministry have been wasted after their death, because the enemy has been quick to variously exploit this loophole to create crisis that put the ministry in disarray.
But with Reinhard Bonnke’s recent example, many ministers and church leaders should remind themselves once more that this time-tested, Biblical standard must be adopted if the labour of their hands must not be wasted.
Bonnke announced his successor even before he turned 70. But some church leaders who are even nearing 80 appear not to have even started thinking about that. God has through Bonnke served them another reminder to consider and do the right thing while it is yet day.
Adieu, Evangelist Bonnke, God’s General…
*Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye’s book, “Nigeria: Why Looting May Not Stop” is available on Amazon